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!

A Look Inside the Oldest Library in New Zealand

The Oldest Library in New Zealand

You wouldn’t expect to find New Zealand’s first library down an unassuming street in Tauranga. Nor would you expect it to contain a secret trapdoor, under which treasures (and people) could be hidden in the event of attack. Imagine yourself crammed into the 1.8-metre-deep oubliette, trying not to make a sound as invading enemies stomp across the floorboards inches above your head, tearing your precious books from their shelves.

A Beautiful Book at the Elms Mission Station

Thankfully, the library was never actually attacked. It’s a tiny, wooden building on the edge of the Elms Mission Station, completed in 1839. The Elms, then known as Te Papa Mission Station, was established by the Reverend Alfred Brown, who was sent from England to educate the children of other New Zealand missionaries. Living at Te Papa was risky: the spot chosen for the mission station was prone to bouts of intertribal warfare.

Reverend Brown was keen to spread Christianity to the native tribesmen. He taught as many Māori as he could how to read and write, and about Western agriculture. (Or, as the European immigrants of the time no doubt saw it, how to be civilised and farm properly.) Our tour guide at the Elms was, however, proud to point out that Reverend Brown supposedly treated his Māori pupils as friends and fellow human beings, rather than as savages to be tamed.

The First Library in New ZealandIt was Reverend Brown who built the library. He needed to keep his extensive book collection safe and dry. William Gisborne, a nineteenth century New Zealand politician and fellow English immigrant, described it in the following words:

“The room was surrounded with shelves, on which large volumes, heavy to carry, and I daresay, heavy to read, gloomily reposed, while, from among, above and below them long rows of tempting, rosy-cheeked apples, brightly reflecting the ruddy fire, shone in delightful contrast with their more sedate brethren.”

Chapel Bell, The Elms, Tauranga(This quote comes from the Elms Mission Station’s website.) As for the rest of the mission station, you can explore the garden by yourself for free, but if you want to enter any of the buildings, including the library, you’ll need to pay $5 for a tour. I found the tour a little awkward, as it was just me and my parents being talked at by an old lady who was obviously used to addressing tourists and children who have no knowledge of either English or New Zealand history.

The other buildings include an almost puritanically bare chapel, an old workshop, a fencible cottage – if you want to know what the hell fencible means, read my blog about Howick Historical Village – and, of course, the main house. I was delighted to discover that it had a games table, though it’s nowhere near as big as mine and Tim’s monstrosity. (Risk is one of our smallest, least complicated board games. We need a big table.)

The Elms Mission House Games Table

Is it worth visiting? Yes, if you’re interested in the history of Tauranga. There aren’t any proper museums in Tauranga, (except Classic Flyers,) which is surprising. I mean my family moved to Tauranga when I was fifteen and it’s only just occurred to me that it doesn’t have a museum like most places… How odd. So, for now, the Elms Mission Station is the best we’ve got. Apparently, they’re planning to build a proper museum, to go with the city centre and harbourfront upgrade, so hopefully, in a few years…

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga

Of course, if you’re a bibliophile you’ll no doubt already be planning a trip to the Elms Mission Station. While you’re there, check out my list of free things to do in Tauranga.

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga, New Zealand

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!

Hamilton’s Historic Estate

Woodlands Historic Homestead

Need help finding things to do in Hamilton, New Zealand? Probably. At first glance, it can seem like the only place worth visiting in Hamilton is the Gardens. At second glance, you have to concede that the zoo is a great place to go in Hamilton as well. Then you’ve got the museum, Taitua Arboretum, Memorial Park and the lake. Admittedly, after that you’re beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel. We’ve lived in Hamilton for two years and we’re rapidly running out of new things to see. We have to keep visiting relatives entertained somehow!

Last weekend, however, we visited somewhere we’d never been before, Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens. It’s about fifteen minutes by car from the centre of Hamilton, in a village called Gordonton. (By the looks of things, it won’t be a village much longer. In a few years, it’ll be swallowed up by the growing city and become just another suburb.) We were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. I mean it’s not amazing or anything, but we’ve definitely found a new place in Hamilton to take our families.

