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Touring New Zealand 1996

We spent 6 weeks in New Zealand. The last two weeks were not in the plans but Peter was rushed into hospital one day before we were due to return where he spent a week followed by another week of recuperation before they would allow him to return. The time and place, Tauranga, were impeccably chosen, the last real day of the holiday at a town with, arguably the best hospital in New Zealand and an excellent beach - an eleven kilometer sweep of sand - right outside the motel ready for recuperation. Peter tried very hard to let him stay the 6 weeks needed before they can safely operate but failed seriously.

The rest of the holiday was excellent - this time we only went to North Island which allowed time for a whole weeks sailing in the Bay of Islands. We started at Auckland, where we landed after our 36 hour journey, and stayed with my niece Christine and Ralph. We had two days in Auckland and explored the Wine growing areas and stocked up for the Sailing trip. We visited, in many cases revisited, a number of our favorites vineyards during the holiday. In the Auckland area we went to Matua where we carried out major provisioning and Selak (they now have some excellent methode champenoise) and, like many of the vineyards an excellent restaurant where we had lunch.

The next three days were spent in the Coramandel at a small place called Ferry Landing opposite, and surprise linked by ferry to Whitianga. Nice beaches and walking and a lot of history of the gold mining and kauri gum mining days. We gathered our own mussels on the rocks at the end of the local beach - not the typical 10 cm new Zealand ones as we were only collecting close inshore and it was the end of the summer.

After the Coramandel back up through Auckland to stay for one night in the bay of Islands at Paihia before picking up the boat in Opua. We had hoped to have a flight over the bay in the Vintage Grumman seaplane at Paihia but weather not quite good enough. We did not go to nearby Waitangi this time but went by the Stone House at Kerikeri whilst shopping for fruit and vegetables for the trip. The whole area is full of orchards etc. mostly of which have excellent roadside shops - we were eating oranges from Peter's bargain $10 sack for the next four weeks! We also followed signs to a steam powered sawmill which was interesting although temporarily stopped for tea break - all the waste was recycled and fired the boilers and the dryers - in the end only about 50% of the treas come out. It currently has a 1950s engine but they are installing a vintage engine.

We met up at Opua with Christine again and also David who is one of the occasional skippers with Moorings from whom we chartered. This time he was along for a couple of days as a friend. He had been rash enough to clear us for "solo" last year after a couple of days. Whilst we do a lot of boating on inland waterways sailing and being at sea is very different and our sailing had been limited to a small but intense period of instruction by David Bennetts on his boat in the Solent prior to our first charter.

We had the same boat as last time, an oldish but very nice handling Davidson 28. We sailed round into main part of the Bay and the first evening was spent at a lovely cove where at low tide you just put your hands into the sand and brought out Pipis, a local shellfish, by the handful - you could fill a bucket without ever moving your feet! We had a very nice run the second day out to the "Hole in the Rock" at Cape Brett - the edge of our permitted cruising area and back through one of the narrow channels to moor. We then went back to Opua to drop David off and then to moor at Russell - no sooner had we got the anchor down than David turned back up by dingy with Rory suggesting a meal and drink. Rory who is currently is the manager of Moorings at Opua is quite a character. He built a 21 ft catamaran and then sailed it, much of the time single handed, from England to New Zealand - probably one of the smallest boats to make the journey. I believe he still lives on it much of the time. He is currently planning a little trip to Australia which Christine is thinking of crewing. We went back for an earlier night partly because the outboard was suspect on the dingy ever since Peter had turned it over, which he does not want to elaborate.

The next day we had some pleasant sailing in the bay and moored on an island for lunch - it got a bit more gusty after lunch and Pauline was convinced that some of gusts were going to lay us flat so we ended up well reefed and returned to the very sheltered Pipi bay in anticipation of the forecast 35 knot blow over night. In the end we were there for 3 nights with only a brief excursion out with about 6 foot by 4 ft of jib unfurled - we still went well although tacking was impossible and we had to gybe every time. We convinced ourselves it was good practice and experience before returning to hide from the wind. The last day was beautiful and we had some very pleasant sailing although still with the main reefed as there was still a good blow outside of the sheltered inner islands. Peter is certainly hooked now.

We drove back with Christine to Auckland for a single night then headed South and towards the East coast to a region we did not know from previous visits and spent in the end three nights at Ohope (near Whakatane) although we had only intended to stay for one and then travel on. They delay came about partly because we liked the area as a base and partly because we were persuaded to take a trip to White Island. White Island is an active volcanic island about 30 kms off shore. It was certainly a memorable visit. The trip by the PJ boat took about an hour and a half and we were then issued with hard helmets and gas masks, the latter are always needed, one hopes the hard hats are required less often! We were landed by inflatable jet boat 6 for a guided tour lasting a couple of hours. The overall impression was that the description of it being "the most awesome experience in New Zealand" was not that much of an exaggeration. It certainly makes even Hells Gate look restrained and we certainly needed the gas masks at times as the swirling clouds of steam and sulphur caught up with us.

White Island has been inhabited at times by sulphur extractors for fertilizer manufacture and some of the buildings and kit remain - the extreme corrosion and the way some of the equipment has been distributed bear witness to the power of the fumes and the sea. At least one party of minors were completely lost in an eruption and only the cat was ever found. A very good visit well organised by Peter and Jay who are real enthusiasts and one we would happily recommend. Once back to the boat snorkels appeared for those who wanted to see the rich underwater life - no fins unfortunately but Peter still had an enjoyable 20 minutes and regretted he had not had the grease for sealing the video camera underwater case with him.

