Tag Archives: New Zealand

The Views of Middle-Earth

We’d be lying if we didn’t admit that we were eager to see New Zealand partly due to the fantastic advertising of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. While it would be impossible to see all the locations that Peter Jackson et. al. utilize for their world famous filming, we did want to see some of the prime sets and sights that we could accommodate during our trip to the North and South Islands.

So come with us as we share [some already shared] some of our snapshots from Middle-Earth. Our first stop:

This way to Hobbiton

While we didn’t take pictures of each of the 40+ hobbit holes within this little piece of the Shire, we did take a lot of pictures. Each of the hobbit holes was unique, and many were different sizes. Part of this was for filming to trick the viewer into thinking that the person standing next to the hobbit hole was a different size. For example: this hobbit hole was used to make Gandalf look tall.

60% scale hobbit hole – doesn’t Andrew look Gandalf size?

Gideon didn’t really care about all the cool trivia, but he did have fun.

If that isn’t cuteness, I don’t’ know what is!

Not only were Gideon and the hobbit holes cute, the gardens were amazing!

A decked out hobbit’s garden.

It takes 3 full-time gardeners to keep all the beautiful scenery alive and maintained (even if they promote lazy hobbit-style gardening).

The Randles Hobbits

Peeking through their window.

And of course, we couldn’t not stop by Bilbo’s house.

Under the hill.

I don’t think I would want to live underground. The one year we spent in a basement with only a few small windows was enough for me. Instead, I really enjoy living several stories above ground. But, if I ever wanted to live in an underground home, a hobbit hole may be the way to go.

Such beautiful little underground cottages.

Gideon liked the little homes too. I suspect because they were more his size!

Happily inspecting the halflings’ homes.

While some locations, like Hobbitton, was the exact same as in the movies, other locations simply reminded us of the movies. That was the case with a stream in the Redwood Forest.

The plants under the water look almost ashen.

It reminded us of the dead marshes in the Lord of the Rings. A little weird… but still, Middle-Earth-y.

We also visited the land of Rohan.

Rohan = Mt. Sunday

While the set of the movie is no longer on the hillside of Mt. Sunday, it was easy to imagine yourself in the windy lands of the horse people. Not to mention the views around Mt. Sunday were breathtaking!

Mt. Sunday – closer

Other locations that made us feel like were in the movies were the wildflowers in and around Lake Tekapo.

See the flowers along the road – GLORIOUS!

There is a scene from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug where the dwarves (and company) are running through these types of wildflowers. The abundance of these beautiful pink and purple flowers was just astounding. We could see why the filmmakers wanted to incorporate these New Zealand beauties into their films!

And finally, just the variety of the rocks and ground cover, particularly in the South Island, made us feel like we tramping right along drarves and hobbits … just we did it in a Corolla! 😀

The untamed beauty!

Thanks for letting us share some more pics. 🙂

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New Zealand – Driving

Some of the best memories from our trip to New Zealand are the luscious views and breathtaking scenery that we saw while driving. We quickly learned that our traveling was done best during nap time if possible (the toddler’s nap time, but the non-driving adult may or not have been napping too)! Consequently, I’m sure Gideon missed out on some of the cool sights. But he was more content to walk outside the car than sit in it if he had a choice (which he mostly didn’t). Generally, I think we drove about 2-4 hours/day.

Here our some of our highlights of moments either captured while the car was in motion or pulled over for a minute.

North Island driving highlights

Sunset the first night.

Matamata – Due to the GPS we might’ve been sort of lost, but we didn’t care.

Matamata, Sheep… but the sheep were everywhere on the North Island.

Just south of Rotorua; hard to believe it rained a short while later.

In the geothermal active areas, it was less lush green, but still pleasant on the eyes.

That’s 85km/hr for the turn… not mph 😉

Countless rolling hills (with sheep on them too), just like this one.

Still green as we headed closer to Waitomo.

Oh yeah, did we tell you there were a lot of cows too?

A few times we spotted windmills on distant hills.

… and onto the:

South Island driving highlights

The differences between the two islands were obvious. We have a hard time picking which one we liked more. (Though I think Andrew preferred the handling and width of the Corolla to the motorhome!)

