We were not long in Auckland when we received a call from my brother Mike with the that our older brother Brian had died suddenly on April 28. He was aged 72. Our thoughts were and still are with Linda, Catherine, David and the rest of the family.
I was lost for words when I heard the news from Mike, I was lost for words at his funeral and I still can’t find the words even now 4 months later.
Following our week in Taupo, our next stop was New Plymouth on the west coast. Ideally we would have visited New Plymouth first as we were to some extent back tracking but we had booked our Taupo accommodation early and as a Timeshare, it was the only week available to us.
In truth, our original itinerary didn’t include New Plymouth. It’s not a place that automatically springs to mind for would be travellers to New Zealand – we had never even heard of the place. However, to make the most of our visa days in New Zealand we still had over a week left before we left the country and didn’t want to spend it all in Auckland. Thus we decided to take a look at the west coast yet another area often not visited by many tourists with limited time to spare.
So on 24th April we set off from Taupo to drive to New Plymouth. We were looking forward to the drive and it was indeed as scenic as ever but autumn was most definitely settling in now and the skies were grey. The skies got heavier as we neared the coast and the cloud was so low that we barely got a glimpse of Mount Teranaki, an active volcano which dominates the landscape and can be seen from many many miles away.
This is definitely an outdoorsy place. Its a surf coast and cycling is also popular but Teranaki National Park also provides good tramping which can include a tramp to the summit for those fit enough to do it – too tough for us sadly.
We arrived at New Plymouth around 1pm and were met by the landlord of the house we were renting for three nights. The house was perfect; a nice modern 3 bed 3 bath house very well kitted out only 5 minutes walk from the old harbour with its several restaurants and bars and half an hours stroll along a coastal walkway into the centre of the town itself.
We wandered into town down the main drag for a look around but this was Friday 24th April 2015, the day before the centenary of Anzac Day (much more important here than our Armistice Day) and even at 3.30pm on a Friday many/most of the shops were already closed for the holiday weekend as Monday was a bank holiday. Restaurants everywhere except the main cities and big towns close at 2/2.30 after lunch and then reopen for dinner at 5 or 6 and so mid afternoon the town is almost totally shut down except for a couple of bars.
But our luck was in. We had planned to sample the beers at the Hour Glass Bar which has a big following as the craft beer place in town and fortunately the bar opened at 4pm. We actually sampled several and after a good sufficiency got a taxi back to the house for spaghetti bolognese which Ann had made the night before, washed down with a bottle of red wine, we had no trouble sleeping that night!
The following morning we walked into town again late morning but this time by the Ocean Walkway and walked for a couple of hours or so beyond town and then back again! Given this was Anzac Day the place was well and truly shut. We walked back to the digs and then back into town later for an Indian – we grabbed a taxi home that night!
Sunday was a washout. We did manage a short walk but were largely confined to barracks and took the opportunity to work on our itinerary and make some bookings for our trip to Malaysia and Indonesia planned from August onwards.
We left New Plymouth on Monday 27th. The weather had put a dampener on our visit but at least we had got over to the west coast and wouldn’t now be wondering about should we or shouldn’t we have gone!
We loaded the car and left our rented house in torrential rain which continued for much of a three hour journey journey north to Raglan. A truly horrible drive.
The rain gradually eased off and stopped as we came to the end of our journey mid afternoon. We checked into the decidedly budget Sunset Motel, not the best, and went for a wander.
Raglan is a very small surf town with a beach that is said to be one of the best surf beaches in New Zealand. We barely gave the beach a glance given the miserable weather.
The town is actually very small but very nice and it must be lovely in summer. I read somewhere that the town had something of a reputation as being a bit wild which may or may not be true in summer when the place is doubtless packed with youngsters but this was autumn, the rains were coming and it was getting chilly at night. There were very few people around although a few brave souls sat drinking beer on the veranda of the Harbour View Hotel.
Surprisingly all the several surf shops were still open for business and there were quite a few nice gift shops and the like also open even though this was the Anzac Bank Holiday Weekend!
We walked for an hour or so but it rained on and off and in the end we gave up to return to our planning for Asia. Dinner was a fish supper – our first fish and chips for quite some time and excellent red snapper it was too!
