Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mission Bay - Auckland's chowpatty

On a day off, most Aucklanders head to Mission bay for a bit of rest, relaxation and ice cream! Mission Bay used to be known for its Mission House. But now it is famous for its golden beach, restaurants and cafes.

The golden sand and blue waters were truly inviting.

The kids love the fountain.

The New Zealand Christmas tree.

The New Zealand Christmas tree is called the Pohutukawa. It is native to NZ and belongs to the Myrtle plant family. It bears spectacular red flowers from end of November to end of January and that's why the nickname - Christmas tree.

Pohutukawa, or 'splashed by the sea,' is sacred to native Maoris who believe that the pohutukawa which sits on the very tip of Cape Reinga is the last stepping-off place of spirits from this world.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Northern tip of New Zealand

The Cape Reinga Lighthouse

Cape Reinga
The Cape Reinga lighthouse is situated at the northwestern most tip of the North Island of NZ. It is a sacred place for the Maori who believe that the ape is the point where the spirit of the dead enter the underworld.

According to mythology, the spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife to leap off the headland and climb the roots of the 800 year old tree and descend to the underworld to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiiki-a-nui, using the Te Ara Wairua, the 'Spirits' pathway'
Source: Wikipedia

It is also the point where the Tasman sea meets the Pacific Ocean. One can see the tidal race where the 2 bodies of water meet.

90 Mile Beach
The 90 Mile beach is not 90 miles in length but 55 miles! Nevertheless, it is unique with a desert landscape, huge sand dunes, wild horses, plenty of birdlife and access to the beach only during low tide. We had great fun taking optical illusion pictures.

Another hole in the rock!

Tina has Giles in the palm of her hand. :)

I am dancing on mum's palm.

It is an activity that is similar to snow boarding but it is carried out on sand dunes rather than snow covered mountains. We hiked up to the top of a giant sand dune (that was the hardest part) and then surfed down the dune on a boogie board.

Giant sand dunes

and we sand boarded down it.

Giles and me with our boards.

Waipoua Kauri Forest
This forest is the home of Tane Mahuta, the country's largest kauri tree, which is approximately 1200 years old and still growing. Tane Mahuta is rightly called 'The Lord of the Forest'. Another significant tree in Waipoua Forest is Te Matua Ngahere – 'Father of the Forest' – which is estimated to be 2000 years old.

Hugging the Lord of the Forest.

Ancient Kauri Kingdom
The ancient wood is found in swamps in the North of New Zealand and is carbon dated at more than 45,000 years old. It predates the migration of Neanderthal man and was already buried in swamps more than 25,000 years before the onset of the last Ice Age. Ancient Kauri is the oldest workable wood in the world. It is considered worldwide a valued heirloom connecting us by its beauty and ancient history.

The centrepiece of this shop is the staircase carved out of a single Kauri log. You can read more on the website -

The famous staircase.

Furniture carved out of 40000 year old Kauri swamp logs. 
Tip: Do the tour with AwesomeNZ as they are simply awesome.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Paihia - the Jewel of the Bay of Islands

Paihia is a great place to base yourself and explore the beautiful Bay of Islands. It is a quaint seaside town which is not very far from most of the sights.

Some of the popular things for visitors to do in the Bay of Islands are:
  • Swim with the dolphins
  • Go Kayaking, fishing, swimming
  • Take the ferry to Romantic Russell
  • Picnic along secluded beaches
  • Visit the Haruru Falls
  • Learn about NZ history where the historic Waitangi treaty was signed
  • Cruise through the "Hole in the Rock"
  • Visit the lovely town of Kerikeri
  • Check out the world famous Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa
  • Buy some authentic Kauri clocks in the famous Clock Factory
  • See the 2000 year old Kauri trees in the Waipoua Kauri Forest
  • Drive along the 90 mile beach during low tide
  • Sandboard down huge sand dunes
  • Eat the famous NZ fish and chips at Mangonui
  • Go on a wine tour and taste some local wine
  • Finally, visit Cape Reinga, the tip of the North Island of NZ - the departing place of the spirits in Maori legend
Luckily for us, we managed to do most of the above. Of course, am sure when I return there will always be something new and exciting for us to do.

Wonder who would drink Cat's pee on a Gooseberry Bush?!

Some of the local wines.

Love this beautiful red tree.

The dolphin cruise.

Mobile helipad

The famous Hole in the Rock

Our cruiser could pass through it when the tide settled.

The superb view from the Waitangi treaty grounds

The reflection of the grounds in the window of the Marai

The entrance to the Marai

The treaty grounds

The Longview vineyard where we bought some delicious Chardonnay

The famous Mangonui Fush and Chips

Beautiful and Picturesque Paihia

Would you eat this?

Matamata - Hobbiton - the Lord of the Rings set

No visit to NZ is complete without a visit to the Shire! er, Hobbiton! er, Matamata!

The Alexander farm was the site for the sets of the Lord of the Rings and now most recently, the Hobbit. It is spread over 500 hectares of land in Matamata and was the world's best kept secret during the filming of the movie. The location is absolutely stunning and perfect for the Shire. Apparently it is the world's largest outdoor film set.

We were very lucky to have had a chance to visit because the filming of the Hobbit is going to commence shortly and the movie set will be closed from 14th Feb to 20th March.

Unfortunately, I cannot reveal the juicy details or put up photographs of the beautiful sets because we were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. But I can tell you that the visit was worth every cent and it was awesome to be walking around little hobbit homes, seeing Frodo's home, his party tree, the vegetable patch, etc.

Since the movie set is on a farm, they include a sheep farm experience which includes a sheep shearing demonstration and bottle feeding of pet lambs.

If you are visiting NZ, please do make a trip to Matamata and transport yourself to Middle Earth.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Waitomo Glow Worm Cave and Aranui Cave

Waitomo is a Maori word made up of two parts. 'Wai' which translates as water and 'tomo' which means entrance or hole. Waitomo can be translated as the 'stream which flows into the hole in the ground'. This meaning is reflected through its fantastic geological history and landscape, rich tourism and cultural history.  

30 million years ago the entire Waitomo region lay far beneath the sea. Today, both above and below ground, it stands as a revealing testament to a landmark period in New Zealand's and the world's natural history. Undulating green fields, tumbling waterfalls, spectacular rural vistas and, of course, its world renowned limestone formations and cave systems make Waitomo a destination like no other.

More than 30 million years ago, the legend of Waitomo began with the creation of limestone at the bottom of the ocean. Now these limestone formations stand as one of New Zealand's most inspiring natural wonders and a must-see destination.

Most visitors tour Waitomo on a day trip. I would seriously recommend that you stay at least one night here to experience the best of it. It is one of the most tranquil places in NZ. Besides, you can do the bush walk in the night and experience the glow worms for free. I have seen the fire flies in Malaysia and I thought that was spectacular but nothing had prepared me for the glow worms.

During the day, you can always do the tour of the glow worm cave and follow it up with the spectacular limestone formations at the Aranui cave.

The rolling hills of Waitomo country

This is what the larvae look like in the day, while in the night they glow beautifully.

Glow worm is the common name for various different groups of insect larvae and adult larviform females that glow through bioluminescence. They may sometimes resemble worms, but all are insects. Once they evolve into insects, their life span is a few days or maybe hours.

The entrance/exit of the Waitomo glow worm cave.

The beautiful limestone formations of the Aranui cave.

An inch of these take 1000 years to form! Very very delicate.