Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

For Christmas we went on camping holiday for a week to the North Island of New Zealand. We didn’t get there before when we went on our honeymoon to the South Island. We flew into Auckland and picked up our little car. Our first stop was up north, in the town of Russell in the very Scenic Bay of Islands. After about half an hour is started to rain – very hard. Even Matt said he wondered if the campsite we were going to had cabins! As we got the car ferry across the bay to Russell it was still drizzling, but luckily we hit a brief dry spell when it was time to put the tent up.

Pahia

Pahia

On our first full day we booked on a 5 hour boat tour around the Bay. We started off getting the passenger ferry back across the bay and exploring the town of Pahia, which was bigger than Russell and where most people visiting the area seem to stay – we preferred our quieter spot the other side. After some lunch, and then some tea, cake and beer on the wharf, our boat trip started. The bay had hundreds of islands in it and is surrounded by green rolling hills, wich was all very scenic. We managed to see dolphins three different times which was really good, and even got some pretty good pictures of them too.

Dolphins at the Bay of Islands

Dolphins at the Bay of Islands

 

Dolphin at Bay of Islands

Dolphin at Bay of Islands

The trip went out all the way to the edge of the bay to the Hole in the Rock sea arch, and the boat even went through it because luckily the tide was right. Matt got dripped on, which according to Maori tradition is lucky. They used to paddle out to the rock and go through the hole before important events. Near the rock we spotted a seal hanging out on the rocks. On the way back we stopped at Otehei Bay on one of the islands, and went for a short walk up the hill to a lookout with excellent views all around the bay. We got to have a quick paddle in the sea too, before it was time to head on back on the boat.

Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands

Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands

The next day was mainly spent driving back to Auckland, and through it onto our next campsite at Rotorua. Rotorua has a high level of geothermal activity, with a lot of sulphur in the air, so it smells quite eggy. We were staying out of town up in the hills by Blue Lake, which was much less smelly. After an ice cream and Matt having a dip in the lake, we stocked up on some supplies and had a tasty BBQ dinner with some local wine.

Gandalf at Hobbiton

Gandalf at Hobbiton

After all the driving, the next day was quite action packed. In the morning we drove north west to Mata Mata, to go on a tour of Hobbiton. It’s the movie set where they filmed the scenes for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit which were in Hobbiton, including the Green Dragon pub.  You arrive at  the visitor centre with a cafe and gift shop, and then get the bus down to the set. Tours leave very regualrly, about every 15 minutes in peak time, but the routes seem to be fairly well thought out so although you could see the other groups it didn’t seem too busy on the site.

Bilbo's Hobbit Hole

Bilbo’s Hobbit Hole

There were lots of Hobbit holes around, which were very cute. We saw Bilbo and Sam’s holes, and lots of other ones too. There were lots of props around like vegetables, pots of honey, washing, carts and little benches, as well as an allotment area. Our guide was full of lots of interesting facts about the films and the set, like how they made the fences look old with yoghurt! We got to go inside one of the holes. Sadly there is actually nothing inside – all of the inside scenes were filmed somewhere else! The farmer on the land managed to keep secret that the set was there until after the films came out which was quite impressive.

Sam's Hobbit Hole

Sam’s Hobbit Hole

We learned that the tree on top of Bilbo / Frodo’s hole is actually fake. It was moulded based ona  real old oak tree, so looks realistic, but it was thousands of artificial leaves, all made and added on with wire by hand! At the end of the trip you get to go into the Green Dragon pub for a complementary drink. It was cool inside with a fire and lots of props like cloaks hanging up, dragon carvings and old looking books.

The Green Dragon Pub

The Green Dragon Pub

After Hobbiton, we headed back towards Rotorua through the town of Tirau where we had some lunch. The town has lots of art including giant sculptures made of wrought iron. This sheep below is actually surrounding a shop, which you walk into through its mouth!

Sheep in Tarau

Sheep in Tarau

Stay tuned for the next post on the rest of our trip, featuring rafting, mud pools, geysers and caving!

CitySeaPlane

Sydney from the sea plane

In July we went on an ariel adventure over Sydney in a sea plane with my friend from the UK Ellie and her friend Jen. We spent a while trying to decide between going in a sea plane or helicopter and in the end decided given the amount of water around the harbour, it was most appropriate to go in the sea plane. We flew out of Rose Bay, in the south west of the harbour. The ride was $255 (about £125) for 30 mins of flying time. We actually got more than this which was good value. From when we taxied along the water to landing again was actually 45 mins. To get to the plane we got a ride in a little boat too.

