New Zealand: Auckland in midwinter


While the northern hemisphere is celebrating the summer solstice by touching Stonehenge and other rituals, the 21st of June is the midwinter solstice down here in the southern hemisphere. We drove from Hamilton to Auckland for our last few days in New Zealand. The sunsets just after 5pm behind the city so we walked down to the harbour to enjoy the evening light.

Someone I was at school with has been living in Auckland for many years and had invited us over to their house in Devonport for an evening meal. We took the 10 minute ferry with all the commuters returning home in the dark and had a very enjoyable evening. The following morning the forecast rain had arrived so we decided to visit the museum which sits in Auckland Domain and had a very wet walk there. The neoclassical building was constructed in 1929 and is Auckland War Memorial Museum. Most of the top floor is devoted to the war memorial collection. However, it contains many other gems. On the ground floor Maori and Pacific Islander artefacts are on display.

In the ancestral meeting house (remove your shoes to enter) a restoration project was underway.

Although New Zealand had its own potteries from the late 19th century, we found a link with home as Royal Doulton and a tile manufacturer in Hanley produced china and tiles with Maori decoration in the early 20th century. There were also silver teaspoons from Birmingham. Other exhibits were Wild Child: childhood in New Zealand, sections on volcanoes, natural history, 20th century Japanese ceramics and a very powerful photographic exhibition entitled Being Chinese in Aotearoa chronicling the experiences of Chinese people in New Zealand in over 90 photographs from the first settler in 1842 to the present day. Unfortunately, we will not be here to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which starts on 7 July 2017. It was raining less on the return journey but the sky remained overcast and the Sky Tower was in the mist so not an evening to go up for the view.

On Friday morning, we were back on the Devonport ferry for a wander around the town. Close to the ferry terminal is Windsor Reserve with a very large tree that has numerous aerial roots. The New Zealand Tree Register identifies it as a Moreton Bay Fig, also known as an Australian Banyan.

Devonport has two bookshops, both on Victoria Road. Bookmark has secondhand books including a large section on military history in addition to all the usual sections. The shop on the other side of the street sells new books. On Queen’s Parade, we found a gallery selling antique maps and prints, Japanese woodblock prints and other modern prints and a few paintings but nothing to add to our collection. On a clear day, it would have been worth walking up Mount Victoria for the view but as the mist had descended, we confined ourselves to walking on the beach where I found some sea glass and had some conversations with the dog walkers, one of whom was originally from Northern Ireland.

As the city was shrouded in mist this was also not a day for the Skytower.

At the ferry terminal, I picked up a free copy of Paperboy, a free magazine published every Thursday and is a great guide to what’s on around the city. I spotted a photographic exhibition at the Trish Clark Gallery and would have loved to see it but the gallery opened so late that we could not manage it before a late lunch and the walk to Eden Park. We had a great lunch in the Indian restaurant opposite our hotel. A Fan Trail had been marked out for us to walk to the venue and entertainment was laid on along the route. These ladies were dancing to Amy Winehouse:

There were people dancing with fire, various bands (one of whom were doing a not very good rendition of UB40’s Red, Red Wine and people dressed up in all sorts of costumes. It took one and a half hours to get there and find our seat. Unfortunately the British and Irish Lions lost the match with the All Blacks so we slipped out early and caught the first train back to the city centre. Tomorrow we leave Auckland to start the long journey home.

New Zealand: Hamilton


En route to Hamilton on Highway 1, we stopped for coffee at Tirau, a town that does not make it into the guide book. It has numerous cafes and so is a good place for refuelling but its speciality is corrugated iron art. Some of the buildings including the information centre and merino wool shop are housed in large corrugated iron animals.


The metal is used in many of the buildings in a more usual fashion but there are also smaller art works and some for sale in the stores. I was feeling a little under the weather so after arriving in Hamilton we limited our explorations to finding some dinner. The next morning we walked the three miles from our hotel into the city centre. The guide book is somewhat scathing saying that the ‘grey-green greasy Waikato River rolls through town’ but is ignored by the city layout. There was certainly one signpost down to the river walkway from Victoria Street and another area where access is going to be made and will open in early 2018. The riverside path runs along both banks for several miles. On the east bank the path runs thorugh the Memorial Garden and Hayes Paddock, both green spaces.

