Monthly Archives: June 2013

It’s nearly time for our Australian adventure!

The three of us at Coldplay back in Nov 2012

The three of us at Coldplay back in Nov 2012

So we have been in New Zealand since last September and are due to fly home to the UK in August – to complete our year working and travelling over here. Before we go home though we have got some really amazing adventures left to come. 🙂

One of these is a trip to Australia – for which we leave this coming Wednesday. We were very lucky to visit Australia back in 2006 on a round the world trip and spent time in Sydney (which we loved) and had an incredible adventure on Fraser Island. We decided that being so close to Oz it would be the perfect time to return, and to visit my big sister (Kat) and her boyfriend (Darren) who live in a flat in beautiful Manly and we will be staying with them both at the start and end of our adventure. We haven’t seen my sister since Christmas (when we had a lovely family Christmas in Queenstown with my parents who flew over from the UK), so thought it would be a great chance to spend some time with them and see some more of Sydney’s amazing sights. We also had a wonderful time when Kat visited us from Oz back in November when the three of us when we to see Coldplay together – which was incredible!

We have planned a trip up to the Blue Mountains all together the first weekend we are in Oz – and can’t wait as have never been and Kat and Darren have promised to show us the highlights 🙂 In the couple of weeks that follow me and John head off by ourselves to drive the Great Ocean Road, see Melbourne and to spend 9 days in Tasmania seeing the amazing scenery and wildlife. We will end our Oz adventure with more time with my sister and Darren in Sydney.

We are really excited about the next chapter in our amazing adventure and can’t wait for it to start! 🙂

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Top 5 things to do in New Zealand

It has nearly been a year over here in New Zealand – so I thought it was time for a Top 5 things to do in New Zealand (after previously blogging about my Top 5 things to do on South Island) – although it could so easily have been a Top 10! I feel that having spent so long over here (as well as taking two prior trips here in 2006 and 2010) I can choose my ultimate 5 paid-for activities I would recommend doing in New Zealand. Obviously these are down to personal taste, and the weather also played a factor in our decision. I have also chosen different things to those in my Top 5 to do on South island – it was so hard to choose and any of those could easily have made this list!

1. Helicopter trip over Queenstown – with snow landing.

Helicopter trip over Queenstown

Helicopter trip over Queenstown

Snow landing

Snow landing

We took a scenic helicopter trip over Queenstown with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters to celebrate my 30th birthday recently (check out my previous blog post for more details). We chose the alpine scenic (flight 104) which included a snow landing and it was the most perfect choice! The scenery was completely and utterly stunning. We flew up with two other passengers over Arrowtown and Skippers Canyon and landed atop Mount Hyde. Here we spent time in the snow and it was great fun! The 360 degree views were just amazing.

Views from the helicopter

Views from the helicopter

The weather was also just perfect – which we think made a real difference. There had recently been a fair amount of early snow in Queenstown (we went in early May) and this coupled with clear blue skies meant we had the best of both worlds – summer sun and skies with the winter snow! Our pilot was great and took some great photos of us while in the snow. On the journey back I was able to sit in the front seat so had the most wonderful view of Queenstown – as we took off and circled round with Queenstown below us – I also managed to take some great photos. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience and one we will never forget!

Details:

Cost: $310 per person – although we got a reduced rate of $199 each via a discount website called Book Me.

Times: Often throughout the day – depending on demand.

Activity time: 40 mins.

2. Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes

We took an amazing boat trip (see my old blog post for more) out on Milford Sound with Mitre Peak Cruises. We chose this company because they used smaller boats than other bigger companies (such as Real Journeys etc.) so we could get a more personal and close-up experience.

One of the main reasons Milford Sound makes the Top 5 (as well as the brilliant boat trip) is the road to Milford. It really is one of the most scenic roads we have ever driven on! We were very lucky that the weather was clear and we had great views all the way along. There are loads of different stops on the way – our favourites being Mirror Lakes and Lake Gunn, and lots of places to pull in and take photos. It is also quite windy and steep and care needs to be taken. It was fun passing through the Homer Tunnel and the view that greets you the other side is beautiful. We loved driving the road, and definitely one of our favourite road trips from the year.

Out on Milford Sound

Out on Milford Sound

Back to the cruise itself – we much preferred being on a smaller boat. It also wasn’t full so we had space and could move around. We queued up early for the boat and so were able to get a seat up top outside which was great. We then spent about 2 hours out on the sound. We passed beautiful waterfalls (Bowen falls was our favourite) and saw wildlife such as seals. We went right up to the Tasman sea and then turned back into the sound. The scenery along the way – as we passed Mitre Peak itself – was just gorgeous. Another definite highlight of a wonderful year in NZ!

Details:

Cost: $80 per person.

Times: Up to 7 times a day in peak season.

Activity time: 2 hours.

3. Dart River Jet Boat in Glenorchy

Dart River Jet Safari

Dart River Jet Safari

Me on the Dart River Jet Safari

Me on the Dart River Jet Safari

Back in December we experienced an incredible trip on the Wilderness Safari with Dart River Jet Safaris – check out my blog post for more details about our trip. This was our first jet boat trip – and we had read so many amazing reviews about it being the best – so it was a great choice! The Wilderness safari is split into 3 main parts – the bus journey from Glenorchy through Paradise (where we can get out to take some photos) and learn all about the movies and adverts filmed in this area. The next part is a 30 minute guided walk through the beautiful forest. And finally the last part was the awesome jet boat ride!

On the jet  boat

On the jet boat

We were on the jet boat for about 1 hour 30 (so much longer than other jet boat companies), and our driver Simon was amazing! He was so careful negotiating the pretty dangerous river, and we always felt safe. It was such thrilling ride and we really did love every second. Some of our favourite parts were the 360 degree turns we did in the boat – we got a bit wet but it was great fun. Travelling along at speeds of up to 80kmph with the wind in our hair (gripping on tight!) was simply amazing and the whole trip was a fantastic experience.

