Highlights from Our NZ Trip

New Zealand continues to amaze me. Even after all these years, I’m finding new places to visit and being re-enchanted by old ones. My recent New Zealand campervan trip was a perfect example of this, a journey of discovery and rediscovery. I’ll be writing more detailed articles about each of the places I visited, but first, here’s a list of the highlights…

1) Waimangu Volcanic Valley

This is one of the many ‘geothermal wonderland’ attractions you can visit around Rotorua. I’ve been to a few of them over the years, but this was my first time at Waimangu. It’s a pleasing walk, following a steaming stream down towards a picturesque lake. The colours along the stream are beautifully psychedelic, as you can see.

2) Stonehenge Aotearoa

I only recently learned of the existence of New Zealand’s very own Stonehenge, and I have to admit my expectations weren’t high. I mean I’ve seen the actual Stonehenge, as well as Castlerigg, Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. I was pleasantly surprised, however. Stonehenge Aotearoa is totally worth visiting.

3) The Putangirua Pinnacles

I’d wanted to see the Putangirua Pinnacles for years, but they’re rather out of the way. I’m glad I finally made it, although the walk there was more difficult than I’d imagined! It was used as a filming location for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and is an excellent example of badlands erosion. Marvelling at a landscape so different from what one usually encounters makes for a great day out.

4) Rivendell

This is a place I didn’t plan on visiting, but when a nerd sees a sign reading only ‘Rivendell’ they can’t not follow it. The light was fading and there wasn’t much time until the park gate would be locked, so I rushed off to find the House of Elrond. Or, at least, the patch of forest they’d filmed it in. It was quite lovely, actually.

5) The Edwin Fox

I first saw the Edwin Fox on Neil Oliver’s Coast: New Zealand. It’s right next to the Interislander ferry terminal in Picton, the last surviving Australian convict ship in the world. It was built in India, saw service in the Crimean War and ended up retiring in little, old New Zealand. It’s really cool to explore.

6) Founders Heritage Park

Nelson is best known as the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, but Founders Heritage Park is worth visiting too. It’s an especially pretty historic village, featuring a windmill, a church and a charming street of shops. I recommend taking a picnic on a sunny day, as the café only sells freshly baked cookies! Look out for event days.

7) Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum

This place is so cool – and I’m not even interested in planes! There are two sections – WWI and WWII – that you pay for separately. If you only have time for one, do the WWII bit, but they’re both awesome, with dramatic displays that bring the pilots to life. It’s all wonderfully atmospheric.

8) Kaikoura

Kaikoura is famous for whale watching and crayfish eating, but my favourite part was going down to the beach and seeing the seals. The snow-capped mountains in the background were just a bonus! You can go kayaking with the seals, which I really wanted to do. They are some quite nice shops in Kaikoura too.

9) Castle Hill

My immediate impression of Castle Hill was it would be the perfect filming location for an epic fantasy story. There isn’t an actual castle there, of course – New Zealand doesn’t have any castles, but the natural rock formations are incredible. Adding to the epic scenery, the hill is surrounded by mountains. It’s now officially one of my favourite places in the world.

10) Arthur’s Pass

Arthur’s Pass Village in Arthur’s Pass National Park is the best place in the country to encounter wild kea. And boy did I encounter them! You can find out more about kea in this article, but basically, they’re super-intelligent vandal-parrots that like breaking into campervans. Here’s a photograph of one trying to break into a rental campervan’s roof hatch – directly above my head.

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11) The Canterbury Museum

I only wandered into Christchurch’s Canterbury Museum because it was free. I ended up being quite glad I had. As well as a Victorian street, a gallery filled with antique furniture, ornaments and clothes, and various other exhibits, it has a replica of that mad paua house – know the one I mean? This old couple who lived in Bluff covered every inch of the inside of their house with paua shells, and left their collection to the museum!

12) The Giants House

The Giants House belongs to an artist in Akaroa. You can pay to wander around her garden and I highly recommend you do, especially if you’re a fan of Gaudí or Hundertwasser. The brightly coloured mosaic sculptures are simply delightful. My nana visited it years ago and she won’t stop going on about it!

