We arrived in New Zealand mid afternoon and picked up the car. Our plan was a sort of circular tour starting with an overnight stop in Hamilton - for dinner we enjoyed a fantastic traditional Italian meal in a restaurant/deli about the size of a corner shop. Hamilton is one of those odd places where the number of restaurants/bars seems to have no relationship to the number of people who live here. I guess its the first place people always stop on the way out from the airport.
[Note] One little cute oddity is that every single "motel" room we booked came complete with a kitchen and a dining area - and - a jug of milk poured freshly by the receptionist when you checked in for that essential cup of tea.
Next morning we headed for Lake Taupo stopping for lunch and coffee in the pretty little township of Cambridge. A picture perfect town full of art gallerys coffee shops and historic (which here means anything over 50 years old.) buildings. Its a wealthy town - perfect for ladies who lunch. Its also home to most of New Zealands horse racing stud farms which gives Cambridge its alternative name "The town of Champions"
By evening we have arrived at Lake Taupo - one of our favourite places, very beautiful scenery around the lake. Good food from a variety of craft beer/restaurant establishments and glorious weather.
Across the lake the snow topped peaks of Mount Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro are clearly visible. Mount Ngauruhoe was chosen to represent Mount Doom by Peter Jackson in the Lord of the Rings films.
A box of wonderfully crafted beers - perfect for a thirsty hobbit.
Huka Falls lies just to the North of Lake Taupo. Think of it as a thin natural channel of rock through which an entire lake tries to drain. Powerful, frightening and beautiful to look at.
From Rotorura we drove onto Hawkes Bay and the town of Napier - a very traditional looking town with lots of charming buildings.
Dinner tonight is a take out from the local fish and chip shop. Coming from the U.K. I'm embarrassed to imagine what on earth a Kiwi or Oz tourist must think of our version of the fish and chippy. The choice here and in Australia is unbelievable - tonight its Lobster and deep fried Oysters.
The drive north up to Whitianga took us through some lovely countryside - one minute your driving through tall Fern Forests the next your out in open bracken moors. The roads are - shall we say interesting. Once your outside any major towns "A" roads can often become loose top gravel roads.
Whitianga Rock is one of those places where the transport choice is to take a 3 minute boat across or about a 3 hour drive up and downstream using the nearest bridge. Do not miss the last boat back!
Whitianga is a lovely if rather quiet (our receptionist warned us the town basically shuts at 5pm) spot overlooking Cooks Bay and Mercury Bay. Good food can be found in the more exclusive hotels which were about the only dining establishments to stay open in the evening.
We climbed the Whitianga Rock walk to the summit, to the remains of a Pa Site (fortified Maori village). From here you can look out over the two bays.
There's something very English at times about the countryside, green lush fields dotted with sheep and lambs. Its just the rugged horizon that gives it away.
Then its back to spend lunch and the afternoon in Auckland before our evening flight onto L.A. It feels odd to be back in the city after driving around such quiet roads and towns.
We find a great little restaurant where the rack of Lamb is absolutely superb and cooked to perfection.
Spent a bit of time walking off lunch around Aucklands pretty harbour front
They have even sent the Hobbit plane to take us on Eastwards to California. Its a 12 hour flight and we will touchdown in LAX the day before we set off (scratches head). All those hours we have been adding on as we headed East will now be taken from us as we cross the International Date Line.
And here we are - a bright and beautiful morning in LA with the familiar site of the 1960s central dome restaurant in the background (see here for our review from a previous trip). Not only have we gained a day back - we have changed seasons from spring to autumn.