Details:

Cost: $219 per person (they offer free transfers from Queenstown, although we drove ourselves to Glenorchy as its a stunning drive).

Times: 8am and 12pm (from Queenstown), and 9am and 1pm (from Glenorchy)

Activity time: 3 hours

4. Hobbiton

At Hobbiton

At Hobbiton

At Bag End

At Bag End

Definitely one for fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (which of course we are!) but in our view no trip to New Zealand is complete without a trip to Hobbiton. We visited on a stunningly beautiful sunny day back in May (check out my detailed blog post about our trip) and the trip completely and utterly exceeded all of our expectations! The trip felt so real and authentic and not anywhere near as touristy as I was expecting! They have really sensitively planned the tours, to make the most of the location and to maximise the experience for guests. Our trip started with a old but quaint bus picking us up and driving down the gravel and windy road to start our tour at Hobbiton itself. Over the course of an hour or so we spent time exploring Hobbiton – accompanied by our awesome guide. We saw lots of hobbit holes (including Sam and Rosie’s and Bag End) and took endless awesome photos (see my blog for loads more!).

A pint in The Green Dragon

A pint in The Green Dragon

We also saw the famous ‘party tree’ and party area, as well as the bench where Gandalf and Bilbo have their smoke hoop competition. We really were walking exactly where the stars of the films had, and at every turn there was a sight you recognised from the films – amazing 🙂 The best part was to come with a visit to The Green Dragon to complete our trip. We enjoyed a lovely cold ginger beer by the fire, while we explored The Green Dragon inside and out – which had been incredibly well replicated. It really was the perfect end to the perfect trip and one we will always remember with excitement and fondness.

Details:

Cost: $75 per person.

Times: Tours run every half an hour starting at 9.30am and 4.30pm from the Shires Rest cafe – there are also various pick up options from Matamata and Rotorua.

Activity time: 1 hour 45 mins.

5. Heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier in 2006

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier in 2006

Us on Franz Josef glacier

Us on Franz Josef glacier

This is the only one of the Top 5 not from our 2012/2013 trip – this was back in 2006 on our first trip to New Zealand. It really truly was one of the best things we have ever done, and still holds its own amongst so many amazing things we have done this time around. We took our trip with The Helicopter line who were amazing from start to finish. They were incredibly professional and our guide was fantastic – so knowledgeable and above all safe – we never felt any danger or risk whilst walking on the glacier.

Inside an ice cave

Inside an ice cave

Our trip took us up to land on the Franz Josef glacier, and the journey up was spectacular! It was our first ever time in helicopter (we have been in them a further 3 times since!) and we loved every second! After landing on the glacier we hiked across it – using crampons attached to our shoes. We climbed through ice caves and spent lots of time exploring. The scenery was simply incredible and it was such a memorable trip.

Details:

Cost: $395 per person.

Times: Up to 2 or 3 times a day depending on season.

Activity time: 3 hours.

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand and would like help putting together an awesome itinerary (specialising in amazing off-the-beaten-track places) then feel free to take a look at my website – Blue Penguin Travel, check out some of my wonderful testimonials or drop me and email 🙂

Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Treehouse anyone?

Our treehouse in Auckland

Our treehouse in Auckland

So for the next stage of our amazing New Zealand Adventure we have been living in Auckland – and staying in a beautiful ‘treehouse’ in Ponsonby. We are renting it from an amazing woman called Beth who runs the nearby B&B 23 Hepburn street. It really is one of the loveliest places we have ever stayed! We have been here for a couple of weeks working from home and enjoying Auckland’s sights before the next chapter of our adventure begins on Weds – more about that in another post!

It has lovely views over beautiful Western Park and is really spacious and sunny inside. It has also been quite an experience staying here during the storms that recently hit New Zealand. Whilst Auckland actually seemed to get off lightest (they have had crazy amounts of snow on the South island and a massive storm in Wellington) we still had our own storm here in Auckland. On Thursday night we had thunder, lightning, very strong winds and torrential rain and hail. Luckily there was no damage and we watched the storm come in from our huge windows in our treehouse.

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

Treehotel in Sweden – photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

Anyway, I was also recently sent an email from Tripadvisor highlighting Top 10 treetop hotels so I thought it was perfect the perfect time to share the link for anyone interested in staying in such unique places (one is also in NZ in Kaikoura, although we haven’t yet stayed there)!:

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/InfoCenter-a_ctr.treehouseEN1

I just thought it was interesting to collect these unique treehouses all together, and we certainly have enjoyed staying in our very own treehouse right here in Auckland! 🙂

Categories: Accommodation, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My ‘The Beauty of New Zealand’ short film

I thought I would share with you a short film that I made recently titled ‘The Beauty of New Zealand’ using iMovie on my Macbook – under the name of my travel consultancy company Blue Penguin Travel. We are spending a year in New Zealand and our time here is coming to a close (we have trips to Australia and the Cook Islands coming up before heading back to the UK at the end of August) – so I have made this homage to the beauty of New Zealand using my own bits of video and photographs I have taken whilst over here. Enjoy! 🙂

Categories: Blue Penguin, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Living in a Spaceship for 9 weeks: 7000km, ultimate freedom and amazing New Zealand adventures

Spaceships - awesome!

Spaceships – awesome!

“That’s the longest anyone has hired a Spaceship for!” – is what we were told when we collected our Beta 2 Berth Spaceship (Mysteron) from the Queenstown Spaceships depot.

