Tag: Trail

In The Shadow of Ruapehu

In The Shadow of Ruapehu

Chateau Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand – March 28, 2018

What is it that makes a trip by train such a romantic venture? Maybe it is that it harkens back to days long gone. Perhaps it the ability to see the sights at essentially eye-level, not from 35,000 feet. Maybe it is simply the name of the train, The Northern Explorer. Whatever it is, we were both looking forward to our trip to the Chateau Tongariro.
Absolutely ready for the train trip!

It was a drizzly, and sometimes rainy, morning.  As soon as the taxi dropped us off at Platform 9, we got into the queue to check-in for the journey.  The woman at the ticket counter gave us our tickets; Carriage D, seats 12A and 12B.  We tagged our bags to our final destination, National Park, and delivered them to the baggage carriage.

Our seats faced two others with a table in between. Luckily our seats looked to the front of the train. It was the same configuration we had when we traveled on the Tranzalpine from Greymouth to Christchurch in February 2016. The seats are excellent except for the fact that it is impossible to stretch one’s legs if another passenger is sitting across.

I have always been fascinated with locomotives.  The 7000-series model that was preparing to pull our train is one of the largest of the KiwiRail fleet.  While it is impressive, it is nowhere near as aerodynamic as the locomotives used in Spain to pull the bullet trains.  Regardless, I knew it would do just fine for our journey.

Readying for the trip.
A 7000-series locomotive to pull our cars to National Park.

When I originally purchased the tickets for our trip, I also bought two breakfast wraps and two long-black coffees. Talking with the woman in the dining carriage, I discovered she would be able to serve as soon as the train departed. Since that was just a few minutes away, I decided to stand and wait.

While I was waiting, I noticed several KiwiRail workers outside the train pushing empty shopping carts.  They bring carts full of food and beverages from the storage area to the train to stock the dining carriage.  When I walk to work from the train station, I had often seen the workers coming from a small warehouse in the train station building along Featherston Street.  I had always thought they were stocking the restaurant in the train station building.  That morning, I discovered the true nature of their business.

Just as she had promised, the attendant provided the wraps as the train departed, 07:55.  The coffees were not quite ready.  She said she would bring them to our seats.

I went back to our seats. Leslie and I both tucked into a delicious breakfast wrap of scrambled eggs and ham. While it may not have been haute cuisine, it was delicious. When the coffee arrived, the circle of our happiness was complete!

Above the aisle in the carriage were several video screens. The screens displayed a view of the North Island. The route of the train was visible, stretching from Wellington to Auckland. Our stop, National Park, was roughly halfway. We were to reach our destination in just over five hours. Quite frankly, I was delighted we were not going to Auckland. I am not sure I could have lasted an additional five hours.

The Northern Explorer travels from Wellington to Auckland and back again.

Periodically, the video emitted a bell tone. That indicated an audio commentary was available. Each seat had a pair of headphones. One could plug in and listen to the explanation in a variety of languages. I listened a couple of times. While it was interesting, I spent most of the time talking with Leslie and watching New Zealand pass by the train.

By the time we reached the Tasman Sea coast, the rain had stopped. It was still cloudy, but not raining. I walked to the rear of the train to take photos. The last carriage is for observation. That carriage has no windows. That translates to photographs with no reflection from the glass. That said, it was very challenging to take photos while the train rumbled and bounced along at about 60 mph.

Kapiti Island under the clouds.

The good news is the observation carriage was nice and cool.  The passenger carriages were intolerably hot.  The internal temperature only got worse once the cloud cover cleared.

Even though the clouds were still quite low, Kapiti Island was easily visible. The dark, dreary photo I made sets the tone for what the weather we experienced. That lasted until we passed the Otaki stop. From then on, we had beautiful blue skies with a few clouds.

The Northern Explorer made two stops before our stop; Palmerston North and Ohakune. Other than that, awe-inspiring expansive sheep stations (ranches) and magnificent river gorges provided a visual treat. I am still amazed at how much of New Zealand is such a beautiful green.

The river gorge that was my favorite had to be Rangitikei. The white cliffs against the azure-green water were beautiful. The fact that the train crosses the canyon on a high viaduct adds to the stunning perspective.

Another view of the Rangitikei gorge.
Crossing the very deep Rangitikei gorge.
On the outskirts of Otiku is The Wool Company. The only reason I noticed it is because two people were standing in front, waving at the passing train.
The Wool Company headquarters.

As we rattled through Taihape, I caught a glimpse of the large gumboot sculpture.  Taihape is the home to the annual North Island championship gumboot throwing.  The competitors throw rubber boots as far as they can.  The best throw I could find for women was Kristen Churchward’s 34.35 meters (113 feet) in 2016.  The best throw I could find for men was Brent Newdick’s 48.5 meters (159 feet) in 2015. That is quite a distance for a rubber boot to travel!