Raglan was a one night only stop to break up the journey from New Plymouth to Auckland. We had read that it’s a nice town and so it is. I’m sure its fantastic in summer but we were glad to leave to get on to the final leg of our journey around New Zealand.
On Friday 17th April, an hour or so after leaving Pipiriki and the Whanganui River for the 125KM drive to Taupo, we got our first sight of Great Lake Taupo from afar. The weather was a bit grim and not great for photographs (and that applied most of our week in Taupo) but the picture and stats below show the scale of it:
Maximum length: 29 miles Maximum width: 21 miles Surface area: 238 sq miles – about the size of Singapore Length of shoreline: 120 miles Average depth: 360 feet
It’s the biggest lake in New Zealand and the second biggest fresh water lake in Oceania – second only to Lake Murray in Papua New Guinea.
We would be staying at a small timeshare resort in Taupo, Ika Nui, which is on the lake front. We arrived mid afternoon on Friday 17th April and were soon checked in and shown to our unit which was a one bedroom first floor apartment. The resort is not the most modern we have stayed in but it was in a great location, clean with an excellent full and well kitted out kitchen with open plan lounge, separate bedroom and a spacious bathroom. The staff were excellent – very helpful and friendly.
With bags dropped in the apartment we walked around town to check local eateries for dinner and came across a craft beer pub called Rose on Roberts almost next door to where we were staying. Having sampled a few of the local brews in the Rose,we managed to drag ourselves away and moved on for dinner at the Master of India which was highly rated in Trip Advisor and quite rightly so.
A few random scenes around Taupo
Saturday was quite a miserable day so we didn’t venture far and took the opportunity to do some more research for our travel planning. In the evening we went to Rose on Roberts for some great craic with the excellent bar folk and a very chummy Kiwi couple who were on holiday touring with their van. Dinner was excellent. The Rose became a daily fix!
With mixed weather my plan to fish for hours on end in the Mecca Of Trout Fishing was kiboshed and a line was barely wetted. Conditions for fishing were poor and we saw less than a dozen people fishing all week – this on the biggest lake in New Zealand.
Notwithstanding the weather, we did get to visit Turangi and the National Trout Centre on the Tongariro River which was a very pleasant excursion. The Centre has a freshwater aquarium, visitor centre, museum and historic Trout hatchery.
There is also a childrens fishing pond where we saw half a dozen or so kids having a lesson in fly fishing. Each one caught a fish and of course were tickled pink.
We did manage to include a couple of decent walks during our week in Taupo and one was to Huka Falls, a popular local beauty spot. The weather was kind and we extended our walk by an hour or so and went on to the Aratiata Rapids Walk. This track continues along the river to the Aratiatia Dam and Rapids and luckily we arrived at 12.30 just in time to see the dam doors opening.
Photos along our walk to Huka Falls and beyond to the Aratiatia Dam
Rotorua and Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Springs
One seems steam rising from the ground and from water everywhere in this part of New Zealand but we couldn’t miss Rotorua.
Rotorua is a popular town for tourists to visit in mid North Island and, of course, is famous for its lake and especially its geysers and hot springs. It’s only 80Km from Taupo, about an hours drive, and we had decided to visit the town from Taupo rather than stay in Rotorua.
We visited Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland near Rotorua and then drove on to spend an hour or two in the town itself.
At Wai-O-Tapu, in addition to the multi-coloured thermal pools, boiling mud and volcanic craters, we saw a geyser, the Lady Knox Geyser, being activated by the addition of a surfactant which causes it to erupt. This is a daily event at 10.15 am and visitors can watch from a natural amphi theatre. A water spout up to 20 metres results that can last up to an hour.
We called into Roturua and walked around for an hour or two and enjoyed a nice lunch of Sushi. It’s a largish town like many others and we didn’t linger too long.
On our last day in Taupo we walked the Great Lake Walkway which follows Taupo’s lake edge all the way to 5 mile bay. It’s a lovely scenic walk with some great views and as always there are picnic tables and BBQs provided for the public. Also as always everywhere is spotlessly clean and all the grassed and landscaped areas on the lake edge are beautifully manicured. What is weird though is to come across small streams flowing into the lake which have steam rising from them with warning signs to beware hot water!