13) Oamaru

Finally, I returned to Oamaru! The gorgeous Victorian Precinct has a steampunk art gallery, a museum in which you can dress up in Victorian garb, vintage clothes shops, an old-fashioned bakery, a whiskey distillery, and one of the best second-hand bookshops in New Zealand. On top of that, Oamaru has penguins, lovely public gardens and a cheese factory. I can’t wait to write more about it.

14) The Moeraki Boulders

I’d been to Moeraki Beach and seen the boulders before, but – damn – they’re cool, aren’t they? Like alien eggs about to hatch, as my friend put it. I don’t remember there being quite so many tourists on my first visit, though! It was difficult to get pictures without people in them.

15) Larnach Castle

I know I just said New Zealand doesn’t have any castles, but it has this colonial mansion on the Otago Peninsula. It’s actually worth a visit. There’s a café in the ballroom that does posh tea and scones, and the house and garden are fun to explore. It’s an odd but pretty mix of stately home and colonial villa.

16) Lake Tekapo

One of the loveliest sights in New Zealand is the small, stone Church of the Good Shepherd perched beside the bright, turquoise water of Lake Tekapo, against a backdrop of snowy peaks. When it’s not swarming with tourists, that is. You’d probably have to go at dawn to get a decent shot. I retreated, defeated.

17) Rakaia Gorge

Excuse the inevitable pun, but Rakaia Gorge is gorge-ous. The bridge is kind of iconic. I just passed through this time, but there’s a campground and a stunning walkway. All the braided South Island rivers are breathtaking.

18) Whitecliffs Boulders

Like the Moeraki Boulders, but in a forest – sound appealing? I thought so, and they were even more magical than I’d imagined. It was like walking around inside a fairy tale! Bugger to get to, but I guess I’ll write about that another time.

So those were the highlights of my latest New Zealand campervan trip. I had such a good time. Now it’s back to reality. Circe, my tortoiseshell-tabby kitten, hasn’t left my side since I returned!

Garden Views

chinese bridge hamilton gardens

Yesterday was the first day of spring. The sun was shining and I couldn’t resist the allure of one of my favourite places in New Zealand…

fountain italian garden hamilton

… the Hamilton Gardens. Armed with my camera, I dove through the Father’s Day crowd to the Italian Renaissance Garden.

statue wolf romulus remus italian garden hamilton

Tim and I will be saying our wedding vows in the Italian Garden next year. I hope the weather’s just as nice!

statue italian garden hamilton

italian garden hamilton

swallows statue

See the swallows perched on top of that statue? They’re probably nesting in the Japanese Garden again.

indian garden hamilton

As usual, the Indian Garden was bursting with colour…

chinese garden hamilton

… and the Chinese Garden was perfectly peaceful.

chinese garden hamilton

statue cave chinese garden hamilton

Many visitors miss this little statue, tucked away inside a little cave at the edge of the pond.

chinese bridge hamilton gardens

More Photos from the Goblin Forest

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

The Goblin Forest of Taranaki really does have to be seen to be believed. It’s like stepping into a fairy tale.

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

But I’ve already waxed lyrical about it in a previous post, called The Goblin Forest, so I’ll leave the talking now to the photographs. (Even though I know I’ll probably never again get a photo as good as the one from that first post!)

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

I thought this branch kind of looked like the head of a dog, or a dragon. You know, in that stylised Celtic sort of way…

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

And see how this tree has grown over its own sign?

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

But now we must leave this enchanted forest. Pass through the archway and return to the real world… I hope not too much time has passed and your loved ones are still alive.

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Photos from Pukekura Park

Waterfall, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

This magically lit waterfall is in Pukekura Park, in the middle of New Plymouth. Scroll down and you’ll see why Pukekura Park is one of the best city parks in New Zealand.

Waterfall, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

This is a picture I took of the waterfall during the day. It’s man-made, but that doesn’t take away from it’s beauty. And at night, it’s beautiful in a whole different way.

Waterfall, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

The colours are constantly changing. I’ll show you one more before moving onto the rest of the park, because, beautiful as the waterfall is, Pukekura Park would be impressive even without it.

Waterfall, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

The park is centred on a lake, crossed by some quite striking red bridges. With the aid of a nifty filter, you can see just how striking striking these bridges look in real life.

