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Sunday 28th January 2018

I slept really well, despite being a bit too tall for the bed, which is not quite 6' long! After a brew and breakfast of porridge cooked in the onboard microwave, we packed everything away and drove the short distance to the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi. This is where the Maori tribes and the British signed a document that led to the current New Zealand. Signed on 6th February 1840, it is effectively the New Zealand constitution.

At the grounds is a very interesting museum detailing the story, and we then took a guided walk through the grounds to look at the house where the British chap in charge lived. Outside the house is a large flagpole, from 1974, three flags have usually been flown on it - the New Zealand flag, the Union flag, and the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand chosen in 1834. We then had a traditional Maori show put of for us - all very interesting. It was nearly 12 by the time we left, driving first over to Ahipara to take a look at 90-mile beach. We stopped in the hills of Mangamuka Bridge for lunch - the remains of yesterday's Hot Tuna - then continued on highway 1 and highway 15 via Kaikohe and Maungatapere to Whangarei where we booked ourselves into the Whangarei Central Park campsite.

Due to sporadic showers, we abandoned plans to use the external BBQ and cooked our steaks on the gas hob inside, and ate them with a fresh salad, Tracy doing the honours after my brain gave up working following the long day's drive.

Monday 29th January 2018

A shower in the middle of the night woke me to close the skylight, but apart from that and a couple of earlier bouts of cramp, I slept OK. Up and feeling much more chilled out than yesterday, we showered and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before heading up to Whangerai Falls to look at the waterfall.

The car park was almost deserted when we arrived, so we had the upper viewpoint almost to ourselves, where we discussed photography and I gave Tracy an impromptu lesson on shutter speed and aperture settings to change how the water was captured (all based on what my dad, who was a professional photographer, taught me!). After a short walk to the other Top of the Falls Viewpoint, we separated so I could take the circular walk to the bottom of the falls to get some more pictures, whilst Tracy returned to the motorhome to avoid further straining her knee.

After leaving the falls we drove through some more rolling hills to the Kauri Museum - a museum dedicated to this indiginous New Zealand hardwood tree. We were not expecting much, but the museum was truly fascinating, with lots of life-like mannequins bringing the story of the early settlers and the logging industry to life.

After lunch at the café opposite - a traditional and delicious lamb pie for me - we started our route to the coast west of Auckland where we planned to stay. Turning off highway 1 onto highway 16 got us out of the traffic jam heading towards the city over the Anniversary Day long weekend, but after a few miles we were overtaken by a Fire and Rescue truck and a Police car, both in a hurry. A little further up the road we encountered another traffic jam and the reason soon became apparent when we saw the police car blocking the road ahead. The policeman told us there had been a serious accident and the road would be closed for several hours. So, like everyone else, we did a U-turn and made our way back to highway 1 and the traffic jam slowly crawling towards Auckland.

Eventually we found another road that took us away from the traffic and once more onto an empty, twisting road across an undulating landscape towards Helensvilleensville. Our conversation moveed to the growing need for a couple of beers when we got to our destination and we began trying to work out how many we had left. We worked out that we had no more than 3 or 4 small cans, so a new mission was set - to buy beer before we reached the coast. We found a grocery store that looked promising and stopped, only to discover that in New Zealand, like the UK, only licenced premises can sell alcohol, but at least we got an ice-cream and a lead to connect my ipod to the radio in the motorhome to improve our musical options.

Shortly after this we arrived in Helensville and spotted a liquorstore, so another emergency stop was required. Here I got the much-needed beer, another bottle of white wine and Tracy's favourite - Captain Morgan Rum & Coke in a can. I was feeling decidedly pleased with myself as I put them all in the fridge, then jumped back into the driving seat and set off. Only to hear an alarm going off - I'd left the side door open! But what happened next was a disaster - in my hurry to close the door, I stepped on Tracy's crutch, breaking the arm brace at the top. Feeling very angry with myself and all the fleeting pleasure of getting her some rum and coke was gone...