Right outside Christchurch.

More browns and less greens, and more peaks rather than mounds.

More rocks too.

A few gravel roads.

We even had to ford a river!

(Reminds me of playing Oregon Trail on the computer as a child.)

This is the “river” we forded. We survived 🙂

Wildflowers EVERYWHERE near the two turquoise lakes.

Despite stormy clouds, the sight of the turquoise water was quite calming.

If that’s not beautiful, I don’t know what is.

The variety of rocks and hills was quite engaging.

Check out the ridges in the face of that mount!

More mountains… are you getting the picture?

The water of the West Coast.

Passing through the mountains.

Snow!

Rocks. (What else is there to say?)

There you have it. A sneak peek into what it was like to drive around New Zealand Middle-Earth.

New Zealand, South Island

Note: Hover/click on headings to follow links to read more information and reviews for the various sites and locations we visited.

Our adventures in New Zealand continued once we landed in the South Island.

Day 6: Christchurch – Mt. Sunday

After we got through the airport we sat on the designated curb waiting for the shuttle to pick us up to drive us to the rental car location. The shuttle came and filled up. Unfortunately, due to the lack of queueing system, the shuttle filled up with people (some waiting less time than us) and we weren’t on it. So we had to wait for the shuttle to make a return trip before we finally made it to the rental car location. Due to the popularity of the place, all of the associates working for the rental company were busy, so we ended up being the one family that was left waiting. Once we were finally attended to, we received our car. The first one we’ve had in almost 3 years: a Corolla! woot. Or not. They were supposed to have given us a vehicle that was able to hold more than a Corolla. However, since I was tired of dealing with a toddler who was tired of waiting for things to happen… well I didn’t have the energy to deal with it nor the sense to tell Andrew to complain to the company. Oh well. We got out our GPS and told it to take us to the grocery store. Come to find out, the GPS wasn’t exactly accurate. Instead of doing grocery shopping at the wrong location, we saw a Subway right across the street and made a bee line for the comfort food of a Sub and a Salad. That’s when I realize my mistake… We never picked up our camping gear. We had a car, but no “home.”

I had booked camping gear that would be conveniently dropped off at the rental car location. However, I had inconveniently forgotten to remember to pick the gear up. So we headed back to the place we had just been. This time, we picked up all our gear.

Eager to leave our series of frustrating events behind us, we headed out of Christchurch and to our next location:

Mt. Potts Lodge / Mt. Sunday

Andrew asked me (the planner/coordinator) where we were headed for the night. I had the sense, to say, I had it worked out, and he would see. After a beautiful drive in the country side and a ford across a river (more on that later) – we arrived at our destination.

The closer smaller “hill” is Mt. Sunday.

We stopped the car, and I turned to Andrew and proudly said, “Welcome to Rohan.” [Rohan: the kingdom and lands of the horse people in Lord of the Rings / Middle-Earth.] Andrew turned back to me with the incredulous, “Really!?”

I pointed out the small mountain and explained how that was indeed the location where the famous set had been previously built (and taken down) all for the iconic Lord of the Rings movie. He was impressed because 1) I was able to pull of a surprise. (He makes it hard!) and 2) That it was a location that we were allowed/able to get to!

That night we set up camp. This was in itself an adventure, because we had yet to delve into the camping gear that we had rented. The good news was we had everything we needed and it was self explanatory. The bad news… the tent was huge. I had requested for the next size up from a 2 person tent to make sure there was room to accommodate the little guy. What I didn’t realize was that the next size available was quite large. I’m sure we looked a little funny attempting to raise a 5-pole tent with the hands of two adults, but it went up fine. 🙂

Day 7: Mt. Sunday – Lake Tekapo – Mt. Cook – Twizel

The first night of camping was a success! We were all a little cold, but then we’re used to Singapore weather. Success or not, it seemed like Gideon was just ready to get going.

Uh, bud, that’s not where you sit.

So we packed up our tent (easier to take 5 poles down at once than to put them up simultaneously) and headed down to Mt. Sunday for a hike.