Woodlands EstateWhen we arrived at Woodlands, we were greeted by the sight of uniformed children playing cricket on the lawn. How very English, wot! Also, in the carpark, there was a rustic stall selling produce from the gardens. Things already looked promising. We decided to look around the house first. This usually costs $5, but in the summer holidays it’s just $2. That day we got in for free, as we couldn’t go upstairs. (They were preparing for a wedding. Because of course they were preparing for a wedding.) Going around the gardens is free, but there is a box for donations.

Woodlands Estate SofaIt was by no means the most impressive historic house I’ve been around – not even in New Zealand. It was nice enough, though, and there was a big book you could flip through, explaining the history of the place. (The house was built in the 1870s.) I fell in love with the sofa, and with the book collection at the opposite end of the sitting room.

“No, we’re not coming back here under cover of darkness to steal books,” Tim said.

He’s such a spoilsport.

There was a mildly interesting little cellar and an old kitchen range. I think I saw some William Morris wallpaper. (Recognising William Morris wallpaper makes you sophisticated, right?) Then we stepped out into the gardens. The grass was still saturated from the spate of storms that still haven’t stopped, but that afternoon the sunlight gave the gardens a heavenly aura. We wove between the hedges and down the path to the pond.

Abby at the Woodlands Estate

The bridge over the pond looked quite magical, especially as we were coming up the driveway. The white ducks appeared to glow in the sunlight. It was a lovely place to just… sit. Or take wedding photographs, I suppose. Speaking of which, we found this beribboned swing waiting for the bride.

Woodlands Estate Wedding Swing

It didn’t take us as long as we’d expected to walk around the gardens, so we decided to check out the onsite café. It’s called Prof’s, and, apparently, there’s a quiz there on Friday nights. (Might be worth going to one of these days. I love quizzes.) We found the café to be beautifully decorated on the inside and the menu to be quite irresistible. Sitting in the café was when we decided that we had to bring our families to Woodlands.

The café seemed to cater very well to children. There was sports equipment outside, and board games and books inside. Everything looked very… civilised. Especially with the cricket going on in the background.

Woodlands Historic GardensSo, if you’re travelling around New Zealand and don’t know what to do in Hamilton, Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens is a relaxing place to have lunch, with enough to keep both children and adults entertained for a couple of hours. If you’re on a New Zealand campervan trip, the nearest free camping spot (for self-contained vehicles only) is the carpark at Porritt Stadium.

For more places to see in Hamilton, check out the Hamilton category of this blog. (Yes, Hamilton has its own category now. I do live here, after all.)

A Vintage Train Ride and a Satisfying Walk

Karangahake Gorge, Waikino Station

Every time I go through Karangahake Gorge, I’m mesmerised. I love the way the sunlight peeks over the towering walls of rock. I love the way the water rushes around the boulders. I love the way the trees undulate up the slopes. I also love the old train station at Waikino, as you emerge from the gorge.

Waikino Vintage Railway StationIt’s a proper old train station, is Waikino. It’s got the proper old-fashioned, colonial feel. A vintage train runs between Waikino and the gold rush town of Waihi. Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never been on it. I’d been to the station café, though, which is very nice. I’m not even a train nerd, (unlike my dad,) and I enjoy the atmosphere. If you’re driving between Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, it’s well worth a stop.

The railway through the Karangahake Gorge to Waihi was completed in 1905. Back then, the area was home to a thriving mining community. Now, the six kilometres of track between Waikino and Waihi are all that’s left. I went there with my family just after Christmas. We parked at the Waikino Station, got the train to Waihi, and then walked back along the river to our car.

Goldfields Historic Railway, Waikino Station

The walk was very easy, flat the whole way and on a well-maintained track. (I suppose it would be, being part of the Hauraki Rail Trail, an eighty-two kilometre bicycle track.) It was also, to my mind, the perfect length. I finished it feeling satisfied that I’d done a decent amount of exercise, exactly as my energy was running out.

It took about two hours, perhaps a little longer. I don’t really know, as my dad kept stopping to “geocache” along the way. I know we walked about ten kilometres, because I had Pokémon Go running the whole time. (There were no Pokémon on the trail, only at either end. I did, however, hatch quite a few eggs during the walk.)

Ohinemuri River, Hauraki Rail Trail

Although the walk was mostly along the river, the views were never outstanding. If you want outstanding views, go for a walk in Karangahake Gorge itself. It was pleasant enough, however. We deliberately went on an overcast day, knowing the walk would have little shade to offer. Though the wind when we got off the train at Waihi was bitterly cold, the walk soon warmed us up.

