*This post was in draft when the news of the Christchurch earthquake came through. I will be posting our adventures in the South Island tomorrow, with a focus particularly on Christchurch as it was just two weeks ago. Our thoughts and prayers are with the wonderful people of that city, and anyone else who may be affected, in this difficult time.*
For our Honeymoon, Bride of Film Nerd and I spent two weeks travelling around New Zealand. What follows are a few highlights and pictures of our time there, including some Lord of the Rings specific moments. I have linked websites to our hotels and activities at each location if you wish to find out more.
Day 1: Sydney – Auckland
Our flight landed in Auckland, and we picked up our rental car for the North Island from the airport. Though a Toyota Camry was listed on our rental agreement, we were fortunate enough to end up with the Hyundai i45, which was a very nice upgrade indeed.
Our hotel in Auckland was the Best Western Presidential. It was comfortable enough, however the parking was limited for that first night and we missed out. Even when I did get parking the next day, the car park was almost dangerously cramped. We had some time to explore the city that evening, but what we saw of the city centre was almost just like Sydney. We went to dinner at a nice Old English styled restaurant, The Lord Nelson, where I also enjoyed my first Kiwi beer.
Day 2: Bay of Islands
We caught a tour bus from our hotel to the Bay of Islands. Our first visit on this trip was the house of James Busby and the Waitangi treaty grounds, so we got our first real taste of NZ history and Maori culture. We were also walked through the Te Whare Runanga Maree, a Maori meeting-house, and were shown a genuine Maori war canoe.
We were then taken on a cruise of the Bay of Islands, where we saw a pod of dolphins and the Hole in the Rock. Unfortunately, my dolphin photography was not that good, so the photo below was taken by a professional photographer on board.
Day 3: Auckland – Tauranga
We spent the morning in Auckland, observing the views from the Sky Deck of the Sky Tower. The views were impressive, and it was nice to be able to leave Auckland on a positive note. We then drove for 3 hours or so to Tauranga. We had a lovely little hotel there, the Armitage, in which we got very comfortable. We then went on an Evening Kayak and Glow Worm tour via the Waimarino adventure park. Unfortunately, being a water sport type excursion, I left my camera behind, but it was an amazing night. We were lucky enough to be the only two on this tour, which started with being fed fresh fruit, cheese, and wine, then we were taken on the kayak itself. It was so peaceful, and when we were in the glow-worm canyon it was like another night sky , but so close you could touch it.
Day 4: Tauranga – Rotorua
A short but beautiful drive today brought us to Rotorua, our favourite destination up until this point. Sure, the smell of sulphur initially hits you in the face like a cricket bat, but it does not take long to get used to it. We visited the Te Puia Rotorua facility, in which we were treated to a traditional Maori performance (I have video but the file size is too huge to upload, there are a few pics below instead), we were demonstrated traditional Maori wood carving and weaving techniques, we got to see a real life Kiwi (no photos allowed), and we toured the thermal valley, including natural geysers. It was a fun packed experience, and our guide Mel had an awesome sense of humour, adding to the experience.
That evening we went for a Hells Gate Mud bath and Wai Ora spa experience. The mud bath was certainly different, but very relaxing, a relaxation that was disturbed by the fact afterwards we were required to take a freezing cold shower. We could then recover in the sulphur spa. After that level of relaxation, all we wanted was a good meal, which we got from our hotel restaurant (at the Sudima Hotel), then get a good sleep.
Day 5: Rotorua – Wellington
Very little to say about today, as we spent the vast majority of it driving. Driving in NZ is fantastic though, with State Highways that go right through National Parks and Reserves. An example on this drive was when we were going through Tongariro National Park. I was especially excited to be going through here as many of the LOTR Mordor scenes were filmed here. It was clear on this journey however, that the power of the Ring is destroyed, as Mordor now appears touched by the Valar….
Wellington is a beautiful city, despite some insane traffic. There are a lot of lovely places to eat, a lot of shops to visit and enjoy. We spent an evening strolling around before returning to our hotel, The Bay Plaza. This hotel had a lovely bar, and was very comfortable. My only complaint would once again be the cramped parking spaces. We explored the city a bit that night, with me visiting the theatre at which all three LOTR films had their world premieres.
Day 6: Wellington
This morning we were taken on a tour of Wellington by Hammonds Scenic Tours. We had a great time, seeing the Wellington Parliament buildings, the largest wooden structure in the Southern Hemisphere, Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which was amazingly beautiful, and the Wellington Botanic Gardens. We were then taken to the peak of Mount Victoria, which gave us panoramic views od the entire city. As the photos show, it was windy but well worth it.
We drove past some LOTR filming sites, The Shortcut to Mushrooms, and where the hobbits hid during their first encounter with a Black Rider, but we were going too fast for photos. The last part of the tour is what I most looked forward to, but was most disappointed by… the WETA Cave. I fully understand that access to the WETA studios themselves is prohibited… there is all that pesky copyright stuff, and trying to keep the magic until the films and television they are making is actually released, but the cave was more of a merchandising initiative than an exploration of what the studios do. In addition, it was little more than a small room. There was a mini-theatre with a behind the scenes DVD, but a lot of that information was already available in the special features of the LOTR extended editions. In addition, the items on sale were extraordinarily expensive, beyond the scope of your average mortgage holder.
So after that small disappointment, my Bride and I spent the afternoon in the Te Papa Museum. This had a wonderful collection of exhibits on various themes, and included a number of interactive displays. We wore ourselves out wondering many of its different levels, and still only saw perhaps half of it. For me the highlight was the colossal squid.
Day 7: Wellington – Picton – Greymouth
We left Wellington early in the morning, saying goodbye to the i45, and jumping on the InterIslander ferry. It was a three-hour ferry trip in which I enjoyed the view (when the fog finally lifted that is) and my bride, who thought she was doing the right thing taking motion sickness tablets, slept.
The ferry dropped us off at Picton, where we picked up our South Island vehicle, this time getting the predicted Toyota Camry. It was then on the road for our stop-over hotel in Greymouth, the Ashley Hotel. It was a nice enough hotel as far as appearance was concerned, but it was let down by the staff being somewhat snooty, and the prices for the uses of the actual facilities being way too much. Thankfully, this stay was our only negative blip in our entire time spent in the South Island, which I shall detail in the next post.