On the way from Punakaiki to Picton, I passed through the seaside city of Nelson, which happens to be located at the geographic center of New Zealand (at least according to one accepted measurement). Even more coincidentally, the exact center point happens to be at the exact tip top of a conveniently situated hill.
The Centre of New Zealand Monument
Picton has a lovely old walkable downtown along the shore, with several very nice restaurants. I stayed a couple of blocks away at a small B&B called Anchor Down, run by Janet and Ian, who provide nicely appointed rooms and good conversation over a glass of wine.
I turned in my rental car and caught the ferry to Wellington (cheaper to rent a new car on the other side than to bring the current one with me). I took photos on the ship with my point-and-shoot camera; I’ll post a few at some point.
In Wellington, I needed to recharge, so I was selective about my activities. I drove along the southern shoreline by Fitzroy Bay and took photos of the sea and the shore. In the following photo, the wave is about fifty feet away, and the ship is about 1.5 miles away.
A freighter sails past Pencarrow Head
After a stay with some new friends in Paekakiri, I drove up to Tongariro National Park, and halfway up the side of Mt. Ruapehu. There, the Chateau Tongariro Hotel surveys the countryside. it’s a grand old 1929 construction with a restaurant, a cafe, two bars, and a splendid main lounge with piano and billiards. My luggage got to my room courtesy of a bellhop (and there’s no tipping in New Zealand). A quote from my Facebook post about my stay:
Walking the classically carpeted hallways, I hear a mysterious hum coming from a remote stairwell; I also hear the distant murmur and clink of guests relaxing in the well-appointed lounge. At any moment, I expect to see a pair of identically dressed twin girls, or a little boy on a tricycle, or Jack Nicholson.
At 5:00am, I got up and drove four miles farther up the mountain to the Whakapapa ski area, to try and get a shot of the sunrise hitting the adjacent Mount Ngauruhoe, which is a perfect volcanic cone. It played Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, both mountains were shrouded in cloud, which was complemented by rain as the sun attempted to rise. So no photo of Mount Doom. Most if not all New Zealand ski areas are above the treeline, which makes it hard to imagine them as ski areas during the off season. They’re very, very rugged.
Whakapapa ski area at dawn
As the rain continued and strengthened, I headed for Rotorua, which is best known for two things: geothermal activity and Maori culture. I stayed there for three nights, hoping to investigate both, but nature had a different idea: for two of those days, Rotorua received more rain than it usually gets in a year, and more rain in 24 hours than has ever been recorded there. The northern part of town flooded; my motel was spared the worst of it. Eventually I did get to see some of the geothermal sites and some of the Maori culture.
A continuously erupting geyser
Along the way to Auckland, I took a walk to see the Putaruru Blue Spring. The source of the Waihou River, the Blue Spring provides clean drinking water to a large portion of the surrounding countryside. The river water is crystal clear, making it easy to see the underwater grasses that fill the river from bank to bank and filter its water even more.
The grasses of the Waihou River
Palms and grasses at the Blue Spring
In Auckland, I rode to the top of the Sky Tower, the city’s tallest building by far and the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere. From the main observation deck, the 360 degree views are stunning.
One odd sight is a a magenta ribbon snaking among the highways. It’s called the Lightpath, and is a dedicated cycling and walking path connecting the Auckland suburbs to the central business district. It’s flanked by LEDs that give you a light show as you pass.
I spent the last night of my trip in a lovely old hotel across the Waitemata Harbour from Auckland, in the quaint town of Devonport. From the Sky Tower I could see and photograph the town, its ferry building and dock, and the hotel (it’s the three story building closest to the small beach). In the photo, the hotel is two miles away; behind it (at five miles) is volcanic Rangitoto Island, and forty miles away in the distance are the mountains of the Coromandel Peninsula.
Looking past Devonport from the Sky Tower
Thus ends my travelogue of New Zealand, but there are still quite a few more photographs of the trip that I haven’t processed and published yet. I’m not sure how soon this will be, but I’ll do my best to get them out there…