Scenes around the lake
We left Taupo on Friday 24th April. We hadn’t had the best of weather and so we didn’t actually take many photographs but we managed to get out and about and make the most of the dry days we had. We loved the town and with better weather there’s a lot more to see and do if ever we get chance to return.
The Whanganui River pictured above is very wide but becomes much narrower quite quickly as you travel north following the Whanganui River Road which runs alongside it.
We left Whanganui for Taupo after breakfast on the morning of 17th April. It was a lovely sunny morning – but it wouldn’t last.
There are two possible routes from Whanganui to Taupo – the quick route or the scenic, Whanganui River Road route . We had initially discounted the longer scenic route because we had read it can be dangerous in bad weather being very winding and unsurfaced in a lot of places but as we reached the turn off for the river road the weather was still clear. We had a rush of blood and changed our minds at the very last minute. We turned off the main National Highway to take the river road which would take us through the Whanganui National Park up to Pipiriki. From Pipiriki we would travel inland via Raetihi to Taupo. As it happens, the road wasn’t too bad at all and in fact there was a team of men carrying out surfacing work soon after we got on to the road.
Whanganui to Pipiriki is about 80km. The road follows the river pretty much all the way and there is some lovely if not jaw dropping scenery – doubtless it would have been very much prettier with decent weather but it became a cloudy murky day once we got on to the River Road and headed into the hills.
The road to Pipiriki has a number of small settlements and communities along its length and there is lots of Maori and European history in the area. Soon we had come to a sign for Pungarehu Marae which is around 20km north of Whanganui. This is apparently the site of an ancient pa (fortress ) but the Marae itself is around 100 years old and appears to be in very good condition and well maintained. We stopped to take a look but whilst visitors are normally welcome to enter when invited, the place appeared to be deserted and so we took a few snaps and left.
We passed by other settlements and an old flour mill at Kawana before arriving at Jerusalem, one of a number of places on the river which has an English name with Maori translations. The English names were usually given by missionaries and others include Atene (Athens) and Koriniti (Corinth).
Its hard to believe that this tiny place was once an important fishing village on the river. It’s also the site of a Catholic Mission established in 1854 and later in 1892 Mary Mother Joseph established the Sisters of Mercy which are a well known charitable/nursing order.
There is a lovely church here (replacing another church that had burned down in the 1880s) and a convent. There must have been many more people here in the 1800s but the church, convent and Sisters are still here and the buildings and grounds are immaculately maintained.
A famous New Zealand poet, James K Baxter and his followers established a community in Bethlehem in the 1970s and Baxter is buried here. You can read about him here :
The river communities here are inextricably linked with the Maori land issues and in 1864 at Moutoua Island on the river, a battle was fought between the upriver iwi (tribes) who were anti the European settlers and the lower river iwi from the Whanganui area who supported the European settlement. The battle was short lived and the northern iwi retreated but the fighting had resulted in hostilities even within family members and apparently the resulting bad blood still remains in some quarters.
We arrived at Pipiriki about 1pm. We expected to find a small touristy village but there’s nothing to speak of other than a river boat operator, a coffee shop, a derelict hotel and a DOC Toilet Block/Shelter with some interesting Information Boards about the history of the area.
Pipiriki is the end place for most kayaking trips from up river. One trip that we would have liked to have done but didn’t combines tracking and kayaking to the Bridge to Nowhere. This is a bridge that was built across the deep Mangapurua Gorge to provide access to an area where the government was opening up land in 1917 for pioneering farmers, mainly soldiers, who had returned from World War I. The intention was to build roads to it later, but the area proved to be so remote and unsuitable for farming that the venture failed and the farms reverted to native bush. Thus the bridge became a white elephant but remains a curiosity and apparently an interesting hike/boat ride.
We had our packed lunch, made use of the DOC washroom facilities and carried on inland via Raetihi and over the hills to Turangi and then to Taupo on Great Lake Taupo.
After Wellington our next “must visit” town was Taupo which sits in the centre of North Island, New Zealand on Lake Taupo. It’s a drive of over 5 hours from Wellington and as such is beyond our limit for distance driving thus we decided to stop off at Whanganui (aka Wanganui) on the west coast to break the journey. Since our aim is always to stay at least 2 nights at any one stopping place so as to give us a minimum one full day in loco, that’s what we did.