As we got out of the car, Andrew chatted for a few moments with a small group that had just completed the walk alongside Mt. Sunday. They piped that it would be better with waterproof shoes, but still was a good hike. Eager to see the “Mt.” up close, we headed off. It quickly became apparent why waterproof shoes were mentioned. Most of the path/road was flooded. We attempted to find the shallow and skinny part of the “stream” to cross so we could continue on with the hike. Those optimistic crossing points ended with two adults with quite wet shoes and cold feet. Gideon had the advantage of riding on Daddy’s back. Not wanting to hike with cold feet that were prone to blisters from wet shoes, we aborted the hike.

A failed hike. But still a beautiful sight!

We were so disappointed to have come so close but so far. Lesson learned: bring waterproof shoes. Trying to make the most of it, we snapped a few shots before heading out. Gideon was ready for a nap anyways.

Disclaimer: for closer pictures, bring waterproof shoes.

Lake Tekapo & Lake Pukaki

Our disappointment of not getting to go on the desired hike was consoled by beautiful scenery alongside the road. We were particularly struck by the prolific wildflowers!

Pinks and purples galore!

As we were distracted by the wildflowers, we were stunned when out of nowhere Lake Tekapo came into view!

Lake Tekapo – Turquoise!

We stopped for a few quick snapshots, eager to keep going as Gideon was still napping. However, the stop got him waking up. So as we came upon the second turquoise lake of Lake Pukaki, we decided it was time for all of us to stop and get out of the car.

Gideon was thrilled to get out of the car, as you can see by his cheeky grin.

After walking around for a little bit and getting some delicious Salmon sashimi from the little shop, we were ready for a few family photos.

I love this shot! (Andrew wore the perfect shirt too!)

We weren’t the only ones who thought it was a great place to take pictures, either. The stranger who snapped our shots took one that included the couple having their wedding shots being taken too!

The Randles… and The Newlyweds

The unimaginably bright turquoise of these lakes was stunning to say the least. It certainly goes on my list of favorites from New Zealand!

Beautiful sites aside, it was a bit nippy. Rather than eat lunch bundled up, we just sat down in our warm car where we could admire Lake Pukaki, and eat some PB&J.

White short sans bib + PB&J = bad idea.

Mt. Cook … or Tasman Glacier

If you look closely in the shots above you’ll see that their are mountains in the background of Lake Pukaki. But those mountains, namely the famed Mt. Cook, are shrouded in clouds. Regardless of the cloud cover, we drove up alongside Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook. I’m glad we did, for it was the most splendid ride to drive alongside the turquoise waters. When we got to the visitor center at Mt. Cook, it was all rainy – not good for a hike at all, much less visibility of the peak. But it cleared up just long enough for us to be willing to risk a shorter hike to see the Tasman Glacier.

Right in the middle of the picture you can see the Tasman glacier.

Though a bit unimpressive, it was neat to be able to see a glacier, even if we couldn’t see Mt. Cook. And the views around us were still great, even if we couldn’t see all of the snow capped peaks that were all around us!

Great views though!

We set up camp in nearby Twizel for the night. Since we hadn’t done but one load of laundry since we arrived in New Zealand, Adrielle set about using the laundry facilities at the campgrounds to get all our clothes cleaned.

Day 8: Wanaka – Haast

The next morning we chatted with our camping neighbors. They had a boy just a few days older than Gideon who was born in the same hospital as Gideon! They lived in Singapore for a few years before moving to Australia, and now were visiting New Zealand just as we were. Small world.

Gideon wasn’t much for small talk though and demonstrated that he was ready to go!

Um, pal, that’s not your seat either!

Wanaka

After Gideon got a good nap, and the parents had driven for a while, we arrived at Wanaka. Picking up some information brochures at the visitor center we realized that there were some options of bike rentals that included child seats. Gideon and Adrielle decided we couldn’t leave all the bike riding to Andrew, so we voted for a bike ride to see the area.

Gideon loved the special handles that were just for him!

(Did we mention we lugged his helmet all the way from Singapore just in case we found a good place to bicycle as a family? The bike rental lady was quite impressed with his get-up.)

All set to go, we headed off on our bike ride.

Andrew’s second bike ride in New Zealand.

Much different than our typical Singapore bike riding scenery!

Due to riding with a little guy (okay, and a Mommy that wasn’t as fit as Daddy), we stopped for breaks along the way.

