Sometime back in September 2011 (I think it was), Shannon bought a GrabOne voucher for discounted ferry tickets to an island not far from Auckland called Rotoroa. We had three months to use the voucher. Being the procrastinators we are, we kept putting off the trip until December rolled around and we had one week left before the voucher expired and we lost our money. We arranged for a day off mid-week and scheduled the trip. That Thursday fell in the middle of a typhoon-type storm that lashed at Auckland for three days. The wind was whipping, the rain was coming down in buckets, and it was quite chilly despite being the beginning of summer. We couldn't get out of the trip, though, because if we cancelled then we'd not get a refund or the opportunity to reschedule. What we were hoping for was the ferry cancelling and then that allowing us the option to reschedule. Luckily enough, after making our way down to the terminal that is exactly what happened so we signed up to try again the following Sunday. By Sunday the worst of the storm had moved on leaving us with slightly better weather. It was still quite chilly so we packed warm clothes along with our rain gear and picnic lunch.
In 1907, the Salvation Army purchased Rotoroa Island from a private family with the intentions of setting up a drug and alcohol treatment facility. The first patients began arriving shortly thereafter. For 100 years, the island was a haven for addicts where they created their own mostly self-sufficient society. They provided their own food, built their own facilities, and generally took care of the island. At first it was only men but eventually women were allowed there as well although the sexes were separated on different sides of the island. In 2005, the Sallies sold a 99-year lease to the Rotoroa Island Trust which has turned the island into a haven for native plants and birds. Over 400,000 native plants have been planted including thousands of pohutukawa trees. Starting in 2010, day visitors were allowed on the island as well as overnight lodgers at three holiday homes. The Trust hopes the island will become a sanctuary preserving the beauty of the region for generations to come.
We caught the ferry early Sunday morning along with about 30 other people. It was a cloudy morning but at least it wasn't raining...yet.
About an hour and a half later, we were pulling up to the dock on the island. We were met by the caretaker of the island who gave us a rundown of the rules, told us where everything was located, and what time to be back at the dock so as not to miss the ferry back. The island is pretty small so Shannon and I decided to hike the southern bit first. As we approached the visitor's center we were greeted with an unusual sight: a dozen weka foraging in the grass! Weka are flightless birds native to New Zealand that are classified as vulnerable. I'd never seen one weka much less a dozen. They look like a cross between an American roadrunner, a chicken, and a duck.
We continued up the track taking pictures and enjoying the view of the new growth pohutukawa and other plants.
The spaghetti noodle-esque art installation at the top of the southern hill:
And the view:
At this point, the rain began again in earnest and we were quite happy to have our rain gear.
This little weka fellow was kind enough to pose for a few close ups:
One of the hundreds of baby pohutukawa on the island (they turn into big trees):
For those who may not know, the pohutukawa is also known as the Kiwi Christmas tree as it blooms just in time for Christmas. It is found only on the north island of New Zealand. The trees are beautiful and a particular favorite of ours. In fact, we've decided that we'd like to find a fake pohutukawa to have as our Christmas tree every year.
Our next stop was Mens Bay. This was the men's swim area when the island was still a rehab facility. Now it's a great stretch of beach with a very nice toilet and picnic tables.
It's also the home of a family of oystercatchers, as are a couple of the other beaches. We saw two families with chicks and another couple with some eggs. The little suckers were hard to get close enough to for a photo without one of the parents swooping us but we did manage to get one or two.
Farther along the trail we came to the island cemetery. There are 26 graves here, including patients and staff from over the years. You seriously couldn't ask for a better view from your final resting place.
After completing the southern loop we headed back to the visitor's center for lunch. The center consists of several buildings. There's the main building which houses the museum. It's quite small but packed with history about the island. There's also the old two cell jail and the chapel. A nice big covered area with picnic tables is perfect for pulling out a spread. There's also several big sprawling trees for shade. Unfortunately, it was pouring down rain so I didn't get any pictures of this area.
When we arrived at the visitor's center we found the main building packed with practically everyone who'd been on the ferry with us. Since they were all inappropriately dressed for the weather, they were huddled inside trying to stay warm. Maybe next time they'll check the forecast before an outing. I can't really say much though since I am perpetually inappropriately dressed. I would have been in the same boat as everyone else if not for Shannon packing me warm clothes and rain gear.
After lunch, and after it stopped raining so hard, we headed out to walk the northern loop.
By the time we finished the loop we were cold, damp, and tired. Back at the visitor's center the caretaker gave us complimentary coffee, and hot chocolate for the kids. Even though the coffee was instant, and I'm a giant coffee snob, that coffee was divine! It was a nice touch to offer on a nasty, cold day. After the pick-me-up it was time to catch the ferry back.
Rotoroa is not only a terrific day destination, it also offers overnight accommodation. There are three baches (holiday homes) which will accommodate 6, 7, and 13 people respectively. Prices range from $250/night to $500/night depending on the number of people and the time of year. The website says each house comes with:
BBQ; Essentials: tea, coffee, sugar, cooking oil, flour, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar; Modern kitchen and laundry; Wifi access; CD/Stereo/Blu-ray player; Beach umbrellas and picnic set.