We knew nothing about Whanganui and had no great expectations but it was a convenient place to stop and it meant that by visiting here we would have covered the Southern part of the West coast which most travellers don’t do if they have limited time – it’s another one of those places a little out of the way off the main tourist track.
We left Wellington mid morning on the 15th April and a pleasant 2 1/2 hour drive had us pulling into the Kings Court Motel car park around 1pm. We checked in and went for a walk around town looking for a lunch spot. We couldn’t find anything that took our fancy, and ended up buying fish and chips from George’s Fisheries, regarded as the best there is in Whanganui and sat on a park bench to eat them out of the paper. Awesome they were too!
Whanganui turned out to be a very pleasant and friendly little town. It sits near the mouth of the Whanganui River which is the longest river in New Zealand. Tourism here is all about the river and water activities. One of New Zealand’s Great Walks is actually a 5 day canoe/kayak trip down the the river which is a tad weird but there are plenty of proper walking tracks in the area with maps available from DOC as always. There are also some really nice public parks and gardens in and around the town notably Queens Park with its lake on the outskirts of town where we spent a very pleasant couple of hours.
Another Great Walk in this southern part of South Island is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19 km one day track across an active volcano, Mount Tongariro. We had hoped to do this walk ourselves as its one of the few Great Walks that we felt reasonably confident to do which doesn’t involve multiple days walking. In the event, snow had just fallen on the mountain top at the time we were there and the ICentre Tourist Office in Whanganui advised us that the track would be closed. A disappointment but maybe we will get chance do it next time…
Its fair to say that other than the great outdoors there are few tourist attractions as such but we did visit and were impressed by the towns museum. This wasn’t your typical museum, or at least not on the day we visited, when the place was busy and noisy with pre-school kids with teachers and mums doing craft work making stuff.
Whilst the museum is only small it is packed with interesting exhibits. This is very much Maori territory and there’s a huge amount of interesting stuff about the Maori going back hundreds of years if not centuries but also much more recent stuff following European settlement, the Land Wars etc.
For a small place there’s a lot of history. The town itself was established in the early 1840s when the Crown started negotiations for the purchase of land from the local Maori. This was the year in which the Waitangi Treaty was signed which, inter alia, gave the Crown, rather than individuals, the right to acquire land from Maori. The negotiations were finally completed in 1848 although the first settlers arrived from England, Scotland and Ireland in 1841 having bought land via the New Zealand Company.
Maori living in the town area accepted the situation although they questioned the New Zealand Company’s good faith but Maori living on the upper river were hostile and with tensions high, a British military garrison was installed in 1846 before conflict broke out in 1847. A military presence remained for 23 years.
In the mid 1860s the Land Wars began and with the town under threat of attack by militants, fortifications were built to the north-west and along the river and troops were deployed. Whanganui became a major military centre. The last of the troubles took place in the late 1860s when Maori extremists attacked farms near Whanganui but the raiders retreated and the skirmishes came to an end. The 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment finally left in January 1870.
After the conflicts of the 1860s, the New Zealand Settlement Acts gave authority to the Government to acquire lands from those Maori who had rebelled. In the event land was acquired not just from rebels but even from those who had supported the government. The purpose of the acquisitions was to hand the land over to British settlers.
Not all land was acquired by the Crown and indeed some was returned to Maori but not always to the people from whom it was acquired. Thus land is a source of resentment to this day and the Whanganui region has been a focal point of it. The Treaty of Wiatangi has been questioned and been the subject of much antagonism and debate ever since it was signed and this has never diminished.
Grievances exist all over New Zealand and whilst these have been ongoing ever since Waitangi, a Maori protest movement, an indigenous peoples rights movement, has developed since the 1970s focussing not just on land rights but also Maori language, culture and racism. These issues are still a significant feature of the political landscape in New Zealand.
More recently, legal actions have seen many acknowledgements of wrongs done in the past and since the 1990s there have been many compensation settlements paid to Maori communities amounting to many millions of AUD. The Whanganui settlement alone exceeds AUD100M.
A few scenes around Whanganui Town:
After 2 nights at the Royal Court and a very pleasant stay in Whanganui, we set off early on 17th April for Taupo.