Nearing Waiouru, we got our first glimpse of Mount Ruapehu, one of New Zealand’s active volcanos. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most active; Ruapehu rates a 1. That is the same level we encountered with White Island when we were at Ohope Beach. New Zealand lists twelve volcanos; Ruapehu and White Island are the only two considered currently active.

First view of Mount Ruapehu.

In addition to being an active volcano, Mount Ruapehu is the highest point on the North Island at 2,797 meters (9,177 feet).  In Maori, Ruapehu means “pit of noise” or “exploding pit.”  It last erupted on September 25, 2007.  Our destination, the Chateau Tongariro, lays at the base of Ruapehu.

After our stop at Ohakune, we crossed two spectacular viaducts; Hapuawhenua and Makatote.  Hapuawhenua dates from about 1907.  At its highest point, the 284-meter (932 feet) viaduct is 45 meters (148 feet) above the bottom of the gorge.  The Makatote is not quite as long, 262 meters (860 feet), but it is taller at 79 meters (259 feet).  They both demonstrate just how rugged the terrain can be in New Zealand.

It was about 13:15 when we arrived at National Park. I did not realize it until I wrote this blog, but National Park is the highest urban township in New Zealand (825 meters or 2,707 feet). Waimarino was the original name for National Park. In Maori, it translates to “calm waters.” In 1926, the railway changed the name to National Park.

A driver from ROAM (Rivers, Oceans, and Mountains) met a young woman at the train-side and us. It took about 20 minutes to get to the Chateau Tongariro. During the drive, we could see the clouds were gathering. What little bit of blue sky we had upon arrival was the last blue sky we saw until our return train trip.
Leslie at the Chateau.
I was there too!

Workers laid the foundation stone for the Chateau on February 16, 1929. As part of a government subsidy, the Chateau could not cost less than £40,000 nor more than £60,000. The other stipulation was that the project must be completed by March 31, 1930. The final cost was £88,000. It was a spectacular facility and setting for the time. To put those numbers into perspective today, it would be a range of £2,363,600 (US$3,312,569) to £3,545,400 (US$4,968,877). The final price equates to £5,199,920 (US$7,287,652).

Our room was nice.  It was spacious, but most importantly, it had a gas fireplace.  We placed our luggage in the room and went outside to explore.  We ended up at Tussock, a restaurant about 100 meters north of the Chateau.  We had a glass of wine on the front terrace, overlooking Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe.  They were beginning to be obscured by clouds.

The other side of our room at the Chateau Tongariro.
Our room at the Chateau Tongariro.
Our views during the stay got worse and worse. The center mountain with its top in the clouds is Mount Ngauruhoe. Just to the left is Mount Tongariro.

Mount Ngauruhoe is the taller of the two at 2,291 meters (7,516 feet). Ngauruhoe translates as “the peak of Uruhoe.” Mount Tongariro is a mere 1,978 meters (6,489 feet). Tongariro translates as “south wind borne away.” They are both volcanos. Ngauruhoe last erupted on February 19, 1975. On the other hand, Tongariro’s last eruption was much more recent, November 21, 2012.

All three mountains; Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro, played parts in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They and the surrounding area were the shooting location for parts of the movie depicting Modor’s Gorgoroth region. Ngauruhoe, although digitally altered, played the role of Mount Doom. It seems that nearly anyplace one goes throughout New Zealand; parts of the films were made there.

The real draw to the area is the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is a one-way hike of about 19 kilometers (12 miles). Since parking at the trailhead is limited, shuttles take hikers to the start and then meet them on the other side. The trail begins at about 1,100 meters (3,609 feet), climbs to a high point of 1,900 meters (6,234 feet), and finally descends to the finish at a little more than 700 meters (2,297 feet). According to a brochure at the Chateau, the crossing takes six to eight hours. If Leslie and I had tried it, I am confident it would have been more like six to eight days, not counting the helicopter rescue!

After speaking with staff in the iSite, instead of the “long” walk, we opted for a couple of shorter walks; the ridge walk and the Whakapapa nature walk. It was a little drizzly while we walked, but it was not uncomfortable.

Just outside the iSite was a commemorative stone.  That is when I realized the Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I can see why.  The park is beautiful, gifted to the people of New Zealand by a Maori chief in 1887.  Visiting the park makes the 20th World Heritage Site Leslie and I have been fortunate enough to visit.  Regardless, that is not much of a dent in the over 1,000 sites worldwide.

The Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ridge walk begins just beyond the iSite. The sign indicated it was a 1.2-kilometer return (roundtrip) walk, taking about 30 to 40 minutes. Nearly half of the trail goes through a forest. The remainder winds through alpine shrubland. On the way up, it is definitely up. We frequently stopped to gain our breath. Just after we began, a young man passed us, going up the trail. We were about one-third of the way up when he passed us again, going down the path. I assured him we would make the summit in time for dinner. The end of the trail offered a commanding view of the Chateau and the land around. The low cloud cover limited our sight.

