10-12th January      AUCKLAND

The next day we head back into Auckland where we visit the Big Picture Wine experience.  It seems we have a personalised tour as no one-else is here!  None of the staff seem to have the faintest idea of what we are here to do either!  Eventually our tour guide shows up and takes us around the aroma room.  Rows of artificially made aromas which are common in wines fill it, along with examples of possible aromas in bad wine, including rotten apple and horse!  Some are true to form and others are overpowering, but none the less, it seems as though a lot of time and effort has gone into the room.

Next we are taken into a huge auditorium which doubles as a place for Aucklands trade seafood Market / Auction. We are seated in front of 5 glasses of wine.  The on screen film has wine makers and wineries from all over the country talking about their wine and are then prompted to try it along with them.

We take a walk along the seafront which is lined with bars and restaurants and pick one for dinner.

The following day we jump on an Auckland Harbour dolphin watch cruise, speeding past Waiheke Island and its glass fronted ocean-side houses.

It’s about a couple of hours into the trip when we spot our first Bottle nosed dolphins.  They are in a pod of around 10 and are riding the wave in front of the boat, sporadically jumping out of the surf.

A little later into the trip, we are joined by some Common dolphins, two-toned in colour and about half the size of the Bottle nosed dolphins.


Wanting to explore the Coromandel peninsula, we leave Auckland and take a scenic drive up and over the Bombay hills, through the flat farmlands of Waikato and the Hauraki Plains.  The drive takes us past small, pretty bays, harbours and rocky beaches along the Firth of Thames.  We carry on up as far as Colville where we stop for the night at Colville Farm campsite.  We almost have the whole place to ourselves and are surrounded by picture perfect rolling hills and countryside in a wide green valley.

14th January  

The next morning we continue the drive all the way to the rugged tip of the peninsula off the beaten track through isolated countryside with stunning views all the way along.    Past Colville, the road turns to gravel for another 60kms.  We pull into the Fantail Bay campsite for great views over the water and some lunch! Next up is Port Jackson right on the beach with the end of the road at beautiful Fletcher Bay a mere three hours later!   Driving back via Coromandel town and Whitianga, we follow a sign through the forest which eventually leads us to the Riverglen campsite in the Coromandel forest.


15th January

Packing up, we head for world famous Hot Water Beach, on the east coast of the peninsula and named for its underground hot springs which filter up through the sand two hours either side of low tide.


Walking down onto the long sandy stretch of beach at the rocky southerly end, we are met with a slightly strange sight, hundreds of enthusiastic adults with bucket and spade in hand!  Some had obviously been there for a while claiming their piece of the beach!

An underground river of water flows from the interior of the earth creating unique naturally heated bubbling mineral pools to lay around in and all just metres away from the sea.

Some of the pools and surrounding sand are literally boiling hot, burning our feet!


Further north up the coast, we park up and take the one hour walking track along the cliff-top and then down the steps to Te-Whanganui-A-Hei or Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve.

The walk is rewarded with a white sandy beach and a gigantic stone archway joining two secluded coves.  The crystal blue water is so inviting that we can’t resist a quick dip.

Not keen for the hike back in the sun, we opt to jump on a boat which drops us off at a small cove and we walk the short distance back to the car.

That evening we stay at Stargazers B&B in Whitianga for a bit of luxury and go on a fantastic 2 hour evening stargazing tour with the owner.


16th January      WAIHI

Driving down the coast we stop at the historic mining town of Waihi and decide to take a goldmine tour where we don matching fluorescent vests and hard hats.  The mini-van takes us to the Martha pit, a huge open gold mine.  Opening in 1987 and with underground mining dating back to the 1880’s when gold was first found on Martha hill, the mine produces 100,000 ounces of gold and 700,000 ounces of silver every year.   We learn about the gold mining process and how the ore is separated from the waste rock resulting in a 99% pure mix of gold and silver bullion.  When all the mining is complete, it will eventually be turned into a recreational lake.

We book in the White Island cruise for tomorrow.  From Waihi, it’s 2 hours and 152 kms to the town of Whakatane where we try to find somewhere to stay for the night, eventually arriving at Arawakeri hot springs holiday park.

17th January      WHAKATANE

In the morning, we get a phone call from the White Island company to tell us the cruise had been cancelled due to rough sea conditions.  As we have some time, we head over to The House That Came Home, an 1875 Maori meeting house.  In 1879 it was dismantled and shipped to Sydney and then spent 71 years in the Otago museum.  In 1996 it was finally returned to the Ngati Awa people.

The cultural experience starts off with a ceremonial call by a woman in traditional dress to welcome us to the people of the area followed by entrance into the intricately carved meeting house and Hongi which is a greeting by pressing of the noses.   Our host tells us about the history of the house and its restoration before solo performing a Maori song.  A digital light show depicting the meaning of the carvings and ancestral stories is put on before we have some time to look around the house in more detail.  It’s even finished off with light snacks and tea!

We take a drive around the bustling little town and buy a few extra camping supplies before heading down to the harbour for views over the ocean.


18th January      WHITE ISLAND CRUISE

White Island is an active stratovolcano and one of the world’s few accessible live volcanoes.  It is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano located in the Bay of Plenty and 48km off the shore from Whakatane, marking the northern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone and one of a string of volcanoes directly on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’.  Although 70% of the cone is under the sea, it’s highest point reaches 321m in altitude.  From 1975 to 2001, there were frequent small eruptions, making this the islands most active period in hundreds of years.

The cruise company gives us the go ahead as luckily for us, the sea conditions are favourable.  We are both pretty excited about the trip today.  After all, it’s not every day you get to walk on an active volcano!  The small boat sets off from the wharf over calm waters in the sunshine and takes around an hour and a half to reach the island with a brown paper bag lunch en route.  The secluded horseshoe shaped island comes into view as we are given a safety briefing about what to do in the event of an eruption or rock fall before being given hard hats and gas masks.

We then jump into an inflatable boat which takes us up to a jetty, climb up a ladder and over some boulders and finally land on to the crater of the active volcano!

A huge white plume of gas emanating from the crater lake can be seen in the distance, almost giving the island a mysterious aura.

Following our guide around the dramatic island, we pass sulphurous rocks, steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pools. Walking on this surreal otherworldly landscape is an amazing experience.

Making our way up to the immense main crater, we peer down into a huge bright green lake as a result of sulphur deposits and the organisms which inhabit it.  The huge cloud of white steam pours upwards from it, hot water, steam and toxic gases escaping from underground vents.  Our guide explains the lake is 60 times more acidic than battery acid and has a temperature of around 65 degrees.

The smell of the sulphur is overwhelming without our gas masks on.

Brightly coloured mineral deposits of sulphur are seen everywhere but are particularly noticeable around steam vents as the sulphur solidifies when it comes to the surface.  Giant lava mounds cover the crater floor.

On our way back to the boat we walk through the corroded remains of an old sulphur mining factory which mined 10,000 tonnes of sulphur but was destroyed in 1914 after a section of the crater rim collapsed creating a huge landslide.  The boat takes us full circle around the island before heading for home.

Hundreds of nesting gannets have made the island home.

To top it all off, our boat ride back is joined by a pod of accompanying common dolphins!