At least the traffic jam was well behind us and the rest of the journey to Muriway Beach was uneventful. With us checked into the campsite next to the beach by 18:30, we had time to savour a beer or two and then cook the sausages on the exterior BBQ before opening the gift bottle of wine from Maui. Then throwing it away in favour of the bottle bought at the liqour store!

Finally relaxing, we watched the sun go down and tried to get some arty photos of clinking wine glasses in the sunset before Tracy's sore back caused her to call it a day around 10pm.

Tuesday 30th January 2018

After another good night's sleep, albeit one that required me to break out the duvet for the first time, I showered in the new shower block on-site and then prepared breakfast. Double porridge today as the portions seem smaller here (at least, that's my excuse!).

leaving Muriwai beach we headed back towards Aucklandon highway 16 but stopped again after just 15 Km when our desire to ensure we had supplies for the evening saw us stop at a part-organic food store where we stocked up on some expensive salad ingredients, 3 bottles of wine (2 white, 1 red) and some cans of craft beers. Totalling over NZ$100 this was not a cheap shop, but we did get some free range chicken breasts for me to cook Lemon Chicken Oregano with later. Grabbing a couple of organic flat white coffees and a large, organic, carrot cake muffin frm the café next door we hit the road again at 10:43, having spent almost an hour in the shop and café.

We headed south on highway 1 which afforded us glimpses of the Auckland skyline in the distance once more. Once south of Auckland we picked up the road via Clevedon and Kawakawa Bay (I love the place names here!) before continuing around the coast onto the Coromandel Peninsula. The views around the coast were stunning - beautiful aquamarine seas with distant land - either the peninsular or the mainland. Once on the peninsular proper the roadworks started, slowing our progress somewhat. Just before Coromandel itself, we turned right onto a road that led us once more into the hills surrounded by greenery that gave the impression of a tranquil rainforest. Ths road soon turned to gravel as it twisted and turned up and over the Coromandel range before depositing us near the coast again and our desination of Whitianga. We had booked ourselves into the Harbourside Holiday Park for Wednesday (tomorrow) but took the decision to book in a day early and stay for 2 nights to allow us time to do a boat trip around the coast and to catch up with our laundry.

Once checked in to the campsite, we caught up on work and personal emails, including Whatsapp messages from Gaz at the Adventure Bike Warehouse where by bike (El Monstro) is in for some work. They've had a break-in and the burglar has taken the safe containing all the bike keys, including mine! But with some (expensive) craft beers to drink, I won't let it worry me!

Our evening was relaxing as we enjoyed the Lemon Chicken Oreganoand the wine before playing a few games of Pass the Pigs. We then FaceTimed Tracy's mum and dad to let them know how things were going - a conversation that saw me in fits of giggles when we inadvertently lost the video feed and thought we'd disconnected the call only to hear Tracy's mum comment on my laughing - they could still hear us! - good job I didn't do or say anything we'd regret!

Wednesday 31st January 2018

A very blustery start to the day saw us receive a text message from Ocean Leopard, the company we'd booked our boat trip with. Due to the weather, our trip was cancelled. Damn!

We decided that instead we'd attend to our washing and take a walk into town to look around the harbour. It was quite a long walk, so we had a coffee and a date scone before the return leg. We also stopped at the liquor store to purchase yet more alcohol, although I'm going to make today a dry day as drinking every day is probably not a great idea!

After returning to camp and doing the laundry, I wandered back into town to get some chicken, eggs and milk as when we were in town earlier in the day the only supermarket we found on the way back was poorly stocked. This time was more successful, although I wished Tracy had been with me to see the fresh meat selection in the butcher's shop as I'm sure she'd have come up with a great idea for dinner to use the lamb or steaks they had!

Back at camp again I used the downtime to try and repair Tracy's crutch and to do some research on places to go over the next couple of days, including planning the route to Waitomo tomorrow.