We crossed the Anzac Bridge and walked along to the Hamilton Gardens which are southeast of the centre. Fifty years ago the area was a quarry and rubbish dump. There are now gardens in several different styles: this is the Italian Renaissance one

They are situated in a large park with a cafe and restaurant, childrens’ play area, productive garden, a rose garden and herb garden. We took a bus back into the city centre and browsed in Hamilton’s secondhand bookstore ‘Browsers’ on Victoria Street. We had passed the old now empty shop on the other side of the road the previous evening so assumed it had closed. It was a pleasant surprise to find it had relocated. As seems to be the case in New Zealand, there was a large local interest section but they covered a wide range of topics and had a child-friendly area. You have to keep your wits about you in the city centre, as cyclists also use the pavement. Many cyclists have no lights or bells so can catch pedestrians unaware. Tonight there is another rugby match and then we return to Auckland tomorrow.

New Zealand: Rotorua


We joined the rugby tour in Auckland and left on a bus. It was a pleasant change from driving, having done just over 2000 miles in the previous two weeks. We drove back down the Southern Highway and past Huntly but then turned off through Morrinsville amid dairy farming country and had a break at Matamata. It has achieved fame as the film set for Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings. You can tour the film set for $99 if you wish. We had a quick lunch and then completed our journey to Rotorua. The lake is a peaceful oasis late afternoon.

This black swan was just settling down for the night.

In the evening, we had a drink in Eat Street. The police and someone from public health were patrolling although it was quiet. As a street pastor back home, it is usually me keeping the streets safe while everyone else is eating and drinking inside so it was slightly strange to be on the other side for a change. Dinner was in a Chinese restaurant where we were the only non-Chinese customers. On Saturday morning, we walked out to Whakarewarewa, a Maori village with thermal waters on the south side of Rotorua.

The local community cook and bath using the waters. Very gradually they are having to move up the hill as sink holes appear in the very thin crust in the lower parts of the area.

This is an old hut they sued to shelter in on winter nights that is no longer in use.

We had a guided tour that lasts for an hour and which was very interesting, covering the geo-thermal activity, the Maori history and culture here. There are other options including cultural performances, dining on food cooked in the thermal ovens and walking trails around the village and lake, some of which we did. There are two overlooks giving good views of the geysers.

We also met a pukeko.

The woman who runs the gift shop and looks after around 15 cats, was working in the Chinese restaurant we ate in the evening before and recognised James. The money raised from the entrance fee and tours goes back to the community. There is a larger, more commercial thermal village a little further down the road which is busier and more expensive. We walked back into town and picked up some lunch before it was time to go to the rugby stadium. I have been to countless rugby matches over the years but the first game was the first women’s match I have seen. England were playing the New Zealand Black Ferns and won as did the British Lions who beat the All Blacks in the second game. It was very wet and I found myself watching some of the media. One guy from the Sky Sports Team was zooming around on a Segway and managing to shoot video at the same time. Other photographers were dumping one camera on the wet grass while they were using the other. It was quite amusing to see that the referee and lines people were sponsored by Specsavers, especially considering some of the decisions they made. Quite a few of the Lions’ fans had stuffed lions, hats and costumes but we met a group of Irish guys, one of whom was dressed as Pink Panther. After the game we eventually found the correct bus back to the hotel and planned a lazy day on Sunday before the next move.

New Zealand: first 24 hours in Auckland


Having arrived the evening before it was already dark by the time we ventured out for dinner. The doors of St Patrick’s Cathedral just down the street from our hotel were open so we looked inside. It was built in 1907 in the Gothic Revival Style with lots of polished wood and stained glass inside.

This morning we visited the Art Gallery which sits on the other side of Albert Gardens from the University. The original building dates from 1887 with a modern extension.

On the top floor was an exhibition entitled ‘Shout, Whisper, Wail: the 2017 Chartwell Show’ including works by ten contemporary New Zealand and Australian artists in a variety of media. This is ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner’ by Janet Lilo, 2017.

The first floor has modern New Zealand and international art of which this is one example from a UK 20th century family.The Boyle Family’s ‘The Gisborne Triptych’ 1990 is one work from a project in which they invited friends to throw darts at a map of the world. They then visited as many sites as possible and gathering materials from 1000 sites using what they called ‘earthprobes’ which comprised samples from the ground and resin casting. Gisborne was where Captain Cook first landed hence the significance of this work to New Zealand.

The lower levels have New Zealand paintings from the early colonial settlement, Maori portraits by Charles F Goldie and modern works exploring migration, exploration and arrival from the earliest settlements to today. There are free tours in English and Mandarin but we preferred to wander around by ourselves.
Just outside is Albert Gardens with some sculptures and plants still in flower. The University Clock Tower looks over the gardens.

The Sky Tower at 328m is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and you can go up it and look at the view and have a drink in the bar.