Next main stop was Rotorua where we spent 3 days staying at the Regal Geyserland hotel which is right on the edge of the Whakawerawera thermal site. We had stayed before so had specified the room we wanted which looked straight down on the biggest and best area of bubbling mud we have yet found - one could and we did watch for hours the mud with the changing pattern of geysers in the background. We did not get the exact room as they upgraded us to the one next door with a spa pool - quite an experience when as it always came on at full blast. During the stay at Rotorua we revisited many of our favorite thermal areas including the Waimangu, Waitapu and Hells Gate. They are always different in some aspect and we once more have far too much video and film of the whole trip, Peter managing 10 hours of video and Pauline a record 19 x 36 films in the month.

From Rotorua we took a long trip down to Wellington where we had a short interlude of work. Peter visited NIWA (The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd.) where he gave a talk and had some interesting discussions with NIWA and Met Service staff. Pauline visited the Ministry of Research Science and Technology (MORST), the Ministry of Commerce and the Victoria University of Wellington. The British High Commission were very supportive and informative. We spent a very pleasant evening with John and Blythe Sansom who Peter had initially met at the WMO MeteoHyTec Conference in Geneva the previous summer and had subsequently visited the UK Met Office and joined us for an evening in UK. They have a house with spectacular views out over Wellington. We had not realized how the hills rose round Wellington when we decided to walk to them and we arrived panting and late after what had looked an easy walk on the map.

There was not a lot of time for sightseeing for either of us in Wellington although we had a walk round downtown and the harbor area the first evening and an hour or so after the debrief at the Commission. We also found a wine shop which also offered a lot of useful advice on the wines of the area once they knew we were interested and they also produced a bottle of Cloudy Bay Chardonnay which has returned to the UK for a special occasion. Cloudy Bay, whose vineyard we visited in South Island last year, produce cult wines which even if available are always rationed.

From Wellington we headed back North via the Martinborough vineyard areas where we had been recommended to visit Te Karianga - the wines we sampled were very good and some of them reach the UK. Some of their wines had scored very highly in the last round of competitions but they had all been snapped up in the shops we checked. We looked round the rest of the area but did not sample very widely. We then continued and stopped at a town called Bulls which had many puns on all the facilities - the Police Station boasted ConstaBulls available and the hotel was advertised as being ComfortaBull etc. It was also famous for the size of the meals, in particular steaks which we, and the hotel cat, can vouch for.

From Bulls we headed for Mount Egmont, another area we had not been to before and stayed at the Mountain House which we had picked because of its justified high reputation for meals. The mountain top was covered in cloud when we got there but it cleared during the end of the evening and Peter got up early for magnificent views as dawn broke. We then went across to the central volcanic mountain area but low cloud came in and high winds so we could not get up the ski lifts at Chateau to see what had happened during the violent eruption of Ruapehu last Autumn. We settled for traveling on to Taupo where we got some long views back that evening. We spent a couple of days there and went to another couple of thermal areas firstly the "Craters of the Moon" which has only become active since they started extracting geothermal power nearby and is still very unstable, new craters can open up overnight. We had lunch at a Prawn farm - acres and acres of geothermally heated lakes - then to Orake Korako otherwise named the Hidden Valley. We also had a look at a unique early river boat which used to run up through the rapids on the Huka river. It was about 55 foot long, about 7 foot beam and about one foot draft fitted with a tunnel propulsion system which was the precursor of the modern jet boats. It had a winch to make it back up the major rapids.

We booked a flight on the local seaplane for early the following morning which initially had to be canceled as Peter started to feel ill that morning. We took the trip a bit latter in the morning and went all up round Mount Ruapehu and Tongarero. There were major changes since last year and many of the ski fields are covered in thick ash. The hot lake is starting to fill back up with water. We have yet to compare the video from this year and last years flights. We thought that was a great end to the holiday and headed for Auckland and the airport choosing a scenic route intending to stop part way which we ultimately did at Tauranga for far longer than we had planned.

After Peter came out of hospital most of the time was on the beach and then some very local trips as even being driven was unpleasant. We made it up as far as Katikati a town full of Murals. The residents were afraid that a bypass would be built so they started the murals a few years ago to keep the main road flowing through the town and have now built up a nice tourist trade. Close to Katikati is Morton's Vineyard, another of our favorite wines, particularly the vintage sparkling which one can sometimes get in the UK. They have a good restaurant which turned out a low fat meal - the only time we ate out during that week. A very pleasant area for a forced stay.

We then drove up to Auckland staying overnight with Chris and Ralph ready to head out for the airport at 0930. At 0915 the phone rang to tell us our flight had been delayed for 12 hours so we rang Avis to keep the car another day to spent round Auckland doing the Museums etc. The Maritime museum was very interesting and we found big boards about Rory's trip in the 21 foot catamaran on display. We also went out to Kerry Talton's Underwater World where you walk round in big Perspex tunnels under the fish tanks with sharks and sting rays a few inches away - well worth a visit. The complex now includes an Arctic world which was also quite good. Back for a quick meal and then the flight back via Kuala Lumpar on Malaysian Airlines booked by the insurance company.

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