The forecast for our time in Rotorua is to be rain almost the entire time. Disappointing, although we will not be deterred!
We had a rough night with Jake interrupting sleep several times, whilst Damian slept happily through the night. This led to a bit of a “late” wake up, around 8:30am. After showers, getting dressed and breakfast it fast approached 10:30am. I hit the Internet to find out things to do during the rain.
Yes, it’s going to be a slow day of activities when I focus on what we ate. This morning’s feast featured stove top percolator procured Colombian coffee (from ground beans) accompanied by one and a half lashes of honey cured bacon, and a bowl of Crispix. The boys had scrambled eggs (Jake) and fruit encrusted bread loaf (Damian). It’s cold enough at the moment that I’ve turned on the heater and kept most of the blinds closed.
To say that the day improved from breakfast would be blatantly untrue. Unfortunately, the horrible weather only abated for a short period of time during the day – for the majority of the time it was miserable, and at times gale force.
Our Trek across the North-West
We began the day at 10:30am driving south to central Rotorua to return to the shopping centre so that Toni could have a dye tag removed from some clothes she purchased yesterday.
At this point, Damian had fallen asleep in the car, so we were in a bind as to what to do. You know the old adage, never wake a sleeping baby!
So we decided to head east to the Hobbiton village where the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit films were shot. At this stage, that was the sum total of our planning, however as you’ll see from our eventual trek; we covered far more ground than that.
Our Journey on Day 2
This took us through 50 minutes of driving through rain towards the southern Waikato town of Tirau. The journey was pleasant, but uneventful; it is a very green part of New Zealand with plenty of sheep and cows, with many rolling hills and sub tropical foliage. We encountered many, many long trucks and road trains, and mild commuter traffic whilst inbound. We didn’t pass much on the way to Tirau, there were the occasional farms, but little else.
NZ All Blacks territory
It was about 11:30am when we crossed this nice and tidy little town on our way eastwards in the direction of Hamilton. We stopped here for lunch and to fuel the car, and we also snuck in a visit to the information centre which was built to resemble a large dog (or possibly a pig). We ate at a little café hidden down a laneway called the Alley Cats Café, which featured some pretty funky wall decorations, and a laid back atmosphere.
We ordered two crispy chicken burgers with avocado and chips, which went down in short order. I had a long black with milk on the side, which hit the spot, re-enforcing the brew from breakfast. We got underway around 12pm and, after dropping NZD $20 of fuel into the car, continued our journey north east, towards the town of Makamaka – diverting away from Hamilton. I must add that I’m very impressed with the quality of the roads, and the effort which must have gone into building them. Some parts of the road were cut through some of the massive hills which litter the countryside.
We proceeded north east and left the state highway, taking a more northerly route towards “Hobbiton” of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fame. By this stage, not including time for lunch, we’d been on the road for about an hour and a half. The weather, which had relented while we were at Tirau decided to punish us, and when we finally arrived at the intended destination, it was bucketing down.
Lacking proper raincoats or truly appropriate winter gear, we weren’t sure what to do. Luckily, the proprietors of Hobbiton made the decision for us – by charging NZD $75 per adult (kids under 5 free) for the “film tour” (the only way to see the set). Given the absolutely dismal weather conditions, and being without appropriate attire, we decided not to spend any further time there. I was mildly surprised at the cost, and wonder why they don’t discount the fee when the weather is as bad as it was. If it had been about half that price, and if they provided umbrellas we could very well have stayed and paid for the tour.
So, we departed about 15 minutes after arriving. It was disappointing not to see the famed sets and filming locations, but really we were at the mercy of some really horrible weather. We’d rolled the dice and risked the drive in the hopes that it would pan out in our favour, but it did not work out to our advantage. We might consider returning later in the week if time and the weather permits (although to be honest – it’s rather unlikely).