The good news is that the crutch repair seems to have worked! First attempts with superglue failed (does it ever work?) so I resorted to attaching a couple of pieces of velcro to the remaining section to create a detachable arm-belt. Tracy seems happy to rely on this and even says it feels more secure than it was originally (although I suspect that's to try to stop me beating myself up for breaking it in the first place).

After planning and booking the next 3 days via Waitomo Caves and Rotorua, I realised it was now 7pm and time for me to rustle up something to eat. Cooking rice in a saucepan, then frying the chickent in garlic and chilli flakes before sauteing the vegetables - onions, sweet peppers, mushrooms, sweetcorn and spring onions in the frying pan. Then I combined them all in batches with an egg to create chicken fried rice. Despite not having any Thai 7-spice, which I'd normally use, it was actually quite good!

Looking back over our photos, it appears that we didn't take any on this day, which seems odd. Sorry!

Thursday 1st February

We woke late - 8am - after a good night's sleep, despite the increasing ferocity of the wind outside the van. After breakfast and a shower we packed up and topped up the fresh water before setting off.

Our first stop was around the coast at Hahei Beach, where we hoped to be able to walk to Cathedral Cove, but it was over an hour's walk and time wouldn't allow it. Nevertheless, we did venture out onto the beach and had a little paddle in the South Pacific Ocean. No skinny dipping this time!

From here we drove to Paeroa, mainly because it was on the way to the gorge we wanted to visit, but also because it is home of Lemon & Paeroa, or L&P as it is more commonly known, a fizzy lemonade dring famous across New Zealand (it's now owned by Coca Cola but still made locally). When we stopped for fuel we bought a bottle of L&P to try and the verdict is... we can see why it hasn't become popular outside N.Z.!

From Paeroa we continued on to the Karangahake Gorge, which was once a bustling gold-rush town, when the pounded the local quartz rock to get at the gold. All that's left now are a few ruins buried in the local flora and a couple of very bouncy foot bridges. We took advantage of the break from drivign to stretch our legs and take a few photos before continuing our journey. Not long after we started moving, we saw a café by Waikino train station and stopped for lunch of a steak and cheese pie and coffee (Tracy had fruitcake and coffee, she's not really a pie person!). Back on the road again, heacking back to Paeroa and on towards Hamilton and then on to Waitomo where we drove past the entrance to the caves we'll be visiting tomorrow and then on to Roselands Restaurant. This place is recommended on TripAdvisor as they allow self-contained motorhomes like ours to park overnight in the car park and also they do a famous beef caserole buffet for just NZ$10pp. Once parked up we went in the restaurant and had a beer before trying the beef caserole - which was very thick and filling, if a little cold. After dinner we returned to the van, where Tracy took up residence in the bed reading whislt I wrote up my journal...

Shortly after completing my journal entry I too retired to bed and promptly fell sound asleep to the relaxing sound of rain bouncing on the roof (the earlier thunder and lightning had now passed). This sound reminded me of my childhood, when we would often go on caravan holidays, and it would frequently rain!

Friday 2nd February 2018

I woke around 7am to glorious sunshine and managed a few more minutes relaxing whilst waiting for the on-board water heater to warm enough water for my shower. We never used the shower in our old motorhome, Polly, so this was a first - a not altogether unpleasant experience as the water was warm and plentyful. Once Tracy had also showered, we packed everything away and headed towards Waitomo Caves a few miles up the road. Arriving early for our 10am tour, we were able to check-in and change the time of our tour, starting with the glo-worm cave at 9:30am.

