Monday, 11th August 2008
South Island done (well, sort of), so we wait to catch an early morning flight from Christchurch to Wellington as a green Air NZ Boeing 737 lumbers past. We’ll spend the next 2 days driving Wellington to Auckland. The aim is to reach Auckland tomorrow evening in time for dinner at a friend’s place in North Shore.
Soon our own Air NZ Bombardier Dash-8 drags itself to the runway in the cold air.
A wide waterway glides past us below, soon after take-off. This is Waikamariri river, mentioned in the previous story.
The fertile Canterbury plains, bordered by the Southern Alps and the South Pacific Ocean.
The Dash-8 effortlessly climbs to keep clear of the rugged Southern Alps peaks.
As South Island ends at Cook Strait, the mighty Southern Alps expire with a whimper.
A choppy Cook Strait, which can get nasty in winter storms, closing Wellington airport and shutting down the ferry service in the process. In fact just a couple of weeks ago that was the case.
Barely 45min after taking off from Christchurch, we are landing at Wellington airport.
Our first view of Wellington, cute white houses perching on the coastal hills.
That’s our ride from Christchurch, on the ground safe and sound now.
Wellington Airport is a smallish airport, buffeted by the winds from Cook Strait. Nevertheless it’s one important airport since Wellington is the seat of the government, despite having an urban population of just 380,000.
In the bright spacious terminal building we catch up with a couple of friends from Victoria University of Wellington, and promptly pick up our rental car for the North Island drive.
Victoria University of Wellington main thoroughfare where we dropped off the ladies. Not a fan of cities or big towns, we quickly jump onto Route 1, which goes through the middle of North Island and right through the heart of Auckland, before terminating at the northermost tip of North Island. At 940km, that’s one long road!
Some 40km out of downtown Wellington, there’s the beautiful Pukerua Bay.
Unfortunately the weather is not so obliging.
An hour later we leave Route 1 and turn into Route 57 to head for the famed university town of Palmerston North, and we pass through a delightful old-ish town called Shannon. Nowadays Shannon is famous for its old train station ..
… and for its steam engines. Now operating as a tourism venture.
I’m so excited to come face to face with this beast! Brought a lot of memories, since in the 60s I was a small kid who regularly took such trains to visit grandparents in the jungle interior of peninsular Malaysia.
Of course, nowadays such a machine is a novelty, for fans to pay oodles of money just for a thrill-ride. I hope they need not pass through a tunnel. 🙂
Set in the plains of dairy farms full of sheep and cattles, Palmerston North (or ‘Palmy’) virtually owes its existence to Massey University, NZ’s largest. Students get to the ride any Palmy’s bus service for free.
The 7-hectare square marks the centre of Palmy, …
… where a statue of Mr Te Peeti Te Awe Awe, the local Maori chief who sold off this piece of land to the govt in 1865.
Just northeast of Palmy, in the hills where strong winds are sustained by nature, the 55 turbines of the Te Apiti Wind Farm dominate the landscape. Some people complain they spoil the landscape, but the cows do not seem to mind a single bit.
We are heading northwards towards Taupo, and driving along Route 54, we chance upon this wonderful lookout.
Beautiful landscape, and far far away, on the horizon to the west, I spot a mountain.
A bit of zoom reveals what looks like the 2500m volcano Mt Taranaki (Egmont) – that’s about 130km away.
Looking north, I see the volcanic peaks of Tongariro National Park where our road is heading. We still have a long way to go before nightfall.
As the sun gets low, we rejoin Route 1 and pass through the town of Waiouru. Just after Waiouru, we get our first good view of Mt Ruapehu, at 2800m, one of world’s most active volcanoes. Even at the moment there’s an advisory that it could ‘erupt at any time’.
We are now in the Tongariro National Park, another World Heritage Site, and Route 1 is now known as the Desert Rd.
It’s high altirude desert around here and now, in winter, it’s bitterly cold with blustery winds.
Interestingly to the right, it’s the NZ Army training grounds, and we spotted some poor soldiers in action in the freezing temperature.
Another sight to behold in the fading light, the perfectly-shaped Mt Ngauruhoe, a 2300m active volcano. Remember Lord of the Ring’s Mt Doom?
Nightfall finds us at Lake Taupo, supposedly a popular scenic spot, but in darkness, we are clueless. At a backpackers lodge, we consider giving it a crack, but chicken out.
The next day, the weather turns dreary, and instead of doing a lakefront drive, we just spend time admiring this DC-3. This is a real Gooney Bird, manufactured 1943, with a colourful history – see HERE. It can even be seen on Google Earth HERE.
Rivets to patch the wing together, still in great condition.
Leaving Taupo, we head towards the Moari centre of Rotorua via Route 5. Along the way we stop at the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, but thanks to the wet weather, this little smokey fella is the only sighting we can muster. Note the yellowish sulphur and the place reeks with its odour.
Some 30km up the road and as the weather worsens, we enter Rotorua. This is the spot the catch the famous Pohutu Geyser, which erupts about 20x a day, sending stuff up to 30m in the air. It is raining and windy, and with a heavy heart we decide to give it a miss :(. We have to make another return trip to NZ.
Downtown Rotorua, centre of Maori culture, and smack-bang on the Pacific Ring of Fire. The whole town is permeated with the pungent sulphur smell, but after a while one normally gets used to it.
Nothing much we can in Rotorua in such poor weather so we press on along Route 5 towards Auckland. The delightful little town of Tirau greets us along the way.
A quilt shop catches the missus’s attention, so we make a stop.
The shop is a treasure trove for needlework and patchwork fans, and ma’am immediately feels at home.
I am, of course, more interested in an August Christmas.
Having procured some wool at the Tirau shop, we proceed towards Auckland as it is getting late. As we enter the metropolitan area, we blend into the early evening peak traffic. What luck!
We are heading for North Shore for dinner, and a growling tummy overrules a side trip to the city centre, where the Sky Tower beckons.
As the heavy traffic inches its way northward, we find ourselves on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which forms a severe bottleneck for intra-Auckland traffic.
In semi-darkness we find our way to a gamer’s den. Dinner at last, roast lamb some more. 🙂
The next morning, our NZ adventure ends at Auckland International Airport. The weather is not letting up, but we are grateful for the six glorious days we have had while exploring South Island, and half of North Island. Our next destination is Coolangatta on the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia.
> THE END
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