So we are trailblazers! Awesome! 9 weeks is a long time – but the only way to spend enough time exploring New Zealand fully and we wouldn’t have shortened our time in our Spaceship by even a day.

Spending a year in New Zealand my husband and I had been doing a mixture of work and travelling. We planned a well-deserved holiday as a break from work and decided to return to some of our favourite places as well as explore places we hadn’t yet seen.

Our awesome Spaceship

Our awesome Spaceship

For us, Spaceships was a pretty easy choice. We didn’t want a huge monster of a camper-van, but also wanted its freedom – being able to sleep in it and cook food. Having seen them driving around we looked Spaceships up on their brilliant website – and they were the perfect solution! We chose a Beta 2 Berth model Spaceship which are really unique and an amazing mix of a campervan and a rental car.

On the road to Milford Sound

On the road to Milford Sound

We really had the most incredible 9 weeks in our Spaceships Beta 2 Berth. We travelled all over New Zealand and saw such wonderful sights. Some real highlights on our Spaceships Adventure for us included: waking up at the stunning Moke Lake after our first night in our Spaceship, the amazing road to Milford and a brilliant boat trip out on Milford Sound; finding off-the-beaten-track hidden delights such as Gemstone beach in the Catlins and Clay Cliffs near Omarama; seeing yellow-eyed penguins come ashore and watching hector’s dolphins play in the surf in the Catlins area; being able to access Cathedral Caves at low-tide as dawn was breaking; seeing the morning mist drift across the Otago Peninsula; exploring the Otago Peninsula’s gravel windy roads to get to stunning Allan’s beach; seeing the majestic Mount Cook on the drive alongside Lake Pukaki; exploring the wonderful West Coast and walking to Franz Josef glacier and seeing Lake Mathieson’s incredible reflection; taking a helicopter trip over Queenstown with snow landing; relaxing in the thermal hot pools of Hanmer Springs; taking our Spaceship over on the Interislander from south to north island; travelling to Cape Palliser lighthouse along the scenic coastal roads; meeting Manukura the amazing white kiwi; spending time in sunny and picturesque Napier; having geothermal adventures in Taupo and Rotorua (including an awesome trip to Orakei Korako); walking where Frodo and Gandalf had exploring hobbit-holes at amazing Hobbiton and having a drink at The Green Dragon, and witnessing the beauty of the Coromandel peninsula’s beaches.

Being in the Spaceship also provided me with an amazing opportunity to do research for my own travel consultancy company – Blue Penguin Travel – helping people have their own amazing off-the-beaten track adventures in New Zealand! 🙂

Picnic near Cape Palliser

Picnic near Cape Palliser

As I am sure you can imagine, living in our Spaceship for 9 weeks was an incredibly long time – as you certainly have to know the person you are staying in it with well! 🙂 It is compact sleeping in there, but really designed so well, it is comfortable and just a genius design. For those of you that have followed my blog throughout our 63 days you will know we didn’t spend every single night sleeping in it – as needed a TV for the odd important football game when in Rotorua, or just a little more space. But that is another amazing thing about the Spaceship – it is the size of a car so can be parked anywhere.

We were also lucky enough to have a bond with two spaceships – as we swapped Mysteron halfway through (because he needed a well-deserved service) for the even more awesome Draco!

In summary, some of the main positives from our Spaceships adventure are:

  • Fantastic customer service: From pick up through to drop off (including the demonstration and customer service on the phone) the communication from Spaceships was amazing – they were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.
  • Complete flexibility and freedom: Spaceships allow you to travel wherever you want and make up your own unique itinerary. You can picnic amongst nature and stunning scenery. We camped at beautifully scenic DOC sites – they are cheap and offer a convenient loo and fabulous scenery!
  • Small enough to drive comfortably: The spaceship really drives like a car and does not feel cumbersome. We covered 7000 kilometres and many of the roads were gravel, windy and narrow and our Beta 2 Berth Spaceship allowed us to travel on them comfortably and with ease (where large camper-vans would have struggled).
  • Innovative features: We loved the unique features – especially the fridge and DVD player. We spent many a night snuggled up in our Spaceship listening to waves or a nearby river outside watching a film.
  • Dual battery system: This was an incredibly useful feature – we could power our fridge, DVD player and internal lights off a second battery. 
  • Amazing value and a low cost option: The price we paid was comparable to hiring a car and they offer a huge amount more than a hire car so was exceptional value.
  • It is the ‘Swiss army knife’ of campervans: Spaceships really can do everything!

Spaceships offered us the freedom of a campervan with the advantages of a car – and it definitely suited to us! We will always think of Mysteron and Draco fondly. Spaceships really gave us some of the most memorable adventures of our whole lives and we would recommend Spaceships unreservedly to anyone considering hiring one! 🙂

Me and Mysteron

Me and Mysteron – our Spaceship

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Categories: Accommodation, Activities, Blue Penguin, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The beautiful Coromandel peninsula

Beautiful Hahei beach on the Coromandel peninsula

Beautiful Hahei beach on the Coromandel peninsula

Days 59 to 63: Coromandel peninsula to Auckland and Spaceship drop-off!

The time had come – Day 63 was finally here! Time to say goodbye to Draco . . .

Whitianga

Whitianga

Let me take you back to a few days before that and our last few days in our lovely spaceship. We had now been in our spaceship (check out Spaceships website for more info) for almost 9 weeks and the last part of our adventure was to come. We left Rotorua, and took the long drive north to Whitianga. Once passing nearby to Thames the road soon became much windier and the scenery prettier. Back in 2010 we visited the Coromandel peninsula on our honeymoon (staying in Hahei) and loved the pure beauty of the area, so decided to come back and stay a few days in our Spaceship. We were basing ourselves in Whitianga this time around (as last time Hahei was very beautiful, but completely dead off season) as we could do day trips from here.