Our guide for the tour was a descendantnt of the Maori chief, Tone Tinorau who first discovered the caves in 1887 (with English surveyor, Fred Mace). Around 90&percnt of the people working in the caves are his descendants too... Entering the caves we were not allowed to take photos, and apart from some noisy and rude Japanese tourists, the tour through the cave system was fascinating. At the end of the cave we climbed aboard a boat for a journey along the river that runs through and out of the cave - the reverse of the journey made by those intrepid folk who discovered and first explored the caves. In hushed silence (at last!) we were taken gently into the darkness, where a thousand pin-pricks of light illuminated the roof of the cave - the infamous glo-worms! These are tiny creatures that emit bioluminescence - that is, the emit light - from their tails as they hang from the roof of the cave. They drop down web fishing lines to catch insects brought in by the river and attracted to the light, believing that it shows the way out. The glo-worms only live for around 9 months or so before wrapping themselves in a cocoon of web and emerging a few days later as adult flies with no mouth or stomach, their sole purpose to mate before they die of starvation, less than a week later.

The experience of gently drifting along in the dark looking up at an artificial star-scape made by these remarkable insects was simply wonderful. After emerging from the cave and disembarking the boat we made our way to the exit via the obligatory gift shop - where we naturally bought a fridge magnet and a couple of other souvenirs. We then drove the few miles to the 2nd cave on our trip - Aranui Cave. This is the smallest of the 3 caves operated here and we had a very small group, just the 5 of us with our guide (another of the chief's descendants!) - which made for a very intimate and informative tour. This cave is simly stunning, with literally thousands of stalacmites and stalactites everywhere. Words cannot do justice to the beauty of this cave, the narrow corridors and high ceilings covered with formations ranging from tiny straw stalactites (they all start that way, as the minerals are deposited from the outside of the water droplets, building up over hundreds of years until the end of the straw becomes blocked, when they run down the outside, making them thicker, right through to a fantastic 6m long stalactite hanging down from the ceiling. Simply wonderful.

Once our tour was over, we thanked our guide and returned to the motorhome, ready to drive to Rotorua. This bit wasn't be pleasant - not the roads or scenery or even the driving, they were great - but the stench from inside the van. Despite having emptied the toilet a day or so ago (and barely used it since) and the waste-water indicator showing it was more or less empty - the smell was unbearable. Fortunately, it wasn't too long before I spotted a sign for a dump station and we pulled off the road and into a campground. It cost NZ$15 to use the facilities, but we were getting desperate. The toilet was almost empty as expected, but the waster water tank took an age to empty - it looks like the waste water level indicator is faulty!

Once emptied and cleaned up we continued our journey, with no unwanted smells, stopping briefly at a roadside café for a bite to eat and another flat white coffee. Arriving in Rotorua, we soon found our campsite, the Top 10 Holiday Park near the centre of town and parked up. A couple of hours later (after I finished this part of the journal) the site was full, with all the powered pitches taken - it was a good job we booked ourselves in for 2 nights!

Now it's time for a shower before we get picked up at 6:25pm to go to our Maori concert and Hangi (feast) at Tamaki Maori Village.

Expectations for this organised fun for tourists were pretty low, but this changed within a few hundred yards of being picked up from the centre of town by Mark the coach driver for our trip to the village. One of the family of Maori's that owns and operates the village experience, he entertained us on the journey to the village by explaining the meaning of the Maori greeting of Kia Ora in no less than 61 languages! As the expression is used to mean more than Hello and Goodbye, this was a really impressive display of linguistic skills, delivered in a highly entertaining way.

On the way to the village we needed to identify a chief for our tribe (busload), something I was keen to avoid, but I needn't have worried as Mark, our driver, was a keen All Blacks fan, and whose description of the qualities required to be a chief - Real Man - i.e. Rugby Player - clearly ruled me out. With a suitable victim, sorry, volunteer, selected in Freddy we arrived as a tribe to receive the Powhiri (welcome) which included the Wero (Challenge), a fighting display, similar to the Haka, where the warriors challenge the strangers to see if they come in peace or not. After our chief accepted the offering made during the Wero we were welcomed into the recreated village, where we were shown the ancient ways of the Maori. This included and introduction to the Haka (war dance) which I was happy to participate in (and make a fool of myself, of course), discussions on the art of tatoo and the significance of the facial markings - above the eyes showing spiritual and earthly leadership, left face motherly side, right face paternal side; as well as a fairly gruesome description of how the markings were made.

