Friday, 7 August 2009

Surf Highway 45 and the 'Naki'

Leaving Ruapehu to the low clouds, we drove south to Wanganui to hit Surf Highway 45, a road which runs around the outside of Mount Taranaki, a dormant volcano capped with snow in winter and even used a substitute for Mount Fuji in Tom Cruise's Japanese-Top Gun flick "Last of the Samurai". Unfortunately the cloud was blocking our view of the Naki that day too but we did manage to stop in for some phenomenal food at the Sugar Juice Cafe in Opunake!

Dave climbed to the top of Paritutu rock where the view across New Plymouth and the Sugar Loaves was stunning, but he should have left it for the morning after as the cloud had finally pulled away from Taranaki, showing its beauty in all its splendor. Choice as eh bro!

Our last day in Cam was a sad one but the bright note was stopping in at Waitomo Caves on the way back to Auckland where we got to see thousands of glowworms. The caves themselves are just as gorgeous and when they say that if a water drop hits you while you're there it is good luck, it's true - Libby got hit at least ten times and won $3 on a scratchy at the airport!

Mr and Mrs T xx

Wet 'n Windy Ohakune

The famous Welly weather turned up just in time for us to leave as we drove north along the Kapiti Coast towards Tongariro National Park. We got a good look at the sloping giant that is Mount Ruapehu as we approached and the plan was to get a closer look with some trekking through the scrub.

But it wasn't to be as the cloud was so low when we arrived in Ohakune (NZ's carrot capital!) that we couldn't see anything so had to settle for a walk along the Old Coach Road to the Hapuawhenua Viaduct. It was built in 1908 and is one of only two curved viaducts in southern hemisphere - sweet as eh bro! The walk itself had recently been restored by community support. We sat in for a warm cup of mulled wine after that but before we did, we couldn't help but get our pic in front of the Big Carrot!

Mr and Mrs T xx

Martinborough, Welly and Cam's Mum

Somehow, the rain and thunderous wind of last night disappeared this morning as we woke to brilliant sunshine - perfect weather for more wine tasting! We stopped in at the very good Te Kairanga winery, whose Pinot Noirs were superb, so good that we picked up a bottle of their Runholder 2007 for Cam's mum (the real Cam, not the van) who we were meeting in Wellington that night.

One curious sight was to see a motley crew of locals, men and women, sprinting across the town square when the volunteer fire service siren wailed! One poor bloke was just ordering a second latte in the cafe we were in and nearly lost his muffins as he turned to run back out the door!

The weather in Wellington is meant to be wet and windy but it was nothing but wonderful for our day there. We took the cable car up to the excellent Botanic Gardens and walked back down via Parliament House and the 'Beehive', then strolled in the sun along the quay, stopping in for a beer before taking in the F1 exhibition at the Te Papa museum. Great cafes and boutiques along Cuba St but the real highlight was getting to meet up with Cam's mum again who very kindly took us out for dinner and gave us a bed for the night. Thanks so much Sherryn!

Mr and Mrs T xx

Hawkes Bay

Napier itself is an art deco haven, rebuilt after a massive earthquake in the 1930's, leaving the town and the surrounding area with beautiful facades and leadlights.

The Hawkes Bay Farmers market is brilliant. Great local produce and people, at very good prices. We bought some scrummy cupcakes and pesto bread and cumberland sausages for bangers and mash in Cam later that night. We took Cam for a long but lovely drive through gorgeous countryside beside and then over the Tuki Tuki River and then up to Te Mata Peak for an unrestricted view of the bay, Napier, Hastings and across to the snowcapped peaks on the horizon. Stunning.

Tasted some very good wine at Matariki winery in the Gimblett Gravels and took home a very good 2005 Syrah. The drive south was long but once again stunning as we drove beside the Ruahine Ranges to reach a very wet and windy Martinborough.

Mr and Mrs T xx

Rotorua and Lake Taupo

The drive from the Mandel through south Waikato was generally flat, though we did hit some serious pea soup fog about 100km from Rotorua that cut Cam's visibility down to about 50m!

Now Libby has quite a good nose i.e. she can smell an odour, good or bad, at least 5 seconds before Dave can. That can be a good or bad trait and in Rotorua, home of the sulphurous geothermal baths and lakes, it was a curse!