Us at hot water beach

Us at hot water beach

As you will see from our photos unfortunately we were really unlucky with the weather – although did have a beautifully sunny last day. Despite the wind and rain we made the most of every second of our time there. We spent time in Whitianga, and also drove over to Hot water beach and despite having missed the chance to dig a hot pool on the beach (because of either very early or very late low tide times) we still loved walking up the beach and taking a few photos.

A muddy spaceship adventure

A muddy spaceship adventure

On a very wet day we decided to take the scenic 309 drive over towards Coromandel with the plan to loop back round the top stopping at Whangapoua beach. This road was mostly gravel and pretty windy and despite John having driven on so many crazy NZ roads this was a bit of a test even for him! We had planned to walk to Waiau falls, but the track was closed for repairs, so we had to make do with a glimpse from above. As it was so wet the road was quite muddy and our spaceship got a bit dirty! Although this was soon washed away by the rain later that day.

Whagapoua beach

Whangapoua beach

Heading back to Whitianga we headed for Whagapoua beach and even in the rain this was one of the most beautiful beaches we had been to! The rain was pretty heavy by this time and the wind very strong, but we got out the car, braving the weather and walked down the steps to the completely deserted beach. We absolutely loved wandering all over the beach – there is something about a deserted beach in the wind and rain that we really love!

Last day in the spaceship at Hahei

Last day in the spaceship at Hahei

On our last morning – day 63 – we awoke to the bright sun shining down on us, and we were delighted as hadn’t seen it for quite a few days! We decided to head to Hahei on our way back to Auckland. The beach here is absolutely stunning and we parked up our Spaceship and spent time sitting on the beach enjoying the beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery.

We spent time reflecting on our 9 weeks in the spaceship – the incredible highs and a few lows, but wouldn’t have changed a thing. The next post I will write will be a review of our time in the spaceship. Next stop after Hahei was Auckland – where we headed to the Penrose depot to drop off Draco. As always Spaceships’ customer service was awesome and the drop off was very easy – although we were very sad to say goodbye to Draco. They called us a taxi which picked us up to take us to Auckland for the next chapter of our NZ adventure  🙂

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Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An amazing day at Hobbiton!

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit . . .”

The day had arrived – we were finally going to Hobbiton!! Being big fans of both the LOTR and The Hobbit myself and John hadn’t yet visited the home of the hobbits and chose the perfect day to go. We checked the weather while staying in Rotorua, and decided to visit on a sunny and clear blue sky day which was just amazing.

We headed off early in our spaceship Draco from Rotorua towards Matamata and were there within about an hour. We parked up and went into the shop to pay. It cost us $75 each, which I know some people might find expensive, but we thought it really was worth every dollar! The area around the car park has a Welcome to Hobbiton sign which is quite cool, and The Shire’s Rest Cafe is up some stairs. There isn’t much else in this area and you need to go on the tour to see where the magic happened. A partnership between Peter Jackson (who directed LOTR and The Hobbit) and the Alexander family who own the farmland on which Hobbiton is built, has made these tours possible.

We booked onto the 10.00am tour and took a few snaps while waiting patiently for our bus to arrive. We were really excited and hopped aboard when it turned up. It was certainly a retro bus! I had read some people’s comments on Trip Advisor complaining about how old the bus was and I think if they are complaining about something as small as that they were definitely in the wrong place! We loved how quaint and old it was 🙂

Our driver was great and did well to negotiate the steep and windy gravel roads that took us to the start of the tour. The army built the road down to Hobbiton especially for the films – it had to be pretty sturdy to take the weight of hundreds of vehicles needed for filming.

We were dropped off by the bus and our guide introduced herself – apologies for forgetting her name, but I blame the excitement of the day! She was absolutely brilliant and did a fantastic job at explaining all the details fans would want to know without talking too much. She also gave us plenty of time to explore, as she led us into the centre of Hobbiton. We had time to take some photos in lots of different areas all around Hobbiton and it was great fun exploring. We saw lots of hobbit holes, including Sam and Rosie’s and Bag End. We were also able to go inside one of the hobbit holes, although it was empty (they film the hobbit hole interiors in Wellington), but still fun to see! We saw the pond, and the famous party tree. It was wonderful to be able to climb right up to Bag End and see Bilbo’s view down over Hobbiton. We also saw the bench where Bilbo and Gandalf blow smoke in the film. It was all so exciting!

We rewatched all the Hobbiton parts of LOTR when we got back and saw so many different parts that we walked right through as the actors did – we really were right in the heart of so many places they used in the films.

A real highlight of the tour was still left and we had been really looking forward to going to The Green Dragon pub after it had recently opened. We were so happy to be walking across the famous bridge – as seen in the films, to be faced with The Green Dragon. On entering we were offered a complimentary beverage – we chose ginger ale, which was delicious! We sat right by a wonderfully warm open fire (it was a pretty cold day!) and enjoyed our drinks. We also spent time exploring inside, looking at the fantastic attention to detail (the interior shots in the film were filmed at a studio in Wellington, but they have recreated the interior exactly here), and the area outside around the Green Dragon, which had also been beautifully and thoughtfully decorated. We had around 20 minutes here and really didn’t want to leave! It was unfortunately all too soon time for our tour to finish, so we left The Green Dragon and walked back to be picked up by our bus. We did get the opportunity for some more awesome photos looking across to Hobbiton as we left.

It really was an incredible tour – we loved every single second and it was a true highlight of our year over here in New Zealand on our amazing adventure.