The Chateau as seen from the overview.

Whakapapa nature walk was much, much more manageable. It is a sealed trail that winds through some of the beech forests. There were plaques near plants identifying many of the species and describing the plant. However, my favorite part was the two detour trails I took. Both led me down to the Whakapapanui Stream. I thought it provided some excellent photographic opportunities.

Many walks are available throughout the park.
Whakapapanui Stream

That evening we splurged, opting for dinner in the Ruapehu Room. We selected the Chateau Briand for two. I do not think I had ever had that before. I would definitely have it again. It was delicious.

The next morning, Leslie was not feeling well. I walked up the road to a small store to see if I could find something like Pepto-Bismol. They had nothing of the sort. On my way to the store, I saw the old building across from the Chateau was open. I had not previously seen it open. The sign out front touted “authentic Maori art.” I went inside. I immediately saw two massive logs lying on the floor. They were being carved for a display in the area. The wood had a diameter of nearly three feet, and each was about 12-feet long. The carving was very intricate, with numerous Maori themes. The man I talked with about the project said it takes them about four months to complete the two sculptures. There were some art objects for sale, but nothing interested me.

At about 12:15, a woman from ROAM picked us up at the chateau for our short ride to National Park to catch our train. When we arrived at the station, she explained that the station has absolutely nothing to do with the train. Instead, it is a restaurant. Our ticketing and baggage would be handled right at train-side.

The train was a few minutes late, but soon we were on our way south. At the start of this blog, I waxed poetically about the romance of riding the rails. Quite frankly, that had worn off for both of us. After all, with a plane ride of a similar duration, we could be in Tahiti. We were tired and ready to be home.

The train platform at National Park, New Zealand.

Our seats on the return journey were in Carriage D, 7C and 7D. These were much more comfortable than on our initial trip. These seats were akin to airline seats in that they all faced forward and they all had trays stored in the seatbacks. We were able to stretch our legs out with no problem.

The only problem we had to endure again was the heat in the carriage.  We were both amazed at the number of passengers wearing heavy jackets.  Regardless, the time seemed to pass quickly.  We were back in Wellington by 18:30.

KiwiRail, the national rail system of New Zealand.
Exterior view of our car for the next five-plus hours.
Did I mention she is absolutely ready for the train trip?!
A station outbuilding. The sign boasts “Backing Black Caps”, the New Zealand national cricket team.
One of the many ramparts along the way.
A very nice looking station house.
Crossing over the Rangitikei River.
A colorful paddock.
The Rangitikei River alongside the tracks.
Yet another view of the Rangitikei gorge.
A bend in the Rangitikei River.
A green paddock stretching to the far hills.
Sheep in the paddock.
The locomotive, the baggage carriage, and our passenger carriage.
Green hillside in sheep country.
A lonely stretch of road.
Rugged green hillside.
A station home.
On the edge of a town.
It appears the sheep shall never want for a paddock in which to graze!
Sheep dining near two Cabbage (ti kouka) trees.
Sheep seem to go anywhere in the paddocks.
The cornerstone of the Chateau.
Two of the older visitors.
A 1931 Rover.
Our views on during the stay got worse and worse. The center mountain with its top in the clouds is Mount Ngauruhoe. Just to the left is Mount Tongariro.
The Chateau.
Tiki carving detail outside of the iSite.
The path leading to the ridge overview.
Ferns on the floor of the forest.
The Chateau and points north.
Some of the moss-type plants in the area.
Whakapapanui Stream as seen from a pedestrian bridge near Whakapapa Holiday Park.
Whakapapanui Stream
Whakapapanui Stream
Moss growing on the trees.
A plant with small yellow leaves.
Moss on the trees near the stream.
Whakapapanui Stream
Whakapapanui Stream
Whakapapanui Stream
Small ferns growing on the trees.
Plants and moss near Whakapapanui Stream.
A typical directional sign.
Various foliage on the forest floor.
Some delicate purple flowers.
One, small, lone red berry (hint – near the center).
Small ferns on a tree.
The ferns extended all the way to the canopy.
Ferns on the forest floor.
Old building across from the Chateau.  This is where the Maori carvings were stored.
Where the Hobbits Were

Where the Hobbits Were

Matamata, New Zealand – February 5, 2018

We departed from Ohope Beach at nearly 07:00.  Our destination was the iSite (tourist information) at Matamata to take the 10:00 tour of the Hobbiton movie set.  The weather forecast called for showers.  However; during our drive, it was clear.

The tourist information site at Matamata definitely has a Hobbit feel.

Arriving at the iSite shortly after 09:00, the sales associate asked if we wanted to join the 09:30 tour instead. I jumped at the chance, anxious to beat any impending rain. The iSite had more Hobbit souvenirs than one could imagine. Since there was a gift shop at the movie set, we opted not to buy anything.

