We flew from Sydney to Auckland Wednesday 24 August to begin our trip on the North Island before joining Jil in Christchurch.
Driving around the Coromandel Peninsular was the first stage of this trip. It was raining steadily as we left Auckland and headed East – glimpses of the Firth of Thames and beautifully green hills that were so steep that only sure-footed animals would be able to climb them.
Lunch in Coromandel Town and then decided to stay the night and explore a bit of the area. We spent the afternoon at the Dinner Creek Railway. This narrow gauge track was begun in 1973 to carry the clay dug out of the hills down to the pottery. We spent a delightful hour being transported up the zigzag railway to the Eyeful Tower lookout – a 3600 panorama of this lush area and then back down the track to the pottery and gift shop. The track had numerous pieces of whimsical pottery along the way; some as little vignettes in a glade or others standing alone – all of them intriguing as well as colourful.
The following day we drove across the peninsular to the east cost; the terrain becoming quite rugged with very steep hills, sheer cliffs to the water and boulders strewn along the coast. The shrubs and palms were every shade of green imaginable with silver ferns dotted among them. The camellias, peach blossoms, rhododendrons and magnolias were magnificent in colour and size; huge shrubs and trees that were smothered in glorious blooms – a sight to behold.
Saturday 27 August. We spent the day in Mt Manganui; another huge rock formation right on the coast. We set out to climb to the summit but the wind became too strong and stopped us completing the last part. The view from the rock was for miles around with bright sunshine to enhance the vista. John headed out later in the day and managed to make it all the way to the summit.
Sunday was spent driving around the Bay of Plenty with numerous stops for take in the view as well as take photos. From Whakatane we began heading south, stopping at Opotiki for some lovely fish and chips for lunch before continuing our drive through spectacular scenery. From Opotiki we drove along floor of the Waioeka River Gorge; lots of sheep grazing on the steep hillsides with cattle on the lower, flatter areas; also saw some yards in rather inhospitable places.
Pine trees had been planted in some of the steepest areas; not too sure how anyone manages to access the area for planting or harvesting pine trees – perhaps the helicopter landing pads we saw are the answer. After we left the Waioeka River we joined up with the Waipaoa River and followed that until we turned off to Gisbourne on the banks of the confluence of the Taiheru and Waimata Rivers and Poverty Bay.
We spent Sunday night in Gisbourne, on the on the west coast, then headed south to Napier through ever-changing scenery – flat sand hills, floors of valleys, over small hills as well climbing steep mountain passes until we reached the coast again at Wairo in time for lunch at yet another bakery and were not disappointed in their pies nor sausage rolls. The road south was dotted with small communities, small towns with schools and areas that looked as though they had once been inhabited.
One of the highlights of the drive was stopping at Lake Tutira for a short break and to take photos of the perfect reflections of the trees on the water – ever the overcast day could not detract from this vista.
We reached Napier (known as the Art Deco Town) by mid afternoon and stayed at a grand old hotel – the valet, Chris, came to move the car for us and I thought he was a vagrant asking for money until he explained his role and purpose. Our accommodation was in what would have been the height of glamour and sophistication about 80 years ago – now genteel and delightful. The dining room was Edwardian elegance personified with crisp white linens, fine china and glassware, old-fashion service and comfort food.
We spent Tuesday 30th August exploring Napier; our first stop was the lookout. The gardens at the lookout were a profusion on spring colour interspersed with beautifully manicured lawns. We spent some time looking down on the loading wharf against the cliff at the base of the lookout and admired the skill of the crane driver as he / she lifted the containers off the trucks and gently placed them on the deck or in the hold of the ship being loaded.
Our next stop was the Napier Botanical Gardens, opposite the abandoned Napier hospital; a sensory delight – violets in all shades of palest mauve through to the deepest violet and the fragrance was perfect. From there we went to the rose garden, but while there were lots of buds, none had yet bloomed.
We drove out to Hastings for lunch and then John spent the afternoon on The Art Deco Tour. We finished the day with a walk along the foreshore and town area before dinner at the Lone Star.
Wednesday 31 August we continued our drive south through lush sheep grazing country although slightly drier than up north; the countryside now rolling hills rather than the spectacular peaks and gullies previously experienced. We stopped at the Mt Bruce Sanctuary to view the white kiwi, but the shop was unattended and we could not find anyone to sell us a ticket / let us in through the gates. From there we drove to Masterton where we stopped for the night.
John visited The Wool Shed – National Museum of Sheep and Wool.
Alongside the Wool Shed was the Masterton Fire Brigade Museum.
The following morning, we headed off on the final leg of our car trip to Wellington with our first stop in Casterton at the Paua World – watching a film about the industry; observing the artisans at work on the shell, browsing in the shop and buying a number of souvenirs.
From Casterton we drove across to the west coast, up through the Tararau Forest park – hats off to the people who built this road; an engineering feat in road construction that afforded amazing views and many glimpses of Silver Ferns. Once on the west coast we headed north to Paraparaumu to enable John to visit the Southward Car Museum.
From Paraparaumu we finished our drive into Wellington ready to catch our flight to Christchurch in the morning
Friday 2 September we flew into Christchurch and were met by our darling Jillian – thus began our sojourn while our daughter starred in “Nunsense”. I may be biased, but our daughter was brilliant in her role as Sister Robert Ann. I managed to record a couple of her songs and watch them regularly while waiting for the DVD to arrive.