We did get ourselves a little private pool at the Polynesian Spa that made Libs feel better for an hour or so but after that, we headed south to Lake Taupo for some less smelly activities. On the way in we stopped at Huka Falls which was the complete opposite of Iguazu - the water only falls 10m and it is a brilliant indigo blue colour rather than the brown behemoth at the Brazilian and Argentinian borders but it was gorgeous in it's own way. So was the thermal pools at our holiday park meaning we could swim until 9pm!

Next morning we started the day with a swim in some more thermal pools (see a pattern forming?) before heading up the road to see the stunning 'lost valley' of Orakei Korako, a geothermal park with silica terraces and natural geysers spitting sulphur through mud and out into opal pools, a real moon-like landscape. It was too wet for a cruise on Lake Taupo so we made a beeline east to Napier on the Hawkes Bay coast, stopping in at Esk Valley Estate for yet another wine tasting!

Mr and Mrs T xx

The Mandel

In a word, the Coromandel Peninsula is paradise. It has a little bit of everything and everything it does have, it has it in high definition. Again the weather was a everchanging spectrum of good-bad-ok-great-holy crap is that rain or a flood-good but even through the bad bits, the 'Mandel' shone through.

The drive north along the western coast of the peninsula is stunning as you hug the shoreline with crystal water on your left and steep ridge to your right. Coromandel Town is not much in itself but the fish and chips we had and the smoked mussels Dave had were choice as bro! And unfortunately our visit to Hot Water Beach didn't coincide with the low tide fun where you can dig in the sand make your own little thermal pool. But the highlights were the hidden Otama Beach and Opito Bay where, thankfully, the heavens sent sunshine down to us just as we arrived.

As we wound our way through the Puketui Valley to reach our next stop at Wahai Beach, we knew this was a place we would love to one day come back to see again. To top it off, the drive out through Karangahake Gorge to Paeroa (home of L&P soda) was simply stunning, a picture postcard at every turn.

Mr and Mrs T xx

Northland and Cape Reinga

We started the morning in Keri Keri, a beautiful little town, before making tracks for the northern most point on NZ, we stopped in at the 'world famous' Monganui Fish Shop. Unfortunately it was time for morning tea, not fish and chips so Dave couldn't gorge himself on deep fried oysters. As a place though, Monganui is lovely with some of the most crystal clear water in the bay we had ever seen! Dave did get to sample a can of L&P soda drink, reportedly "world famous in New Zealand". Hmmm....

As we drove north along the east coast of the peninsula, the weather changed every 30 mins. The only constant was the wind, that kept gusting and giving Cam a hard time on the road. When we arrived at the south end of 90 Mile Beach, the weather was foul and Libs only made it out of the van for about 2 mins. So we pushed on to Cape Reinga and braved the strong winds to reach the lighthouse to see where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Oceans meet. The sign at the point noted it was only 18000 odd km to London - talk about being a world away from home!

Mr and Mrs T xx

Cam the Campervan

After two days in Auckland bro, it was time to pick up our 2 berth campervan which was to be our transport and home for the next 10 days on the North Island. We christened him Cam, as all good men of the NZ are named. First stop was the supermarket for a massive shop to fill Cam with lots of good food and snacks so we could somehow start to reverse the relentless food binge we had been on in South America!

Then we hit State Highway 1 and headed due north to see Waitangi and the Bay of Islands. More like Bay of Rain and Cloud and Mist when we finally got there! - which was a shame as we could just make out the multitude of islands sitting silently in the clear waters. We stopped in that night at Kerikeri, citrus capital of NZ (they have a capital for everything here!)

Mr and Mrs T xx

Auckland bro!

Leaving South America was hard to do. We had such a fantastic time, seen so much in three short months and our spanish was starting to take root. But The Land of the Long White Cloud beckoned and we said 'adios' to Chile and 'choice bro' to Auckland!

Landing at 3.40am into Auckland airport is a very special feeling. So special in fact, that we do not recommend it to anyone else on this planet. But if you do get stuck there for a few hours like we did, we suggest you fill your time counting the number of people in the terminal wearing All Black jerseys and/or ugg boots. Hours of fun!

Auckland feels a lot like Sydney, only smaller and colder. They have Sky Tower, Sydney has Centrepoint Tower. Sydney has King Street in Newtown, Auckland has the K Road in Newton. The Kiwi upper crust commute on a ferry from Devonport, in Sydney it's Manly. We stayed in a lovely old timber house less than 10 mins walk from the CBD, right by the vintage boutiques on Ponsonby Road - Libs' fashion famine was over!

Watching the sunset from Sky Tower over a glass of "sev" (that's kiwi speak for Savignon Blanc!) and a Steinlager was a pretty good way to finish a day that started at 3.40am!

