When we left you it was Wednesday 16th April and we were in a motorhome park at Picton on the south island. We had a wild night of weather with the motorhome rocking around a bit but far less than a carriage on a Vietnamese sleeper train so we still slept soundly.
We woke to the wind howling and rain driving against the windows, it had become obvious to us that our ferry sailing would be effected if not totally cancelled but we made our way to the terminal for the advertised 8am boarding time. We booked in and a smiling assistant informed us that the ferry was still sailing "as far as she knew". Well we were still unconvinced - looking around us we observed horizontal rain, trees and street lamps swaying in the wind.
We tuned into the local radio station and the forecaster explained that the weather we were experiencing was apparently the remnants of a cyclone that had recently hit the eastern Australia coast. So with little else to do we entertained ourselves by singing along to the radio (very badly).
We passed the published sailing time of 9am with no vehicles moving and an electronic notice board giving little information. The weather hadn't changed when we reached 10am and amazingly we started to embark onto the vehicle decks of the interislander stena alegra ferry.
Knowing it was almost certainly going to be a rough crossing we rushed to get the comfy seats on the passenger deck. While we dodged other passengers doing exactly the same, the captain came over the intercom and we were informed that the delay was due to the Cook Straight proving to be quite 'challenging' today and we could expect at least a 3 hour delay on our arrival into Wellington.
So we set sail from Picton initially into the very protected waters of Marlborough Sound. The captain took the most northerly route he could, to try and keep the period the ship would be exposed to the wild waters of the Cook Straight to a minimum. This worked for a while but eventually we had to pass through some very large waves.
We were positioned at the front of the ship and had the full roller coaster effect of the "pointy end" going up, down and through the large waves. (Nigel couldn't help but reminisce about sailing in the South Atlantic in '82 and Helen's eyes sort of glazed over at this point)
Every few minutes the captain would come onto the intercom, announce another part of the ship was unavailable due to the rough conditions and gave lots of advice on how to cope with sea sickness. There were a lot of green faces and lots of bags being used as apparently the use of the toilets reeks havoc with the ships plumbing.
The crew were amazing, looking after the passengers who were feeling ill. The use of ice and the consumption of ginger beer apparently help but we were both salty sea dogs and luckily weren't effected.
When we arrived in Wellington it was still pouring with rain so we stayed the night in a city based motorhome park.
In keeping with our crossing we had fish and chips for dinner.
Good Friday was spent driving north with lots of locals who had taken to their cars. The weather had improved and we noticed the change in temperature which had risen to 22 degrees centigrade. Unfortunately there was still a carpet of low cloud that was covering a conical volcano called Mount Egmont (Taranaki) this was to be our next mountain hike that we had planned for Saturday. Our intention was to camp high up on the mountain at a national park campsite, ready for an early start.
Rather than drive up into the cloud and have no views we decided to head towards the west coast and ended our day's drive at a small city called New Plymouth.
On Saturday morning the weather hadn't improved and Mount Egmont (Taranaki) was still in cloud. The weather forecast wasn't favourable so we took a coastal walk into the city instead. We noticed a great deal of surfers on the coast and later found out that this was one of the top spots for surfing in New Zealand. The local volcanic ash had effected the sand on the coast which was a black colour.
On Easter Sunday we left New Plymouth with Mount Egmont (Taranaki) still on the to do list, if we have time. We continued our tour heading north to a limestone cave system at Waitomo on the west of the island.
We arrived at our caving adventure in the afternoon "The legendary Black Water rafting company" were to take us on a cave tour called "The black labyrinth".
We were kitted out in helmets, head lamps, wet suits and rubber boots. After a short minibus journey we arrived at a stream where we were all put through a little test.