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

And here’s the view from that bridge when it gets dark. (During the summer, Pukekura has a lights festival, which I attended back before I owned a decent camera, but this is without the additional lights!)

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

A lovely, old-fashioned teahouse sits on the edge of the lake. Their food’s decent, as, indeed, is their tea selection. Here’s a photo of one of their quirky birdfeeders.

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

The teahouse sits nestled amongst some gorgeous flowers. As I crouched down to take pictures of these flowers, I became surrounded by a ring of ducks hoping for food.

flower

That photo wasn’t edited in the slightest, would you believe? The petals look like an image from the Hubble Space Telescope! This next one, of course, is edited.

flower

It was actually the same colour as the flower above, but I like this picture. Okay, okay, one last flower photo before I get on with showing you the actual park.

flowers

Throughout the park, old-fashioned lampposts emerge from the trees in a way that makes one think irresistibly of Narnia. The park also has a fernery and a few mildly interesting sculptures.

lamppost in forest

One of my favourite features of the park is a grand, Victorian drinking fountain, sculpted out of marble. In fact, this is the image I will leave you with. Check back for more photos of my New Zealand travels!

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

Okere Falls and a Wonderful Bookshop

Okere Falls

I got a new camera for Christmas. Keen to practise using it, I persuaded my family to visit one of the few easily accessible waterfalls in the Bay of Plenty I hadn’t already seen, Okere Falls.

Okere Falls

Okere Falls can be found just outside Rotorua. They’re by no means the best waterfalls I’ve been to, but they’re popular with kayakers and rafters.

Kayakers at Okere Falls

Word of warning: don’t visit Okere Falls during the Christmas holidays. I found it difficult to get a decent photograph partly due to the lack of room on the viewing platforms!

Okere Falls

(The other reason, I found out later, was because I didn’t have a Neutral Density Filter. I’m new to this “proper” photography stuff, okay.)

Okere Falls

One part of the path to the falls is a narrow tunnel with steps carved into the rock. With so many people there, getting up and down the steps was a nightmare, so just beware.

Okere Falls

There’s not really much more to say about Okere Falls. Afterwards, we drove into Rotorua, parked at Government Gardens and walked into the city centre in search of lunch.

I hadn’t explored the city centre itself in years, so I was surprised at how pretty it’s become. We made our way to Eat Streat, an avenue of fashionable bars and restaurants.

Eat Streat

The main reason I’d wanted to visit Rotorua, aside from Okere Falls, was to go to a certain secondhand bookshop my dad had found whilst geocaching. (Don’t ask.) It didn’t disappoint.

It’s called Atlantis, and I was in love with it even before I’d seen the Art Nouveau-style Firefly posters on the wall! It’s got two floors, and the selection is quite impressive, although I was slightly disappointed by the history section. By time I’d finished, I had six books in my arms, including a really old copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. So, there’s somewhere to look out for if you’re a bibliophile visiting Rotorua.

Kaiate Falls

If you’d like to read about another waterfall I’ve been to in the Bay of the Plenty, check out my article on Kaiate Falls. They’re much more magical than Okere Falls, I reckon.

Another Reason to Visit Hamilton

Sumatran Tiger Hamilton Zoo New Zealand
Brown Capuchin Monkey Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Brown Capuchin Monkeys

Hamilton Zoo is a lot more than it first appears. It may not be as grand as Auckland Zoo, but it is certainly as good. Many say better. I went with my parents and boyfriend last weekend, and we found it more pleasant to walk around than Auckland Zoo. More intimate; more trees shading the paths.

Chimpanzee Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Chimpanzee

Auckland Zoo has more animals than Hamilton Zoo, but Hamilton Zoo is almost twice as large as Auckland Zoo in terms of land area. In fact it feels deceptively large. Entry into Hamilton Zoo costs $22, which is an absolute bargain, and it’s wonderful to see the animals in such massive enclosures.

Sumatran Tigers Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Sumatran Tigers – aww!

The Sumatran tiger exhibit was especially impressive. When we arrived, three of the tigers were sleeping all snuggled up together. It was a mother and two cubs, although the cubs were a year old and didn’t look like babies anymore! I spent a long time ‘awwing’ at them, but was soon reminded that tigers aren’t always so cute.