Bike riding is fun. Breaks are fun too.

After about 45 minutes of riding Gideon decided that the last 15 minutes of bumpy/hilly/off-roading bicycling was enough. He protested from his back seat until he fell asleep on a smooth road. Mommy was a little jealous because sleeping was a lot less work than bike riding against the wind up hills. But thankfully, going up hill mean down hill later! 🙂

Once we were finished our bike ride, Daddy rewarded his companions with ice cream, kiwi and chocolate flavors to be precise. A perfect way to cool down after a bike ride.

We had originally planned to stay the night in Wanaka, but since Gideon was ready for a nap (and by now we had learned that nap = prime driving time), we decided to make for Haast past.

We stopped right off the high way, and Andrew stayed in the car while I did a quick jaunt to see a waterfall.

Fantail waterfalls – Just another beauty of New Zealand

We stopped at Haast for the night at a near campground that had converted an old airplane hangar into pristine camping facilities (kitchen, bathrooms, etc.)

Probably one of the coolest (and CLEAN!) facilities we stayed at!

Day 9: Fox Glacier – Hokitika

The next morning after a short bit of driving we sighted the West Coast of New Zealand!

We made it to the West Coast!

We had to choose between two of the most famous glaciers, Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier. Knowing that we weren’t going to attempt a long guided hike (expensive and not Gideon friendly) nor a fancier option (such as helicoptering up to the glacier), we decided to go for the simpler and less popular, Fox Glacier. Besides, the forecast wasn’t calling for weather that would be favorable for viewing the glaciers anyways, so we didn’t have high expectations.

Lake Matheson

One of the perks of visiting Fox Glacier, was that we were able to do the hike around nearby Lake Matheson. It was a nice quiet lake and very peaceful to walk around. The weather and view were quite agreeable as well.

A beautiful lake reflecting the sky above.

Even Gideon enjoyed admiring the view of the lake.

Mommy & son sharing the view.

While the view was nice, it wasn’t till we were leaving and we stopped at the gift shot that we realized what we were missing. Although it had been clear above us, it hadn’t been clear over the mountains. In fact the whole time, the clouds we had admired were shrouding the famed mountain peaks of New Zealand! Again, we missed “seeing” Mt. Cook. (See here.)

Fox Glacier

After the nice hike, we headed to Fox Glacier. The visibility of the glacier was predicted to be pretty limited, so we weren’t optimistic, but we decided we would try going for a short hike to see if we could see it anyways. We had come all this way, right?

We didn’t stop along the hike to take many pictures, as there were multiple signs warning “NO STOPPING” due to the risk of land/rock slides. The view of sheer mounds of boulders right next to you encouraged that you keep up the pace. Eventually we hopped over a stream, rounded a corner, and:

The ice and rock of Fox Glacier, roughly 1km from where we were standing.

I’m sure that it looked far less impressive than it would’ve had the visibility been great or had we been seeing the glacier from the top rather than the bottom. However, it is still cool to have gotten so close to such a glacier! Adrielle was worried about the stream we had just hopped over becoming impassible (without waterproof shoes anyways) as the time wore on, so we all headed back content to have sighted the glacier.

Hokitika & The Glow Worm Dell

We camped at Hokitika for night, thankful for a town that had a fully stocked grocery store as we were in need of supplies food. As a bonus, our campground was right across from The Glow Worm Dell. So, after sunset we walked across the road and into the grove of trees waiting to spot the little bioluminescent creatures. Sure, enough, the “worms” were there! Not quite as impressive as the Glow Worm Caves, but still neat to be able witness these incredible creatures once again. Oh, and did I mention this little gem was free too?

Day 10: Hokitika – Punakaiki

In the morning we set about completing our morning routine, which included taking apart our house and packing it up.

Gideon helping Daddy pack up. Awesome Daddy multitasks.

Hokitika Glass Studio

After packing up, we spent the morning leisurely strolling through the main street of this little tourist town. We mailed some post cards and picked up some souvenirs. Our favorite stop was the glass studio in town. It was filled with beautiful figurines hand crafted from blown glass. We were only sorry that we were there on a Sunday when the glass blowers weren’t in, so it was more of a gallery. But still cool.