What I love about this is that soy sauce and balsamic vinegar are considered essentials!
Despite the weather, we had a wonderful time on the island and can't wait to go back. It will only get prettier over time as the new trees and plants grow. I highly recommend this fantastic destination.
After packing up our gear at Blackberry Flats, I made a quick stop at the loo. I noticed there was a wild turkey who was particularly fond of a spot near the fence by the toilets. Upon further investigation, I discovered it was protecting a newborn baby chick and an egg. I tried to get a picture but they were too fast for me. Well, except the egg. It just sort of wobbled feebly but didn't get far. You've all seen eggs before so I figured a picture would not be too necessary.
I am much like an infant when I go on road trips. Put me in my seat and I am instantly asleep. It's a good thing Shannon likes to drive since it could spell disaster for us if I were stuck driving most of the time. Shannon assures me the scenery was "awesome" during our two plus hour drive south. I'll take her word for it. I think I've become jaded after two years living here. The first day of our first road trip in New Zealand had me oohing and aahing for the entire period of daylight. The dramatic beauty of the landscape was breathtaking. After a few days, however, I found myself saying, "Oh yeah that's nice" in an almost bored tone. By the end of our ten day trip, I was more like, "Yeah, pretty, whatever." Luckily my sense of wonder returned after having to stare at the four walls of work for several months again.
We stopped for lunch in The Shire at Hobbiton aka Matamata. This little town served as home base for Peter Jackson's crews when they filmed all the Shire scenes for the Lord of the Rings movies as well as the upcoming prequel The Hobbit. After the first three movies were completed, the elaborate set they created for Bilbo and Frodo's village was destroyed. There has since been regret for this due to the huge tourist draw the movies have generated for New Zealand. Consequently, after The Hobbit is completed the set will be left intact and included in the many guided tours offered.
The campground was a relatively short drive from Hobbi...Matamata and before long we were scouting out campsites. After Shannon read that previous sentence, she laughed. She said it was actually a couple of hours to the campground and I had slept through the whole ride. See, just like a baby. Ngaherenga Campground is located just off the road on a hill overlooking the valley below. It's actually split into two sections. The top part is pretty small with only six segregated spots. Five of these have big picnic tables and cement block BBQ pits. Two of those spots have fantastic views of the valley below while the others are secluded amongst the trees and foliage. There is only one toilet in this section and it's of the plop variety. However, it appears to have been freshly built since it still has that new timber bathroom smell. It was quite a nice toilet. Although, if this campground becomes crowded during the summer months, I imagine it won't be terribly sufficient. Since there were only a few other campers this time, though, it was fine.
The other section of the campground is a hundred meters or so down the road. It's a big wide open area with one BBQ pit. The bathroom appears to be bigger but it was under construction so I don't know any more details. This spot seems more suited for campervans and RVs unless you like to camp with no cover or privacy.
As we like some cover and privacy, we decided on one of the secluded spots. It looked like rain so we unpacked our rain gear. We had recently invested in a few of those blue tarps because it invariably rains when we camp. We purchased all our camping gear with backpacking in mind so it's all small and lightweight. Our tent is just big enough for the two of us to duck in to so there's no rain cover at all. We are tired of getting drenched when we have to get out of the tent in the rain so we got some tarps to build ourselves a shelter. We had just managed to tie everything up when, sure enough, it began to rain.
On our first camping trip back in 2008, we had mostly good weather until about day seven or so when it came a nasty rain. We were on South Island and wanted to go see one of the two glaciers, Fox Glacier. Shannon had full rain gear but all I had was my fleece pullover, a cheap as too tight pocket poncho, and my jeans. I decided to brave the rain since I really wanted to see the glacier but I paid for it afterwards by having to stay in soaking wet jeans for hours. After that experience, I decided investing in rain gear was a good idea. So, now I have a nice raincoat and rain pants that fit over my hiking pants as well as waterproof boots. I am set in the rain now.
One thing I've learned from living in another country is you need to improvise sometimes. New Zealand doesn't have the same products as are sold in the States and they have different traditions. Growing up in the US, two things were part of every camping trip: campfires and s'mores.
In NZ, campfires are not allowed at the great majority of campgrounds. Of all the places we've been, and we've been to quite a lot, only twice have we been allowed to have campfires. This really does make for a different camping experience. I'm used to staying up half the night poking the fire and telling stories. Here, once it gets dark there's not much to do but go to sleep.
At Ngaherenga we were allowed a campfire and we took full advantage of it. We brought a box of kindling plus about six logs of macrocarpa from our firewood stack at home. There were also a few logs left behind by other campers but they were pretty wet from the recent rains.