Took a nice walk through town to see the University Clock and Old Government House before jumping the ferry across the bay to Devonport, an idyllic bayside suburb only 12 mins from the CBD. With the sun shining, we took a walk up to North Head for an amazing view back across the skyline. Only made it out for a quick drink and pizza that night as it was bloody freezing!

Mr and Mrs T xx

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Santiago de Chile

Finally arriving in Santiago we settled into our lovely hotel in Bella Vista, a really lovely area, and then made our way out for dinner at a gorgeous seafood restaurant accompanied with some more wine - solely to help ease the pain of our very long trek to Chile.

Now with only one day in Santiago before our flight to New Zealand we tried to pack in as much as possible. It was a perfect day with blue skies and we began by having our breakfast at our hotel which had a terrace with views of the Andes in the background - beautiful. We then took a trip up Cerro San Cristobel in the cable car for views over the city (including the layer of smog) and across at the snow covered ranges. We then took a trip around town on the tourist bus which gave us a good impression of the city. Lunch consisted of the most massive milanesa we have ever seen! We then meandered around the Belle Artes gallery before wandering through Bella Vista and stopping for an ice cream. We ended our one day in Chile and our final day in South America with cocktails in Bella Vista patio.

Ciao Ciao Sud America...hello New Zealand.


Mendoza and all the wine

So our trip to Mendoza was mainly full of visiting wineries, tasting wine, drinking wine and eating food - brilliant!

Our first day we had a long lunch at a lovely restaurant called Anna where we started with our first glasses of vino. After a wander through Mendoza and a siesta we found Azafran a lovely wine bar/restaurant where our sommelier Pablo treated us to 4 great wines with our cheese plate and smoked deer for Dave!

Saturday we took the bus to Maipu for more wine tasting. We hired bikes and cycled around to some of the bodegas starting at the La Rural Museo run by the Rutini family. We then cycled up to Trapiche - their winery is in a lovely restored building and some of their wines were pretty great. We then cycled to Casa del Campo for a hearty lunch and yes washed down with some Malbec! We attempted to cycle of some of the food and ended up at the chocolate factory. A good day for the Toscano's.

Sunday we took a long walk through the Parque San Martin and up to the zoo which we wished we hadn't gone into when we'd seen the small sizes of the cages for the animals and birds - terrible. Ice cream on the way home and steaks for dinner at La Florencia.

Monday can be summed up as 16 fantastic wines and a lovely 5 course meal polished off. We picked up a hire car and drove to some more bodegas starting with Carlos Pulenta, former owner of the Trapiche bodega. We tried the Torrentes, Malbec, and Pinot Noir, but the Petit Verdor and "C" blend were the best. We then drove onto Archaval Ferrer another small bodega making amazing single vineyard Malbecs at three different altitudes, a fine blend "Quimera" and a very nice Dolce Malbec which we brought (how could we say no when its only available at the winery?!). We then made it to Ruca Malen for our five course lunch with matched wines. Some of their wines were pretty good, and the food was amazing! Thanks to Aine for her recommendations on these bodegas. Another great day for the Toscano's.

So for our last day in Argentina and after too much wine we took a drive through the desert to Villavicencio, then through the National Park on Ruta 52 which climbed through the sierras - amazing views. We then saw a condor swoop overhead as we drove the winding roads - it flew so close to us, it was absolutely amazing - they really are massive! Driving further over the sierras we were struck by the beautiful setting of the Andes in the background which we tried to take photographs of but became rather impossible in the gale force winds! We carried on our drive towards the Andes before getting turned back because of the snow. A stunning day driving.

Our final morning in Mendoza we awoke to snow and therefore a high chance of not crossing the Andes to Chile given there was likely to be a lot of snow in the mountains. Our 8am bus finally left around noon and about 2 and a half hours into our journey we were stopped and told to wait, the 3 hour wait then turned into being told we were going back to Mendoza. Brilliant - a fun day sitting on the bus! So the next day it was back on the bus and with our fingers crossed we finally made it to Santiago de Chile - about 30 hours later than planned. The drive through the Andes was beautiful passing Acongagura, the highest peak. It was also a bit scary as you wind down the snowy slopes and there was plenty of time to take in the scenery with our 4 hour wait to get our turn at customs.

However it was all well worth the wait when we arrived at our lovely hotel in Santiago (thank you to Dave's work colleagues).

Mr and Mrs T x