As we had already been to Hawkes Bay to the east of the island on a previous trip, we decide to head south 170km and 2 hours to the coast and Himatangi Beach driving the scenic roads out of the national park. Finding a self-contained cabin, we relax for the rest of the day.
27th January STAGLANDS RESERVE & KAITOKE PARK
From Himatangi beach, we drive south aiming to stop at the Staglands Wildlife Reserve 88kms away. The route to the park takes us down the narrow winding Akatarawa road for 16km.
The focus in the reserve is on conservation of threatened native species and rare breeds. The walk takes us through a forest wetland area filled with ducks, swans and huge Canadian geese.
The ducks and ducklings follow in our every footstep, hoping to get some food from the bags handed to us at the entrance!
An aviary with Kea and Kaka birds, native to New Zealand, amongst others is next followed by an old bush settlement, showing what life would have been like for early settlers.
All the animals are free to roam around in a natural environment; there are peacocks wandering gracefully about the place as well as goats, sheep, deer and guinea fowl all within a peaceful setting of pretty streams, ponds, hills and gullies.
We make our way to Kaitoke Regional Park which was used as a set for Rivendell, an Elven outpost in Middle Earth and the Fords of Isen.
We don’t find any elves but do find an unspoiled quiet forest with a swing bridge over the Hutt River gorge and a few information panels at the filming location.
It’s easy to see why they chose this spot to film with the sun filtering down through the towering trees and pristine native bush surrounding us.
We find a self-contained room in Lower Hutt, Wellington and venture out for some yummy fish and chips! This has been our when in doubt go-to meal in NZ, due to it being inexpensive, tasty and usually readily available everywhere in NZ so far!
28th -30th January MARTINBOROUGH
It’s 66kms east to the village of Martinborough, taking us past the Hutt River and over the steep Rimutaka Hill road heading past Featherton and into the heart of the quiet and rural Wairarapa valley region. The region has traditionally been associated with sheep farming before becoming a new wine producer. Upscale restaurants and boutique shops are now found all over the village. We find a modern cabin in a holiday park and then decide we should probably stay for a couple of days to explore the region down towards the coast and do some wine tasting at a few of the 30 plus vineyards and cellar doors! The area is known for producing world class Pinot Noirs. In 1978, a few varieties of grape were planted and soon after, it was discovered that the soil had similar characteristics, climate and rainfall to Burgundy in France resulting in the springing up of wineries all over the place.
The following morning we head out on a beautiful day to sample some wines passing through the quaint town square, driving through the patchwork fields of pastures and grapevines. When John Martin founded Martinborough in 1879, not only did he name it after himself, he also laid out the streets in the shape of a Union Jack. Our first stop is Palliser Estate winery and then Lot 8 followed by a few others which were still open late.
The following day, we decide to get off the beaten-track and take a drive out to Cape Palliser, 72kms away, an isolated and rugged landscape at the southernmost point of the North Island. The winding narrow road passes through farmlands and vineyards. The coastal road to the cape is awesome, with scenic mountains and sheer cliffs on one side, black sand beaches looking out to Palliser Bay, known for its seafaring disasters, on the other.
We pass through the tiny fishing village of Ngawi where a colourful array of tractors and rusty bulldozers are parked up along the beach and used by cray fishermen to launch their boats. Soon after, the tarmac gives way to gravel.
We see our first Fur Seal colony, the only one on the North Island where breeding is well established and one of NZ’s largest.
We spot one or two lounging in the grass and then realise there are groups of females and huge males basking everywhere which we manage to get pretty close to, occasionally letting out a roar to let us know they were there.
(videos best watched in 1080 HD)
As we are here just after the breeding season, when we get down to the rocky area by the water known as Seal Point, we see lots of cute seal pups frolicking on the rocks and learning how to swim in the rock pools!
It’s amazing to be able to get so close to them! This is all accompanied by a backdrop of black sand beaches, massive rocks and crashing surf.
The road takes us further up to the red and white striped 1897 Cape Palliser lighthouse where we take a 4×4 track a bit further up the coast.
On our return we decide not to take on the 250 steps to the top as our stomachs are beginning to rumble! It’s a little overcast today but on a clear day, you can see the tip of the South Island. You can also take a three hour return walk to the pinnacles which were used as a set backdrop for Lord of the Rings.
We take a detour to the settlement of Lake Ferry and the Lake Ferry Hotel for some of its famed fish and chips but unfortunately it’s closed, so head back home to Martinborough for a pub dinner!
30th January WELLINGTON
We drive into the awesome and quirky capital Wellington, the world’s most southernmost capital, famous for its coffee culture and innovative dining, urban New Zealand at its best! We head out to the cool Te Papa ‘treasure box’ museum and go on the ‘Introducing Te Papa’ tour which takes us through the amazing collection of Maori artefacts, national art collections, a 4.2m colossal squid specimen exhibition and even an earthquake simulator. It’s another beautifully sunny day with no sign whatsoever of the high velocity winds the capital is also so famous for half of the year.
We take the little red Cable Car, built in 1902, which slowly climbs around 100m vertically up to the suburb of Kelburn, coming to a lookout with spectacular views over the city. A few steps brings us to the Carter Observatory and Planetarium taking in the full-dome screen show with a virtual tour of the local skies and cosmology exhibits.
After a quick lunch, we take a stroll around the vibrant maze of streets and laneways in the compact centre filled with an eclectic mix of shops and cafes, stopping at an outdoor bar to take in the summer atmosphere then along restaurant filled Cuba Street. The centre wraps itself around the deep harbour in a horseshoe with Mount Victoria at its southern end and Oriental Parade at the foot, a waterfront promenade filled with runners, walkers and cyclists, rolling green hills surrounding it. We stay in Lower Hutt, just outside the city, excited to be crossing over to the South Island tomorrow!
We have had so much fun in the North Island, from all the stunning scenery, wildlife, food and boat trips to the national parks. Can’t wait to see what the South has in store for us!