Punakaiki

The road between Hokitika and Punakaiki, our next destination, was never very far from the coast. And at times we were right upon it, being flanked with the beautiful sea water.

The West Coast in its splendor!

After a stop for lunch in Greymouth we finished the trip to Punakaiki. We knew we had missed the high tide “show,” but were still eager to see the famed Pancake Rocks. We weren’t disappointed.

A-MAZING!

One of my favorite things about this place was a plaque that talked about how “science” fell short of adequately explaining how these rocks came to exist… I just smiled imagining how much fun the Creator had stacking these rocks together 🙂

Enjoying stack after stack of “pancakes”

The guys enjoying themselves too.

One of my favorite moments was turning into a stack of rocks and looking up to see the shape rock formation echoed in the clouds behind it!

Matching rocks and clouds.

Supposedly, the best show that Punakaiki had to offer was when the water would burst through the openings in the rocks at high tide. Since we were ahead of schedule on our itinerary, we decided to stay at Punakaiki through the night till the next high tide in the late morning.

So we set up camp… with Gideon’s help.

Proudly helping out.

(But Andrew did most of the work.)

Andrew proudly showing off the home he built 😉

And then we went down to check out the beach. Despite not being dressed for playing in the sand, we figured why not?

Gideon had so much fun with the sensation of sand in his fingers and toes.

Day 11: Punakaiki – Christchurch

The next morning we made sure to pack up with enough time to get to the pancake rocks for the high tide “blow holes” as they called it. The name became a reality a few minutes later when we saw puffs of mist coming out of holes in the ground!

The sea water get’s trapped in the rocks, and comes out of “blow holes.”

Although the skies were much drearier than the previous visit to the rocks, the whole scene was alive as water sprayed and roared as it crashed into the rock formations.

If only I could attach the soundtrack to this sight!

It was quite the site to behold, and well worth staying the night.

The water and rocks collided is such a grand and majestic manner!

Arthur’s Pass

Needing to get back to Christchurch which was back on the East side of the islands, we had to get through the mountain range to do so. We chose the route through Arthur’s Pass to do so. I’m so glad we had the privilege of driving through the wonderful world of New Zealand. Such an experience to drive right through the mountains!

Over the mountains and through the woods…

We even spotted some Keas while we were stopped eating our lunch.

Don’t feed them… okay by me! Rather intimidating looking bird!

Castle Hill

As we continued to close the gap between us and Christchurch the landscape continued to change. Various grounds reminded us of the terrain of Lord of the Rings (go figure). Some majestic. Some just bizarre.

The grass was dotted with rocks, great and small.

Curious, we pulled over into a small parking lot and got out to explore.

More than happy to be Daddy’s little explorer.

With such a backdrop, how could we not pause and impose on a stranger to practice his photo taking skills?

The whole happy explorer clan.

The sites of rocks toppled on top of each other breaking up the grassy hills was quite something!

Castle Hill, also known as Kura Tawhiti.

Eventually though we made it back to Christchurch and set up “home” again.

Day 12: Christchurch

The last morning of camping was also the most miserable. We woke up to rainy weather and gloomy skies. Andrew graciously did the dismal task of packing up a wet tent while getting soaked himself. (It’s not exactly practical to hold an umbrella and pack up a tent at the same time.) We gladly got out of our last campsite and headed to some warm shops. Although not very “touristy” we spent the better part of the day doing some shopping for things (like shoes – we bought 6 pairs for the family) that we thought might be a bit easier/cheaper to find in New Zealand. Once we were shopped out we checked into our motel for the night. While I stayed behind to do some packing (and napping), Andrew did a quick trip to the nearby Air Force Museum.

I’m glad he took some pictures to show me.

After he got back we headed out to downtown Christchurch to a pizzeria that I had picked out for dinner. What greeted us was a downtown that was still struggling to recover from previous earthquakes.

Buildings and roads still in a half-worked-on stage.

Unfortunately the pizzeria had already closed by the time we arrived, but we were glad to have seen the downtown area, even if it was a bit sad. We found a Nando’s within walking distance from our motel, and settled for a dinner of some spicy chicken.