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Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The wonderful and varied Rotorua

Days 54 to 58: Rotorua

Mud pools

Mud pools

Next stop on our amazing Spaceships adventure was Rotorua. After a brilliant few days in Taupo including an amazing trip to Orakei Korako we took the hour long drive from Taupo up to Rotorua. On the way we stopped at some mud pools (which we had also seen on our honeymoon visit back in 2010) to have another look and take some photos. We loved watching the mud bubble up and spit great big bubbles – I captured a few using the action setting on my camera. Good old Draco (our awesome Spaceship) then took us on to Rotorua. We decided to treat ourselves here after a long time in the spaceship – so stayed in an apartment for a few days (Quest Rotorua). It was so lovely to have a base and having stayed in loads of different places in NZ this was certainly one of the best! It was run by such a lovely couple called Colin and Lisa. Also, the really cool thing about our Beta 2 Berth spaceship is that if you do decide to spend the odd night not sleeping in it, then because it is the size of a car it can be parked anywhere! So we easily fitted it into the undercover secure parking at Quest – where a larger camper-van definitely would not have fitted!

Rotorua museum

Rotorua museum

One of the main reasons for staying here was so we could try and watch my husband John’s football team (Crystal Palace) play in a really important game – the play off final – where the winner gets promotion to the premier league. It was such an important match and being huge football fans we didn’t want to miss it! Colin from Quest couldn’t have been more helpful and arranged so that we would be able to watch the sports channel in our room 🙂 The game kicked off at 2.00am New Zealand time!! We did manage to get some sleep before and then set our alarm so we would wake up in time. A few hours later and Palace had won 1 v 0 (after extra-time)!! They were in the premier league 🙂 We were also in touch with my parents back in the UK who were holidaying in Cornwall when the game was on. They were listening on the radio and also cheering Palace on – they had their own drama with flattening their car battery whilst sat in the car listening to the game but that is a whole other story! We were delighted Palace had won and it was worth being awake at such crazy hours. We were also really grateful to Colin and Lisa for arranging for us to be able to watch the game.

Exploring underground

Exploring underground

Back to our time sight-seeing in Rotorua. We spent 5 days there and due to the location of our apartment were able to walk to quite a few places which was great. One of the best things we did was visit Rotorua Museum. We also took a lovely walk through the park to get there where we saw pukeko. We felt the museum entrance price was a little steep at $20 each but we still really enjoyed our time there (especially considering London’s amazing museums back home are free!). We loved the introduction video which was also part-ride and included a section which shook the audience to resemble the Tarawera eruption. It was great and really added to the learning experience! We also loved exploring the underground section which showed the old mud baths people used in the past. And we walked up all the steps to the lookout at the top of the museum which had great views.

Kuirau park

Kuirau park

We also took a lovely walk along the lakefront, as well as a trip to Kuirau park. This a free park completely open to the public where they have geothermal activity. We enjoyed having a wander and looking at the various steaming bubbling parts.

Blue and green lake viewpoint

Blue and green lake viewpoint

Places a little further afield that we drove to in our spaceship included the blue and green lakes. We took a nice drive there and parked up on the blue lake waterfront. We also enjoyed a lovely walk around the lake, before driving to a viewpoint between the two lakes. From here you could see both lakes, and apparently their distinctively different colours (although the cloudy weather when we visited made this a little difficult!).

From there we then took a drive to Lake Tarawera and read all about the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. We took a few photos from a viewpoint and also drove down and parked alongside the lake itself which was beautiful.

Redwood trees

Redwood trees

The final place we visited in Rotorua was the Redwoods where we saw Californian redwood trees. The park is really well planned out and there are loads of great walks. Each walk is colour-coded and well signposted and they are at varying levels of difficulty. We took a 30 minute walk through the woods to see the redwoods and really loved exploring. They were huge trees and it was lovely and sunny too so made for a lovely afternoon out.

Like Taupo, we loved the time we spent in Rotorua and did a whole variety of different things which were brilliant. We also visited the amazing Hobbiton from Rotorua, but I will post about that separately as it was an incredible day and certainly warrants it! 🙂

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Categories: Accommodation, Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Terrific Taupo!

Days 49 – 52: Taupo

So you may have already read about our fantastic trip to Orakei Korako or our rain-filled night camping in the Tongariro National Park, but the next stop on our Spaceships adventure was a few days in Taupo. One thing we learnt while staying there and exploring is the pronunciation of Taupo – we had always pronounced it quite differently, but the correct way is toe-paw. We watched a cool video at the Taupo museum about this, and I have actually found the video online (courtesy of http://www.indiefilm.co.nz) and posted it below:

In the retro caravan!I think it’s great and pretty funny! 🙂 The museum was one of the many things we did in the Taupo area. It only cost $5 to get in and was great value. I have included a few pics in my gallery below, but I enjoyed learning about the geographical history of the area and looking in the retro caravan.

Me at Huka Falls

Me at Huka Falls

We also visited the super famous Huka Falls – which is the most visited waterfall in the whole of NZ. You can see why, as it is really easy to access – no walk required like most other waterfalls – with a good sized car park and it pretty spectacular. A bridge over the falls provides excellent views both ways and there are a number of other viewpoints further along. It is a pretty powerful waterfall making a loud rushing noise and I read that up to 220,000 litres of water gush through the gorge every second! You can also take the walk from/to the centre of Taupo to the falls – which takes about 1 hour 30 mins. We didn’t actually do this as had our spaceship to get around, but it looked a nice walk.

Aratiatia Dam opening

Aratiatia Dam opening

The same day we visited Huka Falls we also visited the Aratiatia dam to see the opening of the dam gates. This takes place three times a day in winter – at 10am, 12pm and 2pm. We went to see it open at 2pm and took some photos. On advice, we took the decision to walk to the highest viewpoint to see this happen. You can alternatively see the opening from either on the bridge that crosses it, or a viewpoint lower down. We were quite far away where we were, but did get the see the water make its way all the way down the river, so it was good from that point of view. If we visisted again we would probably watch the opening from close up on the bridge and then quickly walk to the lower viewpoint to see the water pass through.