We walked outside and boarded the bus. Our driver, Bea, told us we should expect about a 25-minute drive to the Hobbiton movie set. During the ride, she played several video snippets detailing what was at the movie set and the history behind the scenes.

Sir Peter Jackson’s (the film’s director) team found the Alexander family-run farm in 1998 while scouting for locations for the filming of The Lord of the Rings movies. It seemed the perfect site for The Shire, the home of the Hobbits of Middle-earth. It matched J.R.R. Tolkien’s description from the books almost to a tee.

Several Hobbit Holes on the hill. Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End home is below the large tree in the upper left corner.

The set covers some 12 acres and originally contained 39 Hobbit Holes. Filming began in December 1999. When filming finished, crews returned the land to its pre-filming condition, as happens with most movie sets. The crews dismantled or removed the Hobbit Holes used for the movie, with few exceptions. The few exceptions were enough to draw the films’ enthusiasts to the area to “tour” the set. Guided tours of the site commenced in 2002.

In 2009, Sir Peter Jackson and his team returned for additional filming. This time, they constructed the Hobbit Holes of actual wood, slate, bricks, and mortar. The re-done set claimed a total of 44 Hobbit Holes. That is what is seen today when one takes a tour of the movie set.

The bus stopped at The Shire’s Rest.  At that site, additional tourists boarded the bus.  Once full, approximately 41 tourists, the bus crossed Buckland Road and entered the Alexander family sheep farm.

Our tour guide, Charlotte, told us one could determine the occupation of each of the Hobbit Hole occupants by the clues left out front. That is how we deciphered the farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, etc. We had just begun our walking tour when Charlotte pointed out a small cut in the trail. That is where Bilbo Baggins, the main character in The Hobbit, ran; shouting, “I’m going on an adventure!” One of our fellow tourists recreated the scene while Charlotte filmed the “episode” on the tourist’s phone.

Bakers Hobbit Hole.

A walk of 1.17 kilometers (three-quarters of one mile) was ahead of us. We frequently stopped to listen to Charlotte’s stories and to take photographs. Like so many parts of New Zealand, the Hobbiton Movie Set was visually stunning. The colors were amazing, and the overall landscaping was perfect. Throughout the set, there are several active garden plots. After Leslie’s question, we discovered gardeners split the produce amongst the gardeners that work at the site. I am sure that is a nice extra benefit from their employment.

At the artist’s Hobbit Hole, Charlotte allowed each of us to enter while she made our photograph.  It was very kind of her to do that, especially for all 41 tourists.

To quote Bilbo Baggins, “We’re going on an adventure!” Taken as we departed the artist’s Hobbit Hole.

Charlotte shared that there was one tree on the property that was fake. She asked if we could spot the tree. One of the tourists piped up that it was the tree at the top of the hill. That was correct. The tree happened to be directly above Bilbo Baggins home, Bag End. Just before filming, when Sir Peter Jackson arrived on set, he said the leaves were not the correct color. That set a team into action, re-painting each leaf by hand. I do not know what it looked like initially, but it is very nice now.

Just after the artist’s Hobbit Hole, we came to an overlook. From there, we could see most of the set; all the way to the mill and the Green Dragon Inn. It was a beautiful view.

The view across the lake toward the Green Dragon Inn.

Next was the pinnacle of the tour; Bag End. It was surreal to stand in front of Bilbo’s “home.” The exterior featured in the films; however, the interior shots were made at Weta Studios in Miramar, Wellington, New Zealand. In front of the house is a bench on which Bilbo’s pipe is sitting. The sign on the gate to Bag End stated: “no admittance; except on party business.” The party in question, of course, was Bilbo’s 111th birthday party.

A panorama of Bag End. Note Bilbo’s pipe on the bench at the lower right.

We stopped to sit down on the party grounds.  There were a few benches under a shade cover.  We sat there while Charlotte talked about the party grounds, the party tree, and the overall celebration of Bilbo’s eleventy-first (Hobbit-speak) birthday party.

The party-tree behind our tour guide, Charlotte.

Leaving the comfort of the shade and bench behind, we walked to Samwise “Sam” Gangee’s Hobbit Hole. The flowers in front were beautiful. Sam is the close friend of Bilbo, joining him on his big adventure.

Sam’s Hobbit Hole.

From Sam’s Hobbit Hole, it was mostly downhill. We walked past a beer cart left alongside the road, just before the stone, two-arched bridge. The bridge crosses the lake near the mill. That made for some very scenic photo opportunities.

On the other side of the bridge is the Green Dragon Inn. Included in the tour is a cold drink in a ceramic mug. One can choose between three types of beer (unique brews, each with 1.0% alcohol), a non-alcoholic beer, tea, or coffee.

The green dragon…

We relaxed with our drinks for a while.  Then Charlotte gathered the group and moved us to the gift shop.  Other than our refrigerator magnets, we left empty-handed.