Day 13: CHC – SYD – SIN

The next morning we woke up at 3:30 to leave in time to catch our flight(s) home.

At the airport early enough to see the moon set in the dawn.

Gideon did exceptionally well for having gotten shortchanged on his night’s sleep. He was perky enough to make full use of the great play ground indoors a few gates down from our departure gate.

Using up his energy.

The flights went well, but the layover of 7 hours was a bit long and seemed to drag on.

But we were glad to have spotted a Christmas Koala in the Sydney Airport.

(If ever again we go to Sydney, I don’t think we’ll spend much time at the airport since we’ve walked it a few times over!)

We finally arrived home in Singapore late Wednesday night (early Thursday in NZ) with tired bodies but content and happy hearts. I am oh so thankful that the Lord granted the dream of visiting New Zealand!

New Zealand North Island

Background

For a while now, it has been a dream to visit New Zealand. Andrew was kind enough to agree to make that dream a reality. (It didn’t hurt that he had to find a way to use up 2 weeks of saved up leave time from work before the end of the year, or it would disappear.) We figured that it would be easier to do the trip now (compared to later!) while we have one youngster and live relatively close in Singapore. Due to a few scheduling constraints we weren’t able to finalize the idea nor the flights for the trip until less than two weeks before we were to leave! But we decided short notice wouldn’t be enough to stop us from having a lovely time. The two goals for our itinerary were to pick something we could handle on a reasonable budget and with a budding toddler underfoot! Our itinerary in a nutshell would be to:

  • Fly through Sydney to Aukland
  • Spend about 1 week driving in a motorhome/campervan around the north/central part of the North Island.
  • Fly from Auckland to Christchurch
  • Spend another week, this time via a rental car, camping around the central/west coast regions of the South Island.
  • Fly from Christchurch via Sydney back home to Singapore

(Note, click on the headings for links to websites/reviews of the sites visited.)

Day 1: Singapore – midair

Despite Singapore being closer than our homeland of the East Coast, it is still a bit away from New Zealand. This is especially true if you’re traveling on a budget and you travel through Sydney. We left late at night in Singapore…

Day 2: Sydney – Auckland

And 7 hours after we took off in Singapore, due to the time change we arrived early the next morning in Sydney.

Enjoying Sydney … from the confines of the airport.

Originally I would’ve liked to have traveled straight to New Zealand, but I think doing travel in spurts helped all three of us adjust to the time difference. And not to mention the layover gave Gideon a chance to not be cooped up in a plane!

Having fun in the airport before getting back on a plane.

After short-ish layover another 3 hour flight from SYD to AKL. Thankfully Gideon did splendidly! Even though he only slept a few short hours, he dutifully lounged in the basinet/chair in the airplane for most of our long flight. And during the second flight we had the blessing of a empty seat to help deal with the little guy. Even though the flight went well for all involved, it was nice to land and get settled in our new [motor]home. We spent the first afternoon doing grocery shopping and then driving a few hours before stopping in Miranda for our first night.

Day 3: Matamata – Rotorua

Amazingly Gideon slept through his first night in New Zealand and woke up pretty much on time. I think the combination of being tired from traveling and not sleeping a full night’s sleep the night before allowed his body to be flexible to the time change.

On our way to Matamata (the town where the Hobbiton was located) we stopped at a lovely quirky cafe, called the Corogate cafe. (It was really a play on words as it is the “gateway” to the “Coromandel Peninsula” – which we skipped due to time.)  

A quirky little cafe – good for a caffeine boost!

I don’t know whether to take it as a compliment or not when the lady who was running the little shop wondered at the origin of our accents. She said, in a proud manner, how she could typically could figure out where someone was from based on their accents. But she hadn’t thought we were American (she even thought she would be able to tell what general area of the States we were from, but nope)! IN fact, she really couldn’t figure out where we were from, until she asked. I guess the Singaporean-ness has messed up with our American English? I never thought Americans had a nice accent anyways – go figure.

