Check out part II of Ben's epic journet from the top of New Zealand to the bottom.
The second part of our New Zealand journey began in Houhora. The harbour’s water is of high quality and perfect for enjoying all sorts of water sports including kayaking, canoeing and sailing as well as surfing and diving. Its beaches are long and wide and just wonderful for a vigorous horseride. The nearby forests are good for a ride, too, and you can have guided rides on sedate mounts. There are caravan and camp sites with seaviews or amongst the trees. A good sign for Houhora is that sea turtles are returning.
Hamilton, 566 kms south, is New Zealand’s largest inland city. It is on the banks of the Waikato River and is the region’s major centre. Archaeological evidence shows that the Maori had long been settled around the area but they deserted when Europeans arrived. The Europeans had been enlisted by the Waikato Militia with promises of one acre in town and fifty acres in the country. They travelled up the river by barge drawn by a gunboat in 1864. The river was once the only transport and communication link, but the railway superseded that in 1878, and then a roadway system was installed.
The coastal city of New Plymouth, 242 kms south, is backed by the majestic Mt Taranaki and surrounded by rich agricultural and dairy lands and is close to Egmont National Park. Local Maoris fled to Cook Strait in the 1820s to avoid the Waikato tribes who didn’t attack until 1832. They subdued remaining tribes. When European settlers first arrived in 1841 the coast was almost deserted.
Egmont National Park is 33,534 hectares of beauty. The volcano Taranaki stands tall above the landscape, with Kaitake and Pouaki, two volcanoes of an earlier era, standing beside it, all offering challenging climbs for the fit. For something more relaxing there are walks through lush, verdant forest to waterfalls, wetlands and viewpoints.
The nature changes the higher you go – lower altitudes have tall rimu and kamahi trees through dense subalpine shrubs to an alpine herbfield and plants unique to the area. On the middle slopes is Goblin Forest, named because of the gnarled shape of the trees and thick trailing moss.
70 kms further on is Hawera, the largest town on the southern coast of Taranaki. You can climb the dominating water tower to get some good views of the area and the Tawhiti Museum has a private collection of exhibits covering Taranaki heritage. Lifelike human figures were modelled on real people from the region.
A total surprise in the town is in store for Elvis fans. Kevin Wasley has a remarkable Memorial Exhibition of more than 2000 records, as well as a collection of memorabilia and souvenirs.
The Kapiti Coast is a spectacular area of wonderful sea views, dramatic sunsets, virgin native forest and beautiful hillscapes forming the coast. Just 40 minutes from central Wellington, stretches of sandy beaches await you. It is home to the Kapiti Island nature and marine reserves and a host of activities ranging from outdoor adventures through to an exciting variety of shopping.
This beautiful relaxing area is home to New Zealand’s top golf course, a world class car museum, beautifully restored trams, arts and crafts and easily accessible nature reserves.
It is also the place to spoil your tastebuds, and here they make the most of New Zealand’s wonderful dairy farms. Kapiti Cheeses make and sell the most tempting range of cheese, ice cream and sorbets imaginable.
Then it’s on to Wellington, the capital and home to the country’s parliament. It has steep hills with wooden Victorian buildings and prides itself as a centre for culture, the arts and has many restaurants, cafes, activities and good nightlife. It enjoys friendly rivalry with the larger and more populous city of Auckland, but does live up to its nickname, Windy Wellington.
To cross the Cook Strait to the south island, the Interisland Line is the way to go. It does several crossings between Wellington and Picton each day on a conventional ferry, which takes three hours, or The Lynx fast ferry which takes 2 ¼ hours. They go to and from Picton, the largest town in the Marlborough Sounds.
The Marlborough Sounds encompass 20% of New Zealand’s total coastline. It is a convolution of waterways, consisting of Queen Charlotte, Keneperu and Pelorus Sounds. It has pristine native forest with 800 year old trees, ponga tree ferns and colourful native orchids plunging to the shoreline. The bays, coves and inlets are just perfect for exploring by sea kayak and wreck diving.
Picton is a busy town but has kept its small town characteristic. From there you can take scenic
flights, go sailing, dolphin watching or walk one of the many tracks. Essens Valley Reservoir walk features glowworms!
Picton’s history is well documented at the waterfront museum and there are some Edwin Fox ships which were built in 1853 in port.
A 20 minute water taxi ride from Picton through the Sounds is the way to reach The Lazy Fish, a stylish homestead decorated with paintings, sculptures and antiques and a terrace inlaid with glass mosaics. Moss covered walls encircle a courtyard and wisteria vines and candle sconces create the perfect dining ambience.
There are four bungalows on the beach and gardens, each with four-poster beds, day bed, outdoor and indoor bath, terrace and hammocks, all affording breathtaking views across the bay to the mountains. For the energetic there are canoes, rowboats, windsurfers, fishing and snorkelling gear, or relaxing games and puzzles and day walks along the Queen Charlotte track to dolphin watch. They do have a minimum two nights stay, and it is suitable for over 16 year olds only please.
The west coast road from Picton leads to Havelock, just 35 kms away at the confluence of the Pelorus and Kaiuma Rivers. It is an excellent place to use as a base for exploring more remote parts of the Sounds and was once the hub of timber milling and export trade. It was also a service centre for gold-mining. Now the tiny place, with a population of just 500, has a thriving small boat harbour and claims to be the green-shelled mussel capital of the world, a product widely used for the natural treatment of arthritis and other ailments. There is plenty of reasonably priced accommodation in the area.
Next stop, Westport, is at the northern end of the west coast where the Buller River drains into the sea. It was settled as a gold town, and later coal was found and that continues to be mined.
Once it was infamous for having around sixty public houses on the main street. Now there are around a dozen and they remain the focal centre for much social activity.
Visitors can also enjoy jet boating, rafting and canoeing on the Buller River, explore coal mining sites and visit the museum dedicated to that industry, and wander along walkways to see the seal colonies at Cape Foulwind and Tauranga Bay.
A drive along the coast to Punakaiki takes you to the famous Pancake Rocks and blowholes. It is also the centre for Paparoa National Park, 30,000 hectares of varied landscape from mountain tops to sea level. It is one of the major tourist attractions, thanks to the activities people can participate in – horse riding, trekking, canoeing, rafting, guided walks, Westland black Petrel tours and day and overnight tramps.
The Rocks are remarkable pieces of natural sculpture and the blowholes provide an overwhelmingly powerful display of sea power.