Milkshake at Dixie Brown's

Milkshake at Dixie Brown’s

Whilst in Taupo our favourite place to eat was Dixie Brown’s, where we enjoyed a couple of meals – they did absolutely delicious milkshakes! And yummy pizza and chips. The service was usually really good too and they were always super busy which is a good sign – especially considering there are a lot of places to eat in Taupo.

The shores of Lake Taupo

The shores of Lake Taupo

We also enjoyed just spending time on the lake shores. It is a huge lake and is actually the largest lake in NZ and the largest freshwater lake in the whole of the Southern hemisphere – so it is pretty impressive! When we briefly visited Taupo on our honeymoon back in 2010 we took a helicopter trip up over Taupo and saw just how huge it is from above.

At Craters of the Moon

At Craters of the Moon

Another place we visited whilst in Taupo was Craters of the Moon where we did the geothermal walk. It is signposted on the road out of Taupo heading to Rotorua – about 5kms north (on Karapiti Road). We parked up and paid the $8 entrance fee, which we were happy to do. We also got chatting to a lovely fellow British woman who worked at the entrance kiosk, which was nice. We spent a good hour doing the loop walk and although not as spectactular as somewhere like Orakei Korako it was still full of steam and mud pools and we really enjoyed our time there.

Overall – we loved the four days that we spent in beautiful Taupo and really made the most of all it had to offer!

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Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The wonder of Orakei Korako

Orakei Korako

Orakei Korako

“Possibly the best thermal area left in New Zealand and one of the finest in the world” (Lonely Planet). 

Us at Orakei Korako

Us at Orakei Korako

Next stop on our Spaceships adventure was Taupo (and I will write separately about our time in Taupo), but the first thing we did while staying there was visit the geothermal wonderland of Orakei Korako – and we would wholeheartedly agree with Lonely Planet’s above statement!

Getting the ferry across

Getting the ferry across

Having visited other geothermal attractions in the area – Wai-O-Tapu being the most popular which we visited back in 2010, we definitely think that Orakei Korako is the best in the area. It feels so much more remote, wild and real, whereas some of the others are much more touristy.

Silica Terraces

Silica Terraces

We deliberately chose a clear blue sky day to visit, as thought it would look its best, and are so glad we did as got some great photos! The drive up from Taupo took about half an hour and was a lovely drive once off the main road. There was only one other car in the car park so we knew it would be pretty quiet! We headed inside to pay (it was $36 each which we thought was really well priced) and then took a walk down to the dock to catch the small ferry across Lake Ohakuri to the geothermal area – the ferries run on request throughout the day. We could already see steam rising ahead of us and it was very exciting! We were the only ones aboard and took the short ferry ride – which took a couple of minutes – across the water. It was a cute system, as when you wanted to return you just pressed a button and the ferry would come across to get you!

Rainbow Terraces

Rainbow Terraces

We then spent a few hours wandering all around the whole geothermal area. There were a few steps to climb up and down, but the walk wasn’t too strenuous and we enjoyed every second! Highlights included walking down to the Ruatapu Cave (apparently one of only two caves in the world known to exist in a geothermal field), seeing the bright orange Silica Terraces (believed to be the largest of their kind), seeing the colourful Rainbow Terraces and Artist’s Palette covered in geysers and hot pools, and the noisy Soda Fountain.

View from high

View from high

There was geothermal activity everywhere we walked, and just lovely peace and quiet so we could hear the birds and listen to the hissing and bubbling all around us.

To go back to the meaning of the name Orakei Korako – ‘O’ means ‘the place of”, and ‘Rakei’ meaning ‘adorning’, and ‘Korako’ meaning white glitter (describing the sinter flat), so Orakei Korako means ‘The glittering place of adorning’ – it was simply beautiful and a highlight of our Spaceships adventure!

 

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Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Blue Penguin Travel update

Blue Penguin Travel I am busy updating my blog at the moment with tales from our Spaceship adventure around New Zealand, but I just wanted to post quickly with an update about my business Blue Penguin Travel. For those of you who follow me and regularly read this blog you will know that I have set up my own company helping people travel to and around New Zealand – specialising in helping people have amazing off-the-beaten-track travel adventures. My website explains more so please take a look if you are interested in travelling to New Zealand, or perhaps mention us if you know someone who is. I have a real passion for this beautiful country and would love to help people to fulfil their own travel dreams over here.

My website is: http://www.bluepenguintravel.com/

I also have a Facebook page which is focussed on inspiring people to want to travel to NZ, and have a unique Top 5 Friday feature where I post a NZ-related Top 5 feature each week! Please take a look here if you are interested.

A couple of snippets from my testimonials are:

“We would wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommend Blue Penguin Travel  to anyone who is looking to go to New Zealand. If you are looking for a custom vacation itinerary, but don’t have the time to spend months researching and planning on your own, we would recommend Blue Penguin Travel as a great alternative”.

“Your experience and insight created an amazing, unforgettable and relaxed holiday for us and allowed us to get the most out of every second we were in New Zealand”.

“We love Blue Penguin Travel – they do all of the hard work for you, so you can just enjoy an individual, flexible and completely personalised holiday, based on expert guidance from people who know and love New Zealand”.

“We would both like to heartily endorse you, as an ambassador for New Zealand and an awesome trip planner […] The beauty of this wonderful country surpasses everything we could have ever imagined. So thank you so very much Nicola for all your help and patience, excellent advice and planning. It was a trip that will stay with us forever”.

Thanks to everyone for reading and I appreciate the support!