Karangahake Gorge Train Cogs

At the end of our walk – just past the bridge over the river and the tunnel under the road that would take us back to the Waikino Station – we found a few enormous, old cogs. They marked the beginning of another walk, one that, by now, we were far too tired to embark upon. We needed a good feed. Happily, we had Christmas leftovers waiting for us at home!

The Goldfields Historic Railway between Waikino and Waihi has a carriage for bikes, and you can hire bikes at the Waikino Station. If you’re on a New Zealand campervan hire tour, you can stay the night at the Waihi Station for just $10. I wouldn’t say this vintage train ride and walk is a must-do, but something that takes you through the Karangahake Gorge certainly is!

A Trip to the Coromandel

A ferry operator with a sense of humour, a tiny community library, and a view to renew the soul…

Last weekend, Tim and I embarked upon a road trip familiar to many Kiwis. Countless tourists – New Zealanders and foreign holidaymakers alike – have endured the narrow, winding coastal roads of the Coromandel. They’ve endured the heat and the travel sickness. They’ve endured the frustration of being stuck behind someone towing a boat. They’ve endured the children in the backseat crying out for a toilet – and they keep going back again and again.

There must be something pretty special about the Coromandel Peninsula, right? Well, for starters, it’s got what I believe to be the best beach in New Zealand – not that we went there this time. This time, we were headed for a little place called Ferry Landing. We joined the steady procession of rental campervans, pulling over every now and then to admire the view. Usually, driving up the Coromandel makes me feel sick, but I was okay this time.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The sea sparkled in the sunlight. The weather forecast for the weekend had been miserable, but you can’t rely on weather forecasts, especially in New Zealand. The place we were staying was right by the sea. There was only a thin strip of grass between us and the sand. When we got there, I looked out over the beach and, for a while, simply breathed. It was like inhaling pure peacefulness, listening to the waves rolling in.

One of the best things about the trip was being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. I almost missed that when we got back to Hamilton. Other highlights came when we went to Whitianga, a short ferry crossing from Ferry Landing. On the way, we passed a tiny box-of-a-building that turned out to be the local library! The entire building was one small room full of books. I wish it had been open, but then I’d never have made it to Whitianga.

Ferry Landing Library, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The ferry from Ferry Landing to Whitianga leaves every ten minutes. When we got on the ferry, we were confronted with a lovely example of Kiwi humour:

Whitianga Ferry Landing Ferry Prices

(In case you can’t see the above picture, it’s a sign listing the ticket prices for various passengers. According to this, adults pay $4, children pay $2, sheep pay $1, and Trump supporters pay $5000!)

I noticed a few of the other passengers chuckling.

We didn’t actually do much in Whitianga. The weekend was more about spending time with family and friends than doing things. We walked along the shore and through the town, and sat for a while in a pub. It started chucking it down with rain, but it didn’t matter. There were a few interesting shops and a museum, which we didn’t go in. Some of the others went to a hot pool complex called The Lost Spring and, by all accounts, loved it.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

I’d definitely like to visit Whitianga again and explore more of it, and the surrounding area. There are plenty of free overnight parking spots for self-contained campervans around – and in truly beautiful locations too. If you hire a campervan in New Zealand, the Coromandel is a great place to take it. Just watch out on the narrow, winding roads!

European Stereotypes – Confirmed or Busted?

POMS AWAY!

Are Germans sausage-obsessed sticklers for efficiency? Are the French rude cheese-eaters? Are the English a nation of reserved, tea-drinking, perpetually damp people? Join a New Zealander and a British-immigrant-to-New Zealand’s voyage of discovery…

(Well, actually, it was a train ride of discovery. Many train rides. Through Europe. It was awesome.)

European Stereotype #1:

It’s always raining in England – BUSTED!

I Rule BritanniaWe were in England for three weeks and it only rained twice!

The rest of time it was glorious – so glorious that the New Zealander complained it was too hot. He’s been telling everyone ever since that England is warmer and sunnier than New Zealand, so there you go.

Ruuule Britannia… Britannia rule the waves…

European Stereotype #2:

Germans are a little too into sausages –CONFIRMED!

It was inevitable that I’d eat at least one sausage in Germany, as I’d already promised to try currywurst*, but…

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