Hobbiton

Though determined to see New Zealand in a laid back manner on a budget, we did want to see a few sites. At the top of the list was Hobbiton – home to the movie set where the scenes of the Shire in The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit are shot. We were worried it might be raining all day, but decided it was now or never. Thankfully, the Lord stopped the rain right as Andrew bought the tickets for the tour! We were guided around the Shire by a lovely young gal from the local town of Matamata who cheerful peppered us with neat trivia while giving us time and space to be tourists! Of course she dutifully brought us past Bilbo’s house:

One of the most iconic homes in Middle Earth under “the hill”!

(More hobbitton pictures to follow in a future post soon!) As we were ending our tour with a stop at the Green Dragon, the sun and blue skies broke forth.

Yay! Blue skies!

Since the whole set is in the middle of a very large sheep farm, there were some fenced in sheep right next to the parking lot. Gideon had quite a bit of fun playing near them but didn’t understand why they didn’t come closer to him!

(Sheep behind the fence…) The boy’s gotta practice his walking.

We stopped for lunch and some play time before making our way  during Gideon’s nap to Rotorua to camp for the night.

Day 4: Rotorua – Taupo

Whakarewarewa Forest

We spent the morning at the Redwood Forest. (Yay for free site seeing!)

The Redwoods… but in New Zealand

It was interesting to discover that these were the same type of Redwoods as in California, just younger. They had been planted along with several hundred types of trees long ago in an effort to see what types of trees would do well in the New Zealand environment, purposely for tree framing. But later, the forest was donated to the Department of Conservation.

Up… up… and up…

Since I had always wanted to visit the forests in California, I found it especially neat that I was able to do so while in NZ!

I think Gideon enjoyed the trees too!

While Gideon and Mommy took their naps, Andrew rented a bike and went blazing through some of the mountain bike trails associated with the forest.

Probably one of Andrew’s highlights of New Zealand.

If we had to do the trip again (we wouldn’t complain) – the mountain biking would go on the list of repeats for Andrew! But we couldn’t spend the rest of our two weeks mountain biking (Gideon voted against it) – so we moved on towards Taupo.

Wai-O-Tapu thermal Wonderland

Right between Rotorua and Taupo was a Geothermal Wonderland. As the name suggests, this bizarre land area was filled with wonder.

Caves/holes created by the thermal activity were all around.

The picture doesn’t do justice to the sound that could be heard. In some areas the sound was hissing from the steam, and other areas evoked what you would imagine from a bubbling witches cauldron.

Soil and earth at a rolling boil.

Although the sounds were intriguing, I think I liked best the colors.

Some areas were drab and grey, but others had pools filled with natural chemicals that brought about such odd colors!

This area was dubbed the artist’s pallet, so full of color it was!

It started to rain a bit steadily so we rushed by the artist’s pallet to get to some shelter. Thankfully the rain let up. In fact, when we got to the tip of the walking loop where the green lake was, it was sunny!

Blue and white skies over a bright green lake!

Depending on the area it seemed like you were walking through a wonderland shrouded in mist… except that the “mist” smelt strongly of sulfur.

Mist? or steam? or something else…?

Although the aroma was strong, you sort of got used to it. Indeed you were impressed by all the sites that you didn’t pay the smell too much mind.

Wonderland is right.

At the end of the walk we were greeted by one of the most strongly colored spots yet.

Lime green. I kid you not.

Of course, this color was none other than Grandma’s favorite, so we had to stop for a pose!

Posing with the Grandma Green!

As we left the park there was a separate area devoted to mud pools.

Violent mud!

As bizarre as it was, I think the bubbling mud was one of favorites!

It looks like it’s from another world!

Wairakei Natural Thermal Valley

We followed some markings from off the highway to a little campground outside of Taupo. What greeted us was a campground complete with a mini petting zoo and some quiet walks through a geothermal area.

I think Gideon was more excited with the chicken than all the rest of the sites during the day!

The little “campground” was filled with animals, including Adrielle’s favorite:

Introducing Gideon to bunnies (of which there were several)!

And probably because people, like us, had just come from a colorful thermal world, they included vibrant peacocks in their collection.

Strutting his colors at us.

We took a nice walk to see the thermal activity in the area before settling in for dinner and sleep.

More thermal wonders.

Day 5: Taupo – Waitomo – Kawhia

Huka Falls

The next day we started off with Huka Falls.