Back on the bus, I discovered the tours run daily, except for Christmas day, rain or shine (update – our trip ended up being entirely in the shine!). There are 70, yes, seventy; tours each day! That means around 1,000,000 visitors each year!

The bus dropped us off at the iSite in Matamata, and we walked across the street for lunch at the Dew Drop Inn. I had a Troll sandwich, essentially a ham and cheese panini. It tasted terrific, but what amazed me most was that the sandwich stayed very hot to the last bite.

From the restaurant, it was back to the car to head to our next stop.

I cannot recommend this tour highly enough. For those that are interested, one can plan a visit at Hobbiton Movie Set.

Hobbit hunter number one.
Hobbit hunters two and three.
The mill at the lake.
A portion of the Green Dragon Inn.
Looking across the lake to the set.
A view of the mill at the lake.
A display just outside the door to the store.
The Green Dragon Inn just to the left of the double-arched bridge by the mill.
Walking toward the Green Dragon Inn.
A direction sign. We departed Hobbiton, heading toward the Green Dragon Inn.
An ale wagon…my kind of transport!
Herb gardener’s Hobbit Hole.
Hobbit Holes overlooking the party grounds.
Farmer’s Hobbit Hole.
The home of Bilbo Baggins close friend, Samwise “Sam” Gamgee.
A weaver’s Hobbit Hole.
A Hobbit Hole.
Herb gardener’s Hobbit Hole.
Farmer’s Hobbit Hole
Cheese-maker’s Hobbit Hole.
Small Hobbit Hole.
Bilbo Baggins home is just below the large tree. FYI…this tree is the only fake tree on the entire set.
Bag End.
Gardener’s Hobbit Hole.
Hobbit Holes
Looking up the hill toward Bag End, Bilbo Baggins home.
A wider view of the florist Hobbit Hole.
A Hobbit Hole duplex??
This Hobbit is cooking fish for lunch just below the entry.
Florist’s Hobbit Hole
Several Hobbit Holes on the hill. Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End home is below the large tree in the upper left corner.
Gardener’s Hobbit Hole
Fisherman’s Hobbit Hole
Farmer’s Hobbit Hole
Farmer Hobbit Hole
Toy Maker Hobbit Hole
New Plymouth

New Plymouth

New Plymouth, New Zealand – July 4, 2016

Sunday evening, I asked Leslie, “Do you want to go here?” While asking the question, I pointed at my computer screen.
Her response, “Where?”
“Here,” I continued to point, “New Plymouth.”
“Yes, yes, let’s go!”
I completed a hotel reservation. Then we packed a couple of bags and prepared for a morning departure.

Our traveling M.O. seems to begin with a stop at Macca’s. That morning was no different.

It was around 07:30 when we headed out of town on Highway 2. After just a few kilometers, we turned west on Highway 58. We have gone that way before. However, in the past, we have veered off onto the very narrow and twisting Paekakariki Hill Road. Leslie dislikes that drive even more than the Rimutaka Pass drive. That is because the Paekakariki Hill Road makes Rimutaka pass look like an autobahn in comparison. This time, we vowed to stay on Highway 58.

Highway 58 takes one to Porirua. Just after the Paekakariki Hill Road turnoff, Highway 58 skirts along Porirua Harbour. It is very picturesque.

The highway ends at Highway 1. That transition is a double roundabout. I am not exactly sure if I negotiated the double roundabout correctly, but we made it onto northbound Highway 1 without causing sparks with other vehicles. I count that as a win! Oddly enough, even though it was the morning rush, there was not a great deal of traffic at the roundabout.

As with virtually any drive in New Zealand, the scenery was beautiful. Heading north toward Paraparaumu, Highway 1 is directly alongside the Tasman Sea. The views are breathtaking.

Just outside Ohau, I spotted Otarere Maori Arts and Crafts. I would have stopped, but it was on the other side of the road. Instead, I made a mental note to stop on our way back home.

We continued on Highway 1 until the T-intersection with Highway 3 in Sanson. From there, we continued north on Highway 3. There, the terrain began to transition from rather flat to some steep hills and valleys. Multiple sheep and cattle dotted the hillsides. Each valley contained its own creek or stream.

Just before Wanganui, we crossed the Wanganui River. The span of the bridge is around 700 feet. According to several billboard signs, there is a paddleboat that plies the river. We may return for a weekend in Wanganui and try the boat ride.
Not long after leaving Wanganui, we spotted a volcano. We knew there is a volcano near New Plymouth, Mount Taranaki. We thought that was what we saw. Not too long after that, we spotted the actual Mount Taranaki. That meant the first volcano we saw was Ruapehu which is south of Lake Taupo. We were roughly 50 miles away from Ruapehu when we first saw it.

Mount Taranaki panorama.