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Gollum’s waterfall and a night in the rain

Tawhai Falls

Tawhai Falls

Day 48: Tawhai Falls and Mangahuia DOC Camping Ground

Today we took the long drive on the next step of our Spaceships adventure from Napier, past Taupo, towards Tongariro National Park. Last time we were in New Zealand for our honeymoon back in 2010 we spent time in this area hoping to spot the spectacular Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom LOTR fans!) but were unlucky with the weather back then. Unfortunately we were unlucky again with the weather and didn’t manage to spot the elusive Mount Doom! Despite the poor weather we wanted to go back to one of our favourite NZ waterfalls – Tawhai falls – which is Gollum’s waterfall from LOTR. We parked up and headed down to see the waterfall which was just as lovely as we remembered.

At our DOC campsite

At our DOC campsite

Next stop was the Whakapapa visitor centre to get warm, where we spent time looking at their fantastic displays about the area. I was particularly interested in the natural disasters information – especially about the recent eruptions in the area. We also used the ‘flushing loo’ for the last time before heading off to our campsite. We arrived at the Mangahuia DOC camping ground, paid our fees ($6 each) chose our spot – in a nice little corner by the river and close enough to the loo. We liked this campsite, as all the pitches for campervans were separate and had trees and vegetation separating them, so you felt cosy and private. One thing we didn’t like was the smelly toilet! As with many of the DOC campsites it was a long drop, but this was definitely the smelliest we had come across! It might have been because despite being quite remote this camp ground was quite popular so lots of people were using it. By this point the heavy rain started and didn’t give up and was torrential all night!! We had chosen quite a sheltered spot for our spaceship and were glad of this, because the rain was so heavy it was pouring through the trees and making a really loud noise on our roof and this would have been even louder without some shelter! We were also glad to be near the loos, as we still got soaked dashing to the toilet in our waterproofs but watched as people got soaked right through coming from sites further away. Oh the joys of camping! So it was quite a sleepless night, with the loud rain on Draco’s roof – but a real adventure nonetheless 🙂 For more info on our lovely spaceship check out the Spaceships website and the Beta 2 Berth model which we hired. When we awoke in the morning there was flooding all around our spaceship, so we took a quick trip to the now unbearably smelly toilet, brushed our teeth and were on the road again heading to Taupo, Unfortunately due to the heavy rain Mount Doom eluded us yet again, but this is just one more reason we will have to return in future!

Categories: Accommodation, Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A relaxing time in beautiful Napier

Days 46 and 47: Napier

Evening on Napier's beach

Evening on Napier’s beach

We spent a wonderful few days in Napier as part of our Spaceships adventure and were so lucky with the wonderful weather we had. Leaving Masterton we headed for Napier (seeing Manukura the amazing white kiwi on the way!) and arrived in sunny and scenic Napier. We spent the evening down on Napier’s beach which looked just beautiful in the setting sun. Over the next few days we explored Napier and saw some of its many Art Deco buildings. Napier has quite a concentration of 1930s architecture and we only saw the buildings that were within walking distance (there are other bus tours etc.).

Napier

Napier

We learnt about the famous 1930 earthquake that levelled most of Napier’s buildings. We also visited Clive Square that is a really lovely park with lots of plants, trees and benches and was a nice place to sit and watch Napier’s world go by.

Mini golf by the sea

Mini golf by the sea

We spent time on the beautiful beachfront with its darkened sand and effervescent waves – one afternoon we sat for about two hours just watching the waves break on the shore in the sun. We also really enjoyed playing the mini golf that is right on the shore – called Par 2 Mini Golf. We played the ‘blue’ course here and loved it! The water features around the course were great and it was quite a unique course. Napier was somewhere that had been recommended to us by a family friend, and we are really glad we visited. It was a really relaxing time where we could enjoy some sun and sand and beautiful buildings!

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Categories: New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

An amazing visit to see Manukura the white kiwi!

Manukura the amazing white kiwi

Manukura the amazing white kiwi

No your eyes do not deceive you – this is Manukura – an amazing white kiwi! We had read about her before coming and had been really excited about our visit – and it was wonderful to see her! She is housed at the Pukaha Mount Bruce wildlife centre north of Masterton on the North island. It is run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) so is government funded and its main aim is taking care of NZ’s native birds and animals. It is such a fantastic place!

Manukura is the only white kiwi in the world to be born in captivity and is incredibly well cared for at the centre. She has two huge indoor enclosures all to herself! Also, the reason she looks pink in the photo above is because of the infrared lights used in the enclosures – which kiwis can’t see so it looks like complete darkness to them. I was also able to take the above photo without using a flash. We were the only people to visit her during that time, and she kept coming right up to the glass to eat lots of lovely worms. She even has her own Facebook page so it pretty famous!

A rare and friendly kokako

A rare and friendly kokako

We spent most of our time with Manukura but also walked the grounds and saw other brilliant rare and endangered birds. Our favourite was definitely the kokako – which is a very rare bird, but also a very friendly one! Apparently he is famous for his wolf-whistles if he likes you and he must have liked us because when we visited he kept on whistling. It was really funny! He kept moving constantly so was hard to photograph but I managed to get one. We also enjoyed seeing the baby tuatera they have there too.

Definitely one of our best expereinces in NZ – as we love kiwis so much and having seen lots of brown ones during our time here we feel complete now we have finally seen the amazing Manukura!

Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Beautiful Cape Palliser and a wonderful car museum

Cape Palliser lighthouse

Cape Palliser lighthouse

Days 44 and 45: Car museum at Paraparaumu and Cape Palliser

So my last post also covered day 44 with a brief stop in Paraparaumu, but I thought posting about the wonderful car museum there and our trip to Cape Palliser fitted quite well.