We also had explanations of the Maori migration, displays of the female pom-pom art (which originally used rocks wrapped in flax and was used to develop hand / wrist flexibility and strength as well as hand / eye / coordination, and shown games with sticks that form part of Maori education.

All of which sounds very organised tourism which of course it was, but the fact that it was presented in a village recreated by Maoris and delivered by direct descendants and family members of the original Maori tribe who lived in this area, made it not only informative but also very enjoyable.

After all this education, we were taken to the meeting house, after having been shown our dinner - the Hangi being lifted out of the ground. This traditional feast is cooked by first digging a hole in the ground, 1.5m square and 1m deep, then laying wood to fill the hole and create a pire 1m high above ground, onto which volcanic rocks are placed. The wood is then burnt and when all turned to ash, the now hot rocks fall into the hole, onto which is first placed the meat, then the potatoes and finally the vegetables, before the whole lot is buried and left to cook for 3-4hours.

Once dug up (or lifted out in a cage as in our case), it looks delicious!

Whilst the food was then prepared into the buffet, we were entertained by a traditional Maori dance and show, including a Haka, before being taken into the dining hall. The buffet was excellent, the food showing a slight hint of the earth it was cooked in, all washed down with a good bottle of the local chardonnay.

After dinner and further displays of Maori hospitality (singing and performing), it was back into the coach for another entertaining journey. On the way back the driver sang several (many) national anthems to keep us entertained as well as multiple laps of the only roundabout on the route back, to the tune of Round and Round the Mulberry Bush!

Back at camp we both agreed this was definitely a Top 50 day!

Saturday 3rd February 2018

I woke to the sound of rain bouncing off the motorhome roof and grey skies outside, not the start we wanted! After showering and a leisurely breakfast followed by some work trying to resolve issues within our company's website, we finally set off on our planned adventures for the day.

First stop was the park next to the campsite, where even here in the centre of Rotorua the hot springs bubble to the surface, with rising columns of steam and the constant stench of sulphur (think bad eggs). Then it was on to the Skyline and a gonola ride up the mountain for a view of the lake from above. This is now something of an adventure park, with luge rides and adrenalin-fuelled mountain bike trails - all resulting in hordes of young, healthy, folk congregating at the summit taking endless selfies. Unable to participate, we opted for a cup of coffee and a further review of the day's plans.

Next stop was the supermarket to replenish supplies and prepare ourselves for a couple of nights of wild camping. From there we drove some 30Km south of Rotorua to Wai-O-Tapu where we saw boiling mud pools and geysers, but avoided paying the entrance fee to go further. Our final stop on the tourist trail for the day was the buried village of Te Wairoa. This village was a popular tourist destination in the 1880's with a thriving population of local guides taking visitors to see the amaxing pink and white terraced formations produced by glacial activity. These we described by the locals as the 8th Wonder of the World. Visitors would take guided trips by boat on to lake Takawara to see the terraces. Then, in June 1886, the volcano erupted and the area was devastated, with the terraces destroyed and the local villages buried in mud. Many perished, and the visitor's centre has a small museum that records the harrowing stories of people who survived the catastrophe. Some of the whares or houses, have been excavated and now act as a reminder of what can happen when nature attacks. Towards the end of the walk around the excavations and grounds of the buried village is a beautiful waterfall, accessed by lots of steps down and then back up, but hopefully it was worth it for the photos.

After finishing our sight-seeing for the day, I dropped Tracy off in town, near the appropriately-named Eat Street whilst I returned to camp to prepare the motorhome for the night before walking back to join her, at a pub called The Brew owned by the Croucher Brewing Company. Here we delighted (or I did!) in sampling their craft ales, and eating Buffalo Wings and Pizza. The long walk back to camp after a good day out didn't seem too bad (to me at least!) and it was still relatively early, so I had time for a night cap or two whilst writing my journal (although reading it back, I realise how bad my slightly inebriated hand-wtiring is!).

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