Friday, January 23, 2009

Traveling South

January 24, 2009--On January 17 we began our trip down to the South Island. Our first day took us along the east coast just south of Whangarei and then past Auckland. The landscape was similar to what we had seen up north. About an hour out of Auckland the traffic began to get heavier and slower, so we were more than happy when we got through this big city.

We continued on down Highway 1 to Rotorua, and we pushed hard to arrive by three in the afternoon. We checked into our room at the Ventura Motel and relaxed for awhile. We then went to have dinner at the Pig & Whistle Pub just a few streets away where we had excellent meals of Thai Beef salad and fish and chips. Steve, of course, enjoyed a Speight’s Old Dark, which he said was excellent. Rotorua is known for its volcanic mud baths, which means that the town smells like sulfur and right at the outskirts of town you can see steaming geothermal vents.

The next morning about 30 minutes south of Rotorua, we stopped at Waimangu Volcanic Valley where we took a two-hour walk down and around a steaming lake, sulfur terraces, rare geothermal plants, and a bubbling “Inferno Crater.” Unfortunately, it was lightly raining the whole time, but we still enjoyed the tour very much. We continued south through Taupo, a lovely resort community, where there is a beautiful lake. After that, we drove past Tonariro National Park, which contains three large mountains that were, unfortunately, shrouded in clouds when we drove by.

We arrived in Wellington—the capital of New Zealand—and stayed in a hotel in the downtown area. We had reservations for the ferry across to the South Island early the next morning, so it was a very convenient location. Our room was on the ninth floor of the hotel, and we were amazed by how hard the wind was blowing--it was rattling the windows! The next morning the paper reported that the winds had been gale force (60 knots) and Cook Strait had been pretty rough.

The ferry trip across Cook Strait takes about three hours. We checked in at 7 a.m., and while we waited, we decided to run across the street to the Railway Station to grab a quick cup of coffee. Boy what a treat that was--the station was a wonderful building both inside and out. We returned and the staff was ready to load the cars so we pulled in and left the car for the comfort of the ship. We located the cafe and enjoyed a nice breakfast. We then went out on deck in order to enjoy the beautiful scenery of both the south end of the North Island and the north end of the South Island. Luckily, the weather had calmed down, and we had a smooth crossing with partly cloudy skies and light winds.

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