Continuing north, just as we entered Eltham, Leslie spotted a great view of Mount Taranaki. I stopped immediately to capture the view. I do not think my photo does justice to the stunning sight of the volcano in the distance and the lush fields in the foreground.

Mount Taranaki.

About nine or ten miles south of New Plymouth, TomTom sent me onto Highway 3A. I did not want to go that way, but I decided not to argue with the GPS. As we arrived on the outskirts of New Plymouth, it was very definitely an industrial area. Suddenly, TomTom announced we had reached our destination. I looked around quickly. I did not see the Waterfront Hotel, nor did I see the beach. We continued on the main road until I found a safe place to stop.
I pulled up the hotel confirmation email on my cell phone. I checked the address, 1 Egmont. I knew I entered that into TomTom earlier that day. I decided to go back to the finish point, following the GPS directions exactly. Sure enough, there was nothing but industrial buildings in the area. I rechecked the email. That is when I noticed the address was 1 Egmont STREET. I had earlier selected 1 Egmont ROAD. I entered the correct address. In about three miles, we made it to the Waterfront Hotel.It was nearly 13:00 when we checked in to the hotel. The woman at reception placed us in room 306. Somehow, in the short trip from the reception desk to the third floor, 306 morphed into 302 in my mind. Exiting the elevator, room 302 was just in front of us. Under normal conditions, I would have tried our key in the door, noted it did not work, and then discover the number error. However, the entrance to 302 was propped open. I assumed that was for our arrival.
We walked into 302, me pulling the luggage cart behind. It was a massive room with a spectacular terrace and ocean view. We also immediately noticed it was brutally hot in the room. The split unit was pouring out hot air. I grabbed the remote control and brought the temperature control down to about 68 degrees. I took all of our stuff off the luggage cart. We agreed that we would meet in the hotel restaurant after I returned the luggage cart.
On the way out of the room, I decided it would be a good idea to check our keys before we locked the door. I was surprised when my key did not work, even though I tried it several times. That is when I checked the key-sleeve I was given at reception. Right there, on the front of the key-sleeve, was the number 306. We gathered our things and sheepishly moved to the correct room.

After lunch, we decided to walk around a little. One site I wanted to see was the Richmond Cottage. The good news is it was just around the corner from our hotel. The bad news, it is only open on the weekends. We were in New Plymouth for Monday and Tuesday only.

The two women at the tourist information station both recommended the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Their recommendation was due in part to the unusual building exterior; a polished metal attaches to the undulating exterior surface of the building. We decided to check out the gallery.

The exterior of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre.
The interior of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre.
A sculpture in the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre.

The gallery was just a few blocks from our hotel. It was easy to tell the building. It is so radically different from any of the other architecture around. The mirrored surface provided numerous reflections of the surrounding area. I imagine it is challenging to drive by the building at certain times of the day. The sun probably reflects directly into drivers’ eyes.
We decided to go into the gallery. The entry fee was free. In our opinion, it was worth every penny. The only exhibit that I liked was the Four Fountains by Len Lye (1901-1980). Lye is a well-respected New Zealand artist. It was mesmerizing watching the Four Fountains move back and forth. However, to our taste, the remaining exhibits did nothing for us. We were glad we had not had to pay to enter.
From the gallery, we walked north on Queen Street to the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway. We strolled along the walkway until we were near The Wind Wand. We later learned that The Wind Wand is a kinetic sculpture designed by Len Lye. The sculpture consists of a long red wand topped with a clear plastic ball. Inside the ball is a smaller red ball. The red ball lights up at night. In total, the sculpture is 48 meters (157 feet) tall. It originally opened January 1, 2000, nearly 20 years after Lye’s death. Some of the locals told us the sculpture was removed shortly after it opened due to some structural faults. The sculpture went back up about 18 months later. It was interesting to watch it move around in the breeze.

The Wind Wand designed by Len Lye.
The Wind Wand.

Our next stop was the Centre City Shopping Centre. However, a mall is a mall is a mall. It was close to 16:30. Since the sun was due to set in about 45 minutes, we decided to go back to the Coastal Walkway, sit on a bench near The Wind Wand, and watch the sunset. It was a little chilly with a light breeze. The sunset was lovely, but probably not the best I have ever seen.
Following the sunset, it was back to the hotel for dinner and relaxing.

A lovely sunset over the Tasman Sea.
A view along the beach as the sun was beginning to set.

The next morning, we both enjoyed eggs benedict for breakfast. For some reason, those seem so much better here than in the U. S.

Our destination for the day was Egmont National Park, the home of Mount Taranaki. We wanted to stop at the Visitor Centre and see Dawson Falls.