You get a feel for the area at any rate
We did take away with us some beautiful memories of the panoramic scenery. It’s not hard to see why Peter Jackson and Co. used the area for their films. Given we had abandoned our afternoon plans (the tour takes nearly 2 hours), we decided to go back to Rotorua via the northern coastal city of Tauranga, which I had hoped was the inspiration for the Futurama character, Turanga Leela, but obviously I can’t spell.
We continued our journey northwards, continuing to encounter winding roads, long trucks (who were very courteous) and somewhat steep ascents and descents which the Holden Cruze hire car was not particularly good at handling.
The weather was not improving, indeed it seemed to be actually getting worse. That’s because it was getting worse, although from the relative safety of our hire car it wasn’t all that apparent. We took the road as far as the intersection which would take us back towards Rotorua. There was another option – a toll road – which would express us into the city center. We took the third option which meant we drove through a town called Greeton, which took a little longer than expected.
Once we got to the city center.. the weather was so bad we were hearing thunder directly above the city. We headed towards the visitor center, but then decided to head to the Strand instead, due to a lack of sufficient parking. The place was getting hit fairly hard with wind and rain, we were getting soaked but needed a place to change the boys’ nappies. We took refuge in a toilet block in the harbour side park, and made the appropriate nappy changes.
With nothing else left to do, and with the weather deplorably bad – we decided to take the toll road exit and start making our way back to the resort. Undoubtedly there would be some nice things to see and do under normal circumstances, but on this particular day it seems our best option was really to not have ventured out at all. The return route took our weary band through two rather large (one was 3kms long) gorges, with much of the road cut into the landscape.
More trucks (again, very professional letting cars pass when possible) but yet more bad weather. It took over an hour to make our way back south, as it was just too dangerous to make the posted speeds. As the pictures will attest, it wasn’t a very enjoyable journey – although the countryside is quite interesting to watch in passing.
Windy roads, cut into the side of the hills
We finally wound our way around the bay and safely back into the Wyndham resort. It was extremely good to be back. We arrived back at the resort at around 4:30pm, tired and completely over the bloody rain and blustering wind. Toni did all the driving, and is worthy of much praise having had to tackle multiple gorges, winding roads and a variety of elemental foes. She took a well deserved nap whilst I kept the boys busy on the ground floor.
I cooked dinner (spaghetti bolognaise, but with NZ bacon and Arrabiata sauce) and provided the boys with some pasta. Once dinner had finished, and a basic cleanup completed it was 6pm. It seemed far too early for the evening routine, so I suggested a post-dinner adventure to try and salvage our day.
When we’d driven up to the resort yesterday, I took notice of directions to Hell’s Gate. After some rudimentary Internet checking, I found it was open in twilight (until 10:30pm). Even better, it was something the boys and Toni and I could all do together. At this point you might be wondering what I’m talking about – I’m referring to thermal mud baths and thermal spas!
The whole family enjoys thermal mud
It was about a five minute drive from Mourea, so it was an easy decision to make the trek. The facility, naturally, smelled strongly of sulphate – in large doses which made me wretch a little bit upon arrival. After about 10 minutes, I got used to the smell and it was not a problem from that point onwards. It was a little pricey at NZD $150 for two adults for both mud and spa, but given that we’d passed on Hobbiton I figured the expense was justified.
We spent 20 minutes in the mud bath, ensuring the whole time that the boys didn’t get any of the liquid near their eyes or mouths. It was a very smelly, but refreshing experience and the disappointment from the day started to melt away.
After the mud bath, we were required to shower before returning for a thermal spa bath. We spent about a half hour in the spa, mostly enjoying the warmth and relaxing. The boys both loved the experience, although Jake said he preferred the mud! This is definitely one of the highlights of being in an area like Rotorua – the thermal experience is very enjoyable and relaxing.
Finally, we showered and changed and began the process of departing back to the nearby resort. The final adventure really saved the day, in many respects. A more jaded view would be that we spent most of the day driving in the car, my perspective now is that we’ve taken in a large amount of the area and enjoyed a lifestyle which is a tradition for this part of New Zealand.
What will happen tomorrow? It all depends on the weather…………..