There were two rows of seats behind the pilot, so 4 people was the ideal number. With 6 someone people would have been sat in the middle so the view wouldn’t have been so good. We got headsets to wear and the pilot gave us commentary about all the places we were flying over as we went.

Matt in the Sea Plane

Matt in the Sea Plane

Once we were all settled in with our life jackets, headphones and seatbelts we taxied along the water and took off. You could see the exact moment when we left the water from the spray stopping which was cool. We cruised up the coast at between 1000 and 1500 feet, pretty close to all the scenery and buildings so the views were very cool. We flew up the coast past Manly, Palm Beach, Barrenjoey and around the Ku-Ring-Gai NP.

Barrenjoey from the sea plane

Barrenjoey from the sea plane

On the way back we did a figure of eight loop around the city so got some very cool views of the city. It was a great experience, and would have been even better in sunny weather. It was a bit grey the day we went, but still awesome. It was a bit bumpy and my stomach did end up feeling a bit ropey, I think partly from the whiff of fumes before we took off and landed. It was fine within 10 minutes though, and all fine after a bacon and egg roll at the nearby cafe!

Our Sea Plane

Our Sea Plane

 

The main pavilion in the Chinese Friendship Garden

The main pavilion in the Chinese Friendship Garden

 

Near the centre of Sydney at the bottom of Darling Harbour is the Chinese Garden of Friendship.

It was built as a  symbol of friendship between Sydney and Guangzhuo in China, to mark Australia’s bicentenary in 1988. The garden was designed and built by Chinese landscape architects and gardeners following the Taoist principles of ‘Yin-Yang’ and the five opposite elements—earth, fire, water, metal and wood. Unlike western-style gardens, there are no planted flowerbeds or manicured lawns. Instead, wild aspects of nature are recreated in landscapes that feature waterfalls, mountains, lakes and forests. Admission is $6.

You can walk around the garden itself quite fast if you wanted to, easily in under half an hour, but that wouldn’t really do it justice. I sat about reading my kindle for a while, enjoying the peace and quite. There is also a tea shop where you can have tea and dumplings.

Chinese Garden waterfall

Chinese Garden waterfall

The garden is in a busy bit of the city, but its got a good sense of calm.The waterfalls and ponds are very scenic, and of course the pavillions too. There were a few lizards about too, with one quite big one. On my way out I also spotted a couple of these colourful Rhino sculptures. They were all around the city to raise awareness of Rhino conservation. If you’ve got week or so in Sydney I’d put it on the list to have a look around, and Chinatown is right nearby for some crispy duck after or nitrogen gelato!

Rainbow Rhino

Rainbow Rhino

 

Our kayak

Our kayak

In March we finally got around to hiring a kayak and going for a paddle on the Harbour.

We got a duo (for two people) and of course Matt got the back seat so he could control the steering with the rudder and encourage me periodically by saying “Keep paddling Elly”!

We rented it from Spit Bridge, which is in the Middle Harbour. Its quieter up there as the main Harbour gets really busy with lots of boats and can be quite choppy too. We went for the 5+ hours option, and started about 9.30am. The rental company had a pretty laid back Australian attitude. They gave us a map, but nobody asked us if we had paddled before or had any idea what we were doing. We paddled until about 3.30pm which turned out to be pretty hard work! We were both knackered by the end and very achey the next day.

Captian Matt

Captian Matt

There were a lot of pretty fancy yachts and sailing boats around, as well as some houses with seriously good views and water access. We saw a lot of fish and birds, and luckily no sharks! We did practice some ultra fast paddling a few times, in case we needed to escape in a hurry! We paddled around lots of little coves, some of them quite peaceful as they were too shallow for the big boats. We went up to some Mangroves and stopped a couple of times for a Tim Tam snack in a picnic area at a wharf, lunch on the beach and then  a final stop for an ice cream before dropping the boat back off. 

Me and my kayaking hat

Me and my kayaking hat

The boat people warned us about some winds expected in the afternoon, and sure enough they came. We got off the water about 9- minutes before a giant thunder storm which was good timing. The weather the next day was pretty wet, so we did well with our choice of day.

It was a good day out and I’d be keen to paddle some other bits of the Harbour or other places in future as its a good way to see things and get some exercise too. It felt cooler on the water compared to when we got off it. Next time though maybe we wont try and go quite so far!

 

Fancy houses

Fancy houses