14 January 2013 | North Island, New Zealand
A few days ago we dropped Lolo's parents back off at the airport after a 2-week visit. We cruised the Bay of Islands, dove for scallops, collected green mussels and rang in the New Year at Motorua Is. with our friends aboard Moonwalker. We hiked and swam in the beautiful, but refreshing turquoise water and enjoyed some pretty nice gourmet meals aboard Radiance. For the second week, we parked Radiance on a mooring (graciously offered by our Soling race friend Barry), packed all four of us into the Alpha Romeo and motored around the North Island visiting as much as we could manage. Our trek took us south and west to Hellensville where we stayed at Malolo House, a charming old building that once was the town's hospital and maternity ward. We enjoyed fine dining and decent beer at Hallertau Brewery - which labels their beers in the most benign manner - #1 through #4. We next continued on to the thriving metropolis of Hamilton - visiting the excellent museum, a beer at "The Bank", the amazing Hamilton Gardens and then enjoying good Indian food at the acclaimed Indian Star Restaurant. Next morning we were the first customers at Westbrooke Winery and picked up a few bottles of their excellent Pinot Gris before visiting the Kiwi Birdhouse Zoo where we got to see several Kiwi's and many other native birds and animals. We stopped for lunch while ordering her "toasty", Annie heard the options "ham, cheese and eek" to which she replied "eek?" before realizing it was egg. We then visited the Waitamo Glow Worm Caves and took a tour underground to see the stalactites and stalagmites before drifting via boat on an underground stream to see the glow worms. They really looked just like stars in the night sky and were quite impressive in spite of the crowded tour. Next, our drive took us to the coast where (after asking permission) we visited a traditional Mauri Marae, or ceremonial meeting house. It was decorated in the customary manner with red painted wood carvings. As we drove along the windswept coast, we reached stopped at Mikes Brewery and sampled perhaps the best beer yet encountered in New Zealand including a Belgian strawberry sour. Mmmmm! Unfortunately we had only 15 minutes there before they closed for the evening - so continued on to the large town of New Plymouth for dinner, then on to Stratford for the night. Next morning we made for the "Forgotten World Highway" and wound our way to Whangamomona, a section of New Zealand that managed to secede from the country. We stopped at the local watering hole, had a local beer and got our passports stamped before heading on to Taumarumanui Holiday Park to stay for a few days and celebrate Lolo's 35th birthday. We enjoyed a lazy lay day on Lolo's b-day, swam and inner-tubed down the river and cooked her birthday dinner in the crowded communal kitchen, but all turned out great. We all enjoyed a bottled of Champaign and chocolate fondant birthday cake - ending the night with a fireside chat. Next morning, we continued on to Rotorua to visit the geysers, hot pools and boiling mud of the extremely geothermic area. A highlight was attending a traditional Mauri greeting and dance show at a Marae inside the park where dancers performed in traditional dress in dance and song. They were most gracious posing for photos with all who were interested. Next day we continued back up the east side of the north island along the Coramandel Coast, hiking to Cathedral Cave and enjoying a beach picnic. We parked the car and took the ferry over to Whitianga for a visit and ice cream. On the way back we stopped at Mercury Bay Winery before heading to Coroglen Tavern for what was to be pretty bad hamburgers and a long game of really bad pool. The Sea Breeze Holiday Park was our last accommodation before heading north again to Auckland. But we managed to squeeze in one last attraction on the list - a Kauri Grove walk where hiked in the forest to some very old (and now rare) Kauri trees. The trees it seems were exploited across the country for their excellent straight timber and also for their gum - which is essentially like amber. The term "gum boots" is often used here in reference to rubber boots or sea boots, but dates back to the days when rubber boots were used by the kauri gum collectors. After the short hike, we headed to the airport and said our goodbyes, thus completing a successful, if a bit harried whirlwind visit.