We might do that when we are back in Auckland for a couple of days at the end of this trip. We met some of the other people on the trip in the bar at Happy Hour and then found our evening meal in one of the many restaurants in the city centre. Tomorrow we leave for our next destination: Rotorua.

New Zealand: Lake Taupo to Auckland

The day length is noticeably longer up here. Lake Taupo was being buffeted by strong winds as we left and the ducks looked very ruffled, not knowing to risk swimming on the water.

Making a note to return in a different season, we got back onto Highway 1 just north of the town. There are plenty of adrenalin activities to do around here but I would be happy just to do some walking on the trails. The road passes through the large Kinleith Forest before descending into farmland.

North of Hamilton, farmland merges into coal mining country and Huntly is the centre. There are both underground and opencast mines here. Happily, we found a diversion around Lake Waikare. It is struggling with algal bloom and pollution from the surrounding farms. There is a big clean-up operation underway in the Waikare River which runs alongside the road. It was just as windy as Lake Taupo.

Very few birds were attempting to fly today but we did spot a few wild turkeys foraging by the side of the road. Nearer to Auckland the expressway becomes a motorway. With roadworks and road improvement schemes we felt quite at home. We dropped the hire car off and dragged our cases the three blocks or so to our hotel. We are now joining part of the British Lions tour so that James can enjoy some rugby. It does leave us with quite a lot of free time however so tomorrow we will sample some of the delights of Auckland. While we were checking in, the screens in reception were reporting serious disruptions with road closures and ferry crossings due to snow in the South Island. At least we have escaped that.

New Zealand: Wellington to Lake Taupo

We spent most of the morning on Highway 1 dodging heavy showers and getting used to the new rental car. The road runs by the coast for the first few miles before continuing inland. We had a brief stop on the windblown beach at Pukera Bay with Kapiti Island in the distance.

Foxton was our coffee stop and as this area is not very densely populated, reminded us of many places on the South Island. We were the only customers in the cafe at the time. Foxton was a New Zealand flax-stripping centre, has a Dutch windmill in the town centre and a beach. As we drove on, listening to music on the iPod, The Stranglers’ ‘Something better change’ came on and seemed very apposite given the political situation back home in the UK.

Sanson sits at a road junction and that is all it seems on the map, so finding The Ministry of Books was serendipitous. This very large shop is well-organised, has a huge selection on all aspects of New Zealand and many other subjects as well as some antiquarian volumes.

By the time we emerged with a couple of purchases it was raining very heavily. The next big road junction was at a town called Bulls. In addition to a large black bull sculpture, a notice welcomed visitors saying it is ‘a town like no udder’. The next town on our route was Waioru which described itself as an ‘oasis in the Rangipo Desert’ at 792m altitude. It is a garrison town and entry to much of the countryside on the road through the desert is restricted as it is an army training ground. We had our lunch at the rain-soaked summit which is at 1074m and noticed several military police vehicles, a fire engine and ambulance passing us on the road, red lights flashing. A rainbow appeared in the sky

but the torrential rain continued and only a mile or so down the road we had to sit and wait for more than an hour until the accident was cleared. We then descended down to the lake and alongside it into Taupo and our hotel but all we could see was the rain.

New Zealand: Fox Glacier to Nelson

After scraping the ice from the windscreen we were on our way. None of the cafes in Fox Glacier Village were open early for breakfast on a winter Sunday morning so we had to wait for that until we got to Franz Josef Glacier. Dense mist and low sun made progress a little slow as did meeting a large herd of cattle who were being moved a couple of miles along the road near Whataroa. A little further on we found a lovely spot on the shores of Lake Ianthe. You can camp here and a couple of campervans were there.


Ross is a former gold prospecting town where the largest nugget in New Zealand was found in 1907. Nowhere was open for coffee so we pressed on the Hokitita. Caffeine levels topped up we had a little look around town. It has something I have never seen before: a sock shop and museum. They do sell a few other woollen (merino and possum) items e.g. sweaters but it is mostly socks and wool. They have a large display of old machinery, domestic and commercial used for sock-knitting. There is also a large jade factory and shop. You can go in and see the stones being ground and decorated and there is a large shop selling jewellery and other items.

Heading north out of Hokitita we were driving alongside the railway and the coast. Many of the old wooden bridges sit alongside the new concrete ones. Just north of Kumara junction Highway 6 still uses the old single-lane metal bridge but a new one is under construction. We drove through a place called Shantytown which had a motel but did not look at all an inspiring place to stay. At Greymouth we drove inland on Highway 7 up the Grey River Valley crossing its various tributaries and then on another road to rejoin Highway 6.