Southward Car Museum

Southward Car Museum

On Day 44 we headed up from Wellington (after getting the ferry the evening before) to Paraparaumu and visited the amazing Southward Car Museum. Named after its namesake – Sir Len Southward – this is a wonderful collection of over 400 cars and bikes and really is a fantastic place to visit! Admission was only $13 which we thought was really reasonable. We spent a good few hours having a wander round and looking at all the vehicles. They were in beautiful condition and really well presented in a huge exhibition hall. They also had a lower level down some steps underneath which housed yet more cars. While by no means a car expert I do love looking at old cars and my Dad also loves cars so I must get it from him! We really enjoyed our time here and would recommend to all. I did get a little carried away snapping photos so have chosen a few (ok, more than a few!) to display in my gallery at the bottom of this post.

252 steps up to Cape Palliser lighthouse

252 steps up to Cape Palliser lighthouse

On leaving Greytown on Day 45 we took the drive down to the South coast heading for Cape Palliser. The road along the edge of the cliff was very scenic. There was a section that had been affected by a slip so extreme care was needed here. As we neared Cape Palliser the road condition worsened and involved crossing quite a large pool of water, as well as driving along a very narrow and incredibly bumpy road in pretty bad condition.

Views from the top

Views from the top

We have driven our fair share of scary roads in NZ and this is definitely up there! The good thing is the really bad section didn’t last too long, we didn’t meet anyone on the way and Draco – our amazing spaceship – got us there safely. It was really worth it too! We parked up and then saw the enormous row of steps heading straight up to the Cape Palliser lighthouse! We braved it and – despite not being a fan of heights or scary high steps – started the long journey up these 252 (yes 252!) steps to the top. To be honest it was pretty tough but we made it without passing out (!) and took in the wonderful panoramic views from the top – simply beautiful. After some time at the top we headed back down the steps which was far easier than coming up, and explored the beach near where we had parked where we saw some seals.

Draco by the sea

Draco by the sea

We then took off in Draco back along the coast and found the perfect picnic spot – right by the beach with an amazing view of the waves. We set up our camping chairs from our spaceship and enjoyed a lovely picnic here. I loved just watching and listening to the waves break on the shore in front of us. One of the great things about the spaceship (rather than just a normal hire car) is that having a fridge and cooking utensils you can just set up anywhere and have a lovely picnic – where others might have to eat out or at home. It gave us real freedom and we have had lunch at some really lovely spots over the last few weeks.   It was the perfect end to a wonderful day!

Picnic by the sea!

Picnic by the sea!

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Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Saying goodbye to South island and hello to North island

Baby seals at the waterfall

Baby seals at the waterfall

Days 43 and 44: Kaikoura to Picton and Wellington to Greytown via Paraparaumu

Baby seal on a rock

Baby seal on a rock

Day 43 of our Spaceships adventure had arrived (yes more retrospective writing!). We awoke in Kaikoura and headed for Picton. On the way we stopped to see the lovely baby seals at the waterfall. This used to be something of a well-kept secret, but was fairly busy so word must have crept out! Admittedly I did blog about it back in October when we visited but am certain the visitors hadn’t all read my blog!! It was even better this time around though because due to it being winter this is the best time to see the most baby seals and we saw loads! They were all playing in the waterfall and it was wonderful to watch them.

Coastal road on the way to Picton

Coastal road on the way to Picton

The lighting here made it notoriously difficult to photograph them (as it was last time) so we mainly videoed them and just watched. Definitely a wonderful stop off on the way to Picton. On arriving in Picton we received a message from the Interislander ferry company to inform us they had cancelled the ferry we were due to get tomorrow morning. So on hearing this news we decided rather than staying in Picton until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest that we would get the evening ferry over to Wellington. We booked on to the 6.30pm departure, which would arrive about 9.40pm. There was such heavy rain while we hung around Picton in the afternoon but luckily the crossing wasn’t too rough. We queued up in Draco our spaceship quite a bit before our final check in time of 5.30pm as given to us by Interislander. We also got 10% off the cost of our ferry due to the Top 10 card we had (and luckily we hadn’t burnt it after our awful experience at a Top 10 holiday park back in April!). The crossing is still pretty pricey though at $228 for our vehicle – way more than flying – but quite a unique adventure. It was fine parking our spaceship on the ferry as it was really organised and we weren’t too crammed in – one of the many advantages of hiring a spaceship over a bigger campervan!

The Interislander’s scale rated the sea conditions at ‘Moderate’. Being a travel sicky person I don’t usually travel on boats too well (plus we suffered incredibly on our 5 hour ferry to Great Barrier island back in October), so I wasn’t taken any chances so took two strong travel sickness tablets (Drammamine). I think they really helped, as it did rock a fair bit during the crossing, but they took the edge off – plus I felt quite out of it due to their strong drowsy-causing ingredients so don’t remember too much of it!

We sadly waved goodbye to South island and said hello to North island on arrival in Wellington. Apologies for the lack of photos in this post by the way – we didn’t really take any (for a change!).

The next morning we awoke and headed up the Kapiti coast to Paraparaumu beach. We had a brief stop here to look across to Kapiti island and then decided to drive to a place called Greytown (rather than stay in Paraparaumu) so we would be closer to Cape Palliser which we could do the following day. The road up was actually incredibly windy!! We didn’t expect such crazy roads in North island, but it twisted and turned so much as it climbed up and down the mountains. On arrival in Greytown despite being on a strict budget we treated ourselves to some well deserved and very cheap but yummy takeaway chips.

Having been to North island before we know it is different to South island – the weather is warmer and in our view the scenery is not as spectacular, but we are excited and looking forward to all of our north island adventures ahead, starting with Cape Palliser tomorrow. 🙂

Categories: Activities, New Zealand, North Island, Photographs, South Island, Spaceship | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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