Let me back up here to the day before when we were shopping for the weekend. Knowing we were going to have a campfire, we needed to stock up on the requisite s'more supplies. At first we were unable to find the marshmallows. We scoured the aisles but the only ones we found were of the mini variety. The thought of trying to roast those tiny suckers over a fire on kebab skewers was funny but not exactly practical. Finally, with the help of a stock clerk, we found the big roast-worthy ones. Next we went in search of graham crackers. Turns out there aren't any graham crackers in NZ. The clerk didn't even know what we were talking about. So, what to use as an alternative? We searched the cracker aisle and finally decided to go with McVitie's milk chocolate coated digestive biscuits. A biscuit is what they call a cookie here and the digestive part means they are high in fiber...I think. Shannon says the Brits dunk digestive biscuits in their tea. Blech that is so gross!! Thankfully, the Americans only dunk Oreos.
So, now we had our roaring fire, and believe me when I say Shannon is a primo fire maker and that fire was roaring. She even managed to burn all the wet wood! We forgot to bring the skewers so we used a branch to toast our marshmallows to yummy perfection, which we then placed on our digestive biscuits and prepared to eat. One bite and it was apparent that these weren't quite the real thing. The digestive biscuits weren't bad, just odd, but the real difference was the marshmallows. Half of them were pink colored and berry flavored. What we ended up with was an odd tasting digestive biscuit with a layer of milk chocolate and a blend of normal and berry marshmallows squished in the middle. Hey, beggars can't be choosers and they weren't really too bad. When in Rome right? Our S'mores became S'McVitie's digestive campfire cookies and that's what we'll take with us from now on. Heck, with all that fiber they might even help us stay regular.
Shannon and I began camping in New Zealand on our honeymoon in November 2008. We rented a Spaceship and drove all over South Island. Ever since then, we like to go camping for special events like birthdays and anniversaries. This camping trip was for our third anniversary.
We originally intended to camp further south near Waitomo, but instead of leaving town around 3:30pm it was actually closer to 6:30pm and we've set up enough in the dark to know we don't want to anymore, so we chose a campground closer to home. We have annual Auckland Regional Council camping passes so we picked Waharau Regional Park. The passes are a really great deal with one catch: we can only book a site for the same day so we can't schedule ahead. The card has a phone number to call to book the site so I dialed up the number. After being on hold for way too long, I finally reached someone. Turned out he was just an answering service guy. I explained what I wanted and he put me on hold again. Seriously, there is only so much 70s disco I can take while being on hold. He came back to mercifully save me from yet another chorus of le freak so chic to tell me that the folks I need to speak with had gone home for the day. Could I please call back on Monday? I asked how I was supposed to same day book a campsite on the weekends if there was no one there and he agreed that was indeed a dilemma. Then he hung up on me.
We decided to risk it and head to the campground anyway. It's a beautiful drive that coincidentally takes you right past Miranda Hot Springs. This awesome hot pool is a favorite stop for us any time of year. The entry is cheap, the food is cheap, they make great thick shakes, the pools are hot, and best of all there are far fewer children than other local hot springs. Plus they play great classic music. What's not to love?
Waharau is a fairly large park with lots of day use/picnic areas. Most of them have big brick BBQs and large picnic tables. Turns out there are two camping areas: Tainui Campground and Blackberry Flats Campground. We only noticed Blackberry Flats, though. However, there was a hitch. The road leading to the actual campground is blocked by a locked gate. The combination for the lock can be obtained by calling the Council. Which we had already ascertained was staffed by the answering service guy who had suggested we call back on Monday. I thought perhaps there were people camping past the gate so I walked over to see if they would give me the code. A very helpful couple in a cool older model camper were more than willing to help out and soon we were setting up camp.
The campground is a large open space without BBQs or picnic tables which is a shame. It does, however, have nice his and hers long drop toilets stocked with toilet paper. Which, in my opinion, is THE most important part of a campground. There is a lovely stream running along the edge of Flats providing enjoyable background noise to lull you to sleep.
All in all this campground was okay. We wouldn't want to stay there for an extended time but for a night it was perfectly acceptable. I didn't take any pictures but the ARC website has some so I'll cross post those here.
Photos borrowed courtesy of Auckland Regional Council.
My name is Amy and I'm a Texan living in New Zealand. Texas is a great country state to be from but New Zealand is a much better place in which to live. It's small and therefore easily traversed. It's full of every type of landscape you could possibly want. The people are laid back and friendly. All in all, it's my favorite place to be. If I could just get my friends and family down here, it'd be perfect!
My MichiKiwi partner, Shannon, and I love to travel. We love to meet new people and see new places. We love to camp and hike and just generally traipse around the countryside experiencing everything this country has to offer. As we researched various areas to visit, we found very little realistic information online about the various campgrounds. Do the toilets flush or plop? Is there a view or will you wake up floating in your tent? Can you drive in or do you have to haul your crap a half a kilometer to your spot? Camping is so much more fun when you expect the unexpected. So, the TexaKiwi Travels blog was born.
I'll be posting about the campgrounds we stay at, the parks we visit, the hikes we go on, and anything else related to the Great Outdoors™ that catches my fancy.
I hope you enjoy the trip! Maybe we'll see you there!