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  • Writer's pictureNick Elsey

Lakes, Volcanos and Wellington, New Zealand

Updated: Nov 14, 2018

16 Jan 1997 - Rotorua & Lake Taupo

So here we are, in the land of stinks and eruptions! We are staying on the shores of Lake Taupo, in the center of the North Island and the volcanic heartland of this country. We learnt that NZ actually straddles the gap between two tectonic plates and Lake Taupo (which is quite large) is actually an old caldera.

The drive down here was fun and very scenic. An enforced delay at one point due to a large trailer that managed to come unhitched and go straight through a barrier and over the side of a cliff. Most exciting.

Made a brief stop in Rotorua for a McDonalds. This place had the most amazing Maori carvings all along the walls inside. Next stop….the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland!

Volcanic Land

This place was a geothermal amusement park. You spend a couple of hours wandering along the paths and at every corner there are the most amazing sights. The names give you some clue - Devil’s Ink Pots, Artists’ Palette, Opal Pool and Champagne Pool. Incredible. The smells were quite appalling through.

And then on to Lake Taupo. Stopped for a nice cold one by the lake before checking into the Le Chalet Suisse Motel. Dinner was at the Ploughmans pub. Their byline – "You’ve heard that the best thing about England was the pubs, well now you can find out what they were talking about". Quite authentic, apart from the fact that it wasn’t raining! 


Interlude: I’ve just finished reviewing this journal for the first time, and I have to say it has a rather negative tone to it. Well, just wanted you all to know that we’re having a wonderful time. Fiji and NZ have both exceeded our expectation, and we have high hopes that our vacation will continue in the same vein. We now return you to the regular programming....


17 Feb 1997 - Lake Taupo & Napier

Today we’re off to Napier and the start of the NZ wine country. About time! Lynn’s rule of thumb for driving holds true again, but we get there eventually. Napier town is a strange but fun place. The old town was totally wiped out in the 1930’s by a major earthquake (quite common in NZ) and so, in the best Californian tradition, they didn’t learn from nature and go elsewhere, but rebuilt the entire town. Since Art Deco was the thing at that time, they built all the buildings in that style. They’re quite beautiful (good thing it didn’t happen in the 1960’s) and they were celebrating the fact next weekend with a ‘Art Deco weekend’.

Spent the afternoon basically hanging out, bit of shopping and making lots of visits to the Visitors Bureau (which are very good in this country).

Lynn’s Contribution: Lynn’s first rule of New Zealand travel - "take any time between towns listed in the locally produced guide books.....and double them"!

Other than that, driving in NZ is a treat. Only two speed limits that we can determine, 50K and 100k (approx. 65mph). On all roads. Fun indeed - most of the roads are just two lane things, but surrounded by gorgeous and ever changing landscapes.

18 Feb 1997 - Napier & Martinborough

Big excitement this morning – a visit to the Kiwi house! This is our first chance to actually see live Kiwis in the flesh! We’re first there when it opens and we rush excitedly past the displays and into a very dark room containing the Kiwi cage. Your first impression when you see them is "no wonder these birds are dying out" – they look kinda useless.

Lynn torments me with some clothes shopping before we depart beautiful Napier for Martinborough – this heartland of the wine country on the North Island – all right!

Driving on the roads for a Brit is like going though a time warp. Half the cars are shinny new Hondas and Toyotas and the other half are all the British cars I remember from my youth (and the junky ones at that). I figure that when the UK car makers stopped producing a model, they shipped all the remaining excess inventory off to NZ. I can’t work out how they’ve survived for so long though.

Finally we get to Martinborough. Tonight we are actually staying at a winery called Margrain. Cool. Very nice room outside town overlooking the fields and hills. Very peaceful, except for the gas-gun bird-scaring devices that sound like a shotgun going off.

Martinborough town consists of one large square with a couple of shops and a hotel around it. That’s basically it. Very quaint. Dinner is a takeaway from the Flying Fish Gourmet Takeaway. Back to the room and we sit, watching the sun go down over the fields, eating our dinner (‘cuse me, gourmet dinner) and quaffing a Sauvignon Blanc from Villa Maria. Most pleasant.

19 Feb 1997 - Martinborough & Wellington

Backbencher Pub

Well it’s the talk of the town – a lot of lost sleep for everyone last night because someone forgot to turn off the gas gun. We slept like the dead I’m glad to report.

Stopped off at Palliser, Martinborough, Waimarama and Te Mata Wineries today. Great stuff, the only disappointing thing is that everyone’s Pinot Noir (which is what this region specializes in) has all sold out. We don’t leave empty handed though.

And so off to our last stop on the North Island – Wellington, the capital of this fine country. We drive though the ‘mountain’ range to get there (small mountains, but impressively windy roads – where’s my Prelude when I need it?).

We drive around a corner and there it is – Wellington, sitting on the bay. Our first impression is – wow, it’s small! You can see just about every suburb of the city sitting on the hill side. We later find out from a native Wellingtonite that the population is only 450,000.

Beehive Building

We rapidly fall in love with this place. It’s really just like San Francisco, but with about 1/5th the population and complete with cable cars, steep hills, great food and questionable weather. Anyone who doesn’t live here calls this city "Wonderful Windy Wellington". It was blowing a good one down on the waterfront, but we were reliably informed that this was average. They have 40 days a year when they get 60+ mph winds!

Lunch is a visit to the Back Bencher’s pub, opposite the parliament building (called the beehive, because guess what – it looks like a beehive)! This places is filled with characatures of the MPs and lots of rather wicked cartoons on the walls. This place is obviously a bit of an institution, since there are pictures of the MPs standing alongside their dummy (who’s the real dummy though?).

The beehive is a quite hideous building, even worse for the fact that stands right next to the old parliament building. This looks like a beautiful stone block building, but is in fact the second largest wooden building in the world. Wow!

Te Papa

While Lynn goes on a search for coffee and snacks, I spend a couple of hours in Te Papa – the "Museum of NZ" that just opened to much fanfare a few days ago. Now, this building is very large and has some fantastic exhibits. If this had opened in any major city in the USA or UK, there would be lines around the block for week to come. But here in the land of the sheep and few people, I just walked straight in – now lines, no crowds and free entry!

After checking into The Bay Plaza Hotel (with a windy 7th floor view of the harbor), we take off for the One Red Dog Restaurant for dinner. I’ve died and gone to heaven. This place has a wine list to die for – all the best NZ wines, and every one is available by the glass! The joint is jumping and we have to wait in the bar for 45 minutes for a table (I’m absolutely devastated by this of course). I have (and I’m not kidding here) a ‘One Reptile Pizza’ for dinner – crocodile lightly marinated in coconut and sweet chili. Delicious!

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