Captain Cook spotted the volcano from the ocean nearly 250 years ago. He named the volcano after the Second Earl of Egmont. Of course, the Maori had been around for some 1,000 years before Captain Cook. Their name for the volcano was Taranaki. Roughly translated, Taranaki means shining peak. Today, the National Park retains the title of Egmont while the volcano goes by the name of Mount Taranaki. Looking at a map, it is immediately apparent the boundary of the National Park is nearly a perfect circle.
Departing the hotel, it only took about 30 minutes to make it to the Egmont National Park Visitor Centre. Upon arrival, we found there were only two or three other visitors. The Visitor Centre placement allowed for some stunning views of the volcano. While we were there, the clouds parted just enough to allow for some reasonable photos of the volcano. It was amazing to both of us just how quiet it was at the foot of the volcano. We marveled at the sight for a long time on the observation deck. The volcano summit is 2,518 meters (8,261 feet) above sea level. Macabrely, Mount Taranaki is the second most dangerous mountain in New Zealand after Mount Cook. That is an astounding fact given that Mount Cook is an additional 4,000 feet taller than Mount Taranaki. Since 1891, a total of 83 people have died on Mount Taranaki.

Mount Taranaki partly shrouded in clouds.
Volcano travelers.
Mount Taranaki.
Mount Taranaki detail.

Inside the center, we talked at length with the ranger, and she told us the volcano last erupted in the late 18th Century. It was currently a 0, no volcanic unrest, on the 0 to 5 scale used by the New Zealand government to measure the activity of a volcano. That is compared to a 1, minor volcanic unrest, for the Ruapehu volcano we saw the previous day. She also provided some insight for the next leg of our journey, Dawson Falls.
Dawson Falls is near the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre. To get there, we had to exit the National Park, skirt along the boundary to the south. We drove north on Manaia Road back into the National Park. For nearly the entire 50-minute drive, we were in a fog, drizzle, and light rain. Except for the toilets, the Visitor Centre was closed.
There was a wide spot in the road a very short distance from the Visitor Centre. We parked there at the same time as the rain stopped and the sun began to emerge. A sign there marked the 200 meters (650 feet) trailhead to Dawson Falls. The well-groomed trail descended from the road including 35 stairs on our way down to an observation platform. That platform provided an excellent view of the falls. However, that did not satisfy me. I wanted actually to go down to the base of Dawson Falls.
Leslie agreed or stubbornly asserted (the reader may choose) to go to the base of the falls with me. Little did we know that meant an additional 178 stairs. Luckily, the last 100 or so had a handrail. That said we encountered a total of 213 stairs on our way to the base of the falls. That rivaled the 261 stairs we faced at the Stairway to Heaven.

After the stairs…
Dawson Falls.
Dawson Falls II.
Dawson Falls III.
Dawson Falls IV.
Dawson Falls V.
Dawson Falls VI.
The path to the falls.

Dawson Falls drops about 18 meters (59 feet). At the base, a lot of mist swirled around with the wind. Regardless, I had to take some photographs. It is one of the most spectacular waterfalls I have seen.
So, how did we get back up to our car? One step at a time! That is when we counted the stairs. When we arrived at the car, we were both tired, but we were also both thrilled we had made the trip.We were very close to the small town of Stratford. We decided we would stop there for a late lunch. On our way up to Dawson Falls, we had noticed a sign advertising possum products. We wanted to stop there on our way to Stratford. We did see it again and stopped. We were at Environmental Products NZ Ltd., Possum Fur and Leather Shop. Possums in New Zealand do not look like possums in the U. S. They are Australian Brush Tailed Possums. Introduced to New Zealand in the mid-1800s, they have become a pest, destroying much of the ecosystem of New Zealand since they have no predators.
Environmental Products use possum fur and leather to make a host of products. One of the most predominant products are sweaters made with a combination of possum fur and merino wool. Try as she might, Leslie could not find a sweater she liked. However, we did depart with one pair of socks (I can testify to their warmth and comfort) and a pair of gloves for Leslie.
We continued into town and had a very mediocre lunch. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap, happy hour, and dinner, in that order.

The next morning, we departed for home after breakfast. This time, I was watching for the Otarere Maori Arts and Crafts store. Sure enough, just outside Ohau, I spotted the store again, this time on the left side of the road. That made for easy access to the store and then back onto the highway. Inside, a wonderful Maori woman talked to us about several different Maori items in the store. We fell in love with a wooden tiki face. It is hand-carved. It will always remind us of Aotearoa, the Maori word for New Zealand.

There’s an elephant in the building!
Birds flying along the shore.
400 Volts.
Sheep on the paddock in front of a house.
Mount Taranaki as seen from New Plymouth.