Huka Falls

Two things impressed us with this waterfall: the turquoise color and the volume! But as the walks around the falls/rapids were supposed to take a few hours, we decided just to look at the falls but not do the hike, especially with a little guy in tow! Instead we headed to:

Huka Honey Hives

Just a minute down the road from the falls, we stopped at the honey shop raved about online. What the reviews didn’t predict was how well Gideon would pose outside the shop!

Mommy = queen bee. Gideon = happy worker bee!

But the place got even better as we went inside!

Bees – behind glass, the way I like them!

The little boutique had a little bit for everyone. It had a contained home for the busy bees where we could admire and appreciate them.

That’s a lot of bees!

It had a few play areas for kids of different ages.

Having a blast with all the honey and bee themed toys!

And it had a tasting section and a cafe to tantalize our tastebuds. On top of all this, their prices were reasonable (you could find something for any budget range) and the staff beyond friendly!

Taupo

We stopped in the town to use the playground and get some lunch.

They even had a baby swing!

As we headed out of town a bicycle caught our eye. Not just any bicycle. A larger than life bicycle! The advantage of driving on our own is we could stop, just because we wanted to!

I never thought it would happen, but we found a bike too big for Andrew!

Glow Worm Caves

We drove to Waitomo and arrived just in time for the last tour at the glow worm caves. As it was at the end of the day, it was a nice small group. As our guide started he asked where everyone was from. Come to find out, all of us (two other groups for a total of 10 including the guide) were from Singapore!

Overpriced, perhaps, but really one of the highlights of New Zealand!

Unfortunately, they didn’t allow photographs until the end… (so as to not disturb the glow worms with the light from the cameras). Oh well, without a fancy camera it would be hard to capture them in their glory. It would be like trying to get the starlit sky to show up on a low budget camera – it just wouldn’t do it justice.

The boat that we road in to see the glow worm cave.

Morokopa Falls

We drove a half hour after the adventure in the caves to see a local waterfall. For as little-known as this waterfall seemed to be, we were pretty impressed.

Did I mention it was free? Whoop whoop!

What we didn’t factor in was that there weren’t any nearby powered campsites. And my camera battery had died. So we really wanted a powered site so that we could recharge the batter before another day of site seeing. Andrew bravely plowed on in the motor home around bendy roads in the twilight until we finally made it to a motorhome camp site. Between a bendy road and a Gideon who was done with riding in a car, that was probably the hardest 30 minutes of the whole trip in New Zealand. But it was quickly forgot after a good warm meal and a sound night’s sleep.

Day 6: Ngarunui – Auckland

Bridal Veil Falls

We traveled some more windy roads, some unpaved, in an effort to go see Bridal Veil Falls. At first we were discouraged as we came upon closure and detour signs. We gave up the hope of going to the falls, but were later rewarded when we saw that there was a different (and better) access point further down the road!

A long drop!

Ngarunui Beach

We figured we couldn’t leave the north island without visiting a beach. So we headed to the edge of the island to the black sands of Ngarunui beach.

Ngarunui beach (don’t ask me how it’s pronounced)!

Though summer seasons prevailed, we decided the water was too cold and to just admire the sights rather than the touch of the water!

awww – I love my hubby

Gideon didn’t know he was missing going in the water, he was just thrilled to be able to practice walking some more!

His surfer pose

Auckland Botanic Gardens

During afternoon nap we drove the rest of the way to Auckland. Amazingly, we had time to kill so we stopped at the botanical gardens.

They had a great kids play area complete with fun rocks!

Personally, my favorite part was the hydrangea garden, but then, I’m biased.

Me next to the flowers that made up my bridal bouquet.

I think we all enjoyed the botanic gardens, and were only sorry we didn’t have more time to kill!

More walking practice.

That night we stayed at a campsite right next to the airport so we wouldn’t have to worry about driving time before catching our flight.

Day 7: Auckland – Christchurch

We said goodbye to our home of the north island and headed to the airport to fly to south island.

Our home away from home.

There, I did it! I posted some of our pictures from New Zealand, before the end of 2013. Now, onto cataloguing our adventures in the South Island. I think it’ll have to wait till next year 😉

Protected: Gideon – 14 Months

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