Ostrich Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Ostrich

One of the other tigers looked like it was actually trying to stalk the keepers that had come to feed them! The keepers were safe on the other side of the fence, of course, but it was only a few months ago that one of the Hamilton Zoo keepers was mauled to death by one of the tigers.

Cheetah Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Cheetah

Thankfully, the tiger in question wasn’t euthanized. It was just being a tiger.

Hamilton Zoo doesn’t have any lions, but it does have some rather majestic cheetahs.

Giraffes Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Giraffes

It also has giraffes, rhinos, monkeys, meerkats, red pandas, chimpanzees and an array of other creatures, including native New Zealand birds and reptiles.

Hamilton Zoo has the largest free flight aviary in New Zealand, complete with pond and waterfall.

The meerkats were adorable. One of them seemed intent on digging a tunnel to Spain, (Spain being the antipode of New Zealand,) and was already well on its way.

Meerkat Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Meerkat

The giraffes were spectacular, but their limelight was stolen by the rutting blackbucks that shared their enclosure, almost beneath their notice.

Rutting Blackbucks Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Blackbucks

The kea were amusing – as if one could expect anything else. They are, after all, New Zealand’s funniest birds. One of them was playing dead right next to the fence. Very convincing. It even had a wing cocked at an odd angle!

Kea Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Kea

And no, it wasn’t actually dead. It realised we were onto it and shook its head in annoyance. Apparently, it pretends to be dead a lot. Maybe it’s part of an elaborate escape plan.

All in all, we were walking around the zoo for three hours. We needed all day, really. We only just got round everything before the place closed, and we could have spent so much longer with many of the animals. I definitely want to go again at some point.

The gift shop and the café are nothing special, but there’s a playground and some okay picnic areas. The main focus is on the animals, which is as it should be.

Sleeping Peacock Hamilton Zoo New Zealand

Peacock

Land of the Ice Dragons

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I was sorting through some old files on my computer the other day when I came across a poem I wrote when I was thirteen. Reading it for the first time in years, I was overcome by a surprisingly visceral memory: I wrote the poem after visiting the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers with my family while we were on a campervan tour of the South Island and, setting aside the cringeworthiness of the words, they capture the experience of walking down a valley towards the foot of a glacier fairly well… the cold, refreshing wind coming off the ice like it’s the glacier’s breath… The photographs do not do it justice, so here is the poem, for which I apologise in advance… it’s called Disturbing a Dragon

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Jagged crown of gleaming white

Cold heart of blue

Retreating slowly, night by night

’Cross the mountains through

154 Glacier Franz Josefcropped

I approach the icy fortress

Asleep for a thousand years

The great dragon, the mountain’s mistress

Suddenly she rears

 

Ghostly breath so deathly cold

(Bare arms in the chill)

An ice-formed dragon in the valley old

The sun hides behind the hill

 

I see the ice queen study me

Crystal eyes a-glare

Cathedral wings, she hauls them free

Slicing fangs a-flare

 

My frosted hand grips my sword

I raise my shield in fear

The time comes, the dragon roars

And then she sheds a tear

 

The tear drips down her shining snout

And crashes to the dirt

Something stirs in me, I shout

“Great dragon, are you hurt?”

 

“Why seek you to destroy me?

There really is no need

The warming world does that, you see

Watch how I recede

 

“It does not matter what you wield

I’ll soon meet my end

Put down your sword, put down your shield

Stop playing pretend”

 

The dragon lowers her melting wings

Lamenting her defeat

A piece of ice falls as she sings

Rolling to my feet

 

I pick it up, the chunk of ice

A silver witch’s orb

153 Abigail with icecroppedBut now my jacket does entice

I feel the cold absorb

 

One last look at the glacier

Before my mum says “Come

Put that down, it’s freezing here”

My hands are going numb

 

Visiting the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers was one of the highlights of that South Island campervan holiday. I would recommend it to anyone travelling around New Zealand. There’s a variety of guided tours that take you onto and around both glaciers, with activities including ice climbing and helicopter rides, but these are quite expensive. Happily, you can walk up to both glaciers by yourself on easygoing tracks for free – just make sure you don’t cross the safety barriers!

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