Rivendell, New Zealand – June 25, 2016

This time of year, the sun does not rise until nearly 08:00. It was dark when we departed home.
The first stop was Macca’s for fuel. Some orange juice and a couple of Sausage Egg McMuffins and we were ready for the trip. When we got back in the car, we could begin to see the faint hint of a sunrise.
Our destination was a mere 32 kilometers (20 miles) away, Kaitoke Regional Park. The draw was Rivendell. Many of our past trips along State Highway 2 took us up and over Rimutaka Pass. On each trip, we passed a sign, pointing to the north, with the words “Kaitoke Regional Park” and “Rivendell.” Not too long ago, I asked one of my Kiwi colleagues whether the “Rivendell” on the sign referred to the Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies and books. I was happy to hear, “yes.”
In roughly 20 minutes, we made that often-passed turn to the north. At the entry to the park, we stopped at the information pavilion. No one else was around. It was interesting to read about the longfin eel. I had never heard of that species of eel. Perhaps that was because it is endemic to New Zealand (found nowhere else on earth). The eels may live in rivers for decades before returning to the sea to mate.

Leaving the pavilion, we continued north. In about one kilometer, we arrived at the small parking area for Rivendell. Once again, we were by ourselves. Exiting our vehicle, I grabbed my camera gear. We walked down to the Pakuratahi River. The river water, like every river we have seen in New Zealand, was crystal clear. After taking some photographs, we decided it was time to hike to Rivendell.

Our hike began at the parking lot. We knew which direction we were to travel; however, we were unsure about the distance. It ended up being only about 200 meters until we found the Rivendell Path. We did not know at the time, but the walk along the path to Rivendell was also only about 200 meters. In addition to being a short hike, it was very level. The hiking surface was a combination of sealed road and well-groomed gravel path.

Map of Rivendell.
A signpost along one of the trails.
A green field.

We knew before we set out that Rivendell no longer exists; however, there is some preservation of the area used for filming. There are a few signposts throughout the site, which help interpret portions of what happened in Rivendell in LOTR. One signpost demonstrated the relative heights of Hobbits, trolls, Sauron, etc.; while another showed a plan indicating the location of various parts of the Rivendell site. The only structure at the place that harkens back to the movie set is the Elvish Archway. While the archway is an interesting photo opportunity, it is a reproduction. Regardless, we enjoyed our brief trip to Rivendell.

The elfish archway.
The elfish archway with visitors.

We walked back to the parking area to prepare for our next activity, the Swingbridge. At the Kaitoke Regional Park, the Pakuratahi River merges with the Hutt River. A bridge crosses both rivers. Over the Pakuratahi River is a cement girder bridge leading to Rivendell. On the other hand, over the Hutt River is a suspension bridge dubbed the Swingbridge. As soon as one steps on the suspension portion, it becomes very evident from whence the name comes. Luckily, the Swingbridge is only about ten meters above the water. If it had been 100 or 150 meters above the river, I am sure I would not have managed the crossing.

The swinging bridge.
Looking toward the end of the bridge.

The draw of the Swingbridge is more than merely the view of the Hutt River. It is the quickest way to get to the Loop Walk, a short trail through the rainforest. Rainforests have become one of my favorite things about New Zealand. The flora of the rainforests is impressive. The loop trail winds through numerous species of trees, ferns, and other plants that are endemic to New Zealand. Some of the trees reach heights of 50 meters. While the circumference of the trees is no match for the California redwood trees, they are still imposing.

New Zealand is host to about 200 species of fern, and there are numerous species located along the loop trail. The silver fern, at up to 10 meters in height, is the most imposing and famous. The Maori call the new, tightly coiled fronds “koru.” The koru is one of my favorite things to photograph in the rainforest.

Silver fern as seen from underneath.
Bark detail in the forest.

Leaving the rainforest, it was back across Swingbridge. At the parking lot, I retrieved our folding chairs from the car. We took those down to the edge of the Pakuratahi River and sat at the river’s side for a long time. It was such a peaceful setting. The sound of the river (I would call it a stream) was very soothing.
While sitting beside the Pakuratahi, I had my camera on a tripod, capturing photos now and then. We saw two mallard drakes and two mallard hens coming toward us. They were kind enough to allow me to take several photographs.

Ducks on the river.
Ducks on the river II.

When we got cold, the temperature was right at 50 degrees Fahrenheit; we packed up and took another short walk to warm up. A sign near the river indicated kayakers faced a three-hour trip down the Hutt River, through a gorge. When we got back to the parking area, there just happened to be three kayakers. Leslie struck up a conversation with the young men. They told us they could make the trip downriver in about two hours. What increases the time is the existence of inexperienced kayakers. That day, they were the only kayakers around. One of the young men indicated he might have been suffering from a hangover. He added that he could not wait to get in the river and overturn. He thought that might help his condition. Sure enough, once in the river, he deliberately turned over. I do not know if that helped him or not.


After that walk, we had a picnic lunch and then returned to Lower Hutt.

For anyone in the area, I highly recommend a trip to the Kaitoke Regional Park.

Panorama of the Hutt River shore.
The swinging bridge over the Hutt River.
The river with the bridge in the background.
Tree along the path.
Red berries.
Some white moss.
The Hutt River.
A green field.
Rocks in the river.
The Hutt River.
The Hutt River.
Red berries.