We were given large inflated inner tubes. We all looked like we had a very bad case of haemorrhoids as we positioned the inner tubes around our bottoms and were instructed to jump backwards into the stream. This was apparently a good way to prepare us for what was to come in the cave. We also had to form an "Eel formation" which involved all twelve of us lying down in what we would describe as "The rowing boat song formation" We tried to get the group to start rocking from side to side and sing "Oops upside your head" but really missed Kim Bartlett who would definatly have achieved this. All twelve of us successfully jumped into the stream but unfortunately Helen lost one of her rubber boots. We managed to get a replacement from a caving party that had just finished and we were ready to descend into the cave. We reached the underground stream and got our bums into the rubber rings and floated down.
At one point we all switched our helmet lights off and the ceiling was shining and covered in glow worms. We reached a small waterfall and this was where our practice above ground came in handy. We all jumped backwards off the waterfall and continued floating down the cave. From start to end our trip lasted about 3 hours and after a shower we were supplied with a mug of soup and bagel a fine way to end a great experience.
There are no photographs as we weren't allowed to take cameras and the company efforts weren't very good.
On Bank holiday Monday we headed into the centre of the island to the inland sea that is Lake Taupo. We found a quiet lakeside spot and chilled out for the morning.
We then headed to the southern end of the lake and closer to our next mountain adventure. We had a stroll around a small geothermal area before setting up camp.
On Tuesday as we had enjoyed bouncing around on inflatable tubes we decided to join a white water rafting trip as this was one activity we hadn't done yet.
We booked a trip with a company that came highly recommended and was close to where we had camped so we had a lazy morning and met up with the rafters just before 12 noon.
The rapids we would be rafting on were grade 3 and Helen had delight in recanting her tales of rafting grade 5 rapids in '99' when she was on the Zambezi. (Nigel's eyes sort of glazed over at this point)
We had three rafts there were 7 rafters in each and a guide controlling things from the rear. Our guide was a Canadian called Jim who expertly steered the raft through 60 rapids during our 3 hours on the water. We saw very rare blue ducks (apparently more rare than Kiwi). Our other raft mates were a family of 5 from Wellington. When we finished we were taken to a hot thermal pool where we had a 15 minute dunk before hot soup. A good day was had by all. Unfortunately it was too wet for our own photographs and the company ones were in a format that we wouldn't have been able to add to the journal.
On Wednesday we took on the challenge of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We found a campsite close to a transport company that would drop us off at the trail head and collect us when we finished. The walk is linear, 19.4 km long - that's if you stay on the standard trail. Due to the shortness of daylight they only had one coach departure which was at 6.45am so we had another early start waking at 6am.
This worked quite well as we wanted to start walking fairly early as we had seen that we could easily bag Mount Tongariro whilst doing the alpine crossing route and this would only add a couple of hours to the trip.
The walk is considered by some to be the best mountain day-hike in the New Zealand. It is described as challenging and unforgettable. The trail took us through arid volcanic terrain that included emerald lakes, lava flows, active volcanic craters and steam vents.l
We passed alongside a large volcano called Mount Ngauruhoe which was used in The Lord of the rings film as "Mount Doom"
We had a really great day. Our planning around favourable weather had been very successful with no rain and very little cloud. The sky was so clear we could see to the coast and the elusive Mount Egmont was finally visible and out of cloud. The only down side, which we had been warned of prior to planning our walk were the number of people wanting to complete it with us. There were literally thousands.
We managed to complete the walk in time for the first bus back to our campsite at 3pm, where we had well earned and needed showers.
This was a major tick in Helen's list of "things to do" in New Zealand
Today is Thursday 24th April and we have headed North again for a few hours to an activity that our nephew Thomas really wanted us to do.
A tour of Hobbiton. It has been a very wet day with the occasional break for a few minutes but a good day for driving!
For those of you who have just landed from a different planet or have managed to avoid The Lord of the rings and Hobbit films this is where the filming of the Hobbits village took place for a total screen viewing in all the movies of a total of about 12 seconds according to our guide. The original set for the LOTR films was a temporary structure but the owners of the land ensured the second set for the Hobbit was made of permanent structures for us tourists.
We are currently at a campsite in a small town just outside Hamilton and will be heading further north tomorrow.