Road trip to the northern tip of New Zealand. At least it was the initial objective, but a fire at cape Reinga prevents us to reach the lighthouse and we have to stop a few kilometres before our objective.
Still, that did not prevent us to do a lot of things on the way, such as a swim at Whale bay near Matapouri, a stop at Paihia and Russel, and some sand dune climbing. One the way back we stopped at Opononi and drove through Waipoua forest to admire the giant Kauris.
What is the perfect destination for a cold, wet and humid winter weekend? Rotorua comes to mind, with some well-deserved soaking in the hot pools. But slow cooking in hot water aside, there is always time for some other activities. On Saturday, we walk in the Rotorua’s redwood forest. It is difficult to imagine that the trees were only planted at the beginning of the 20th century. Looking at their impressive size, it gives the impression that they’ve been there for centuries!
On Sunday, we drive a few km south to the thermal park of Wai-O-Tapu. Nice colours and thermal activity, although the some sun would probably have added a bit more contrast to the bright palette of colours. There is a nice walk in the park that takes us past different pools of fuming water, bubbling mud, or small lakes with water of a colour that hints at the fact that it is probably not so safe to drink.
1-week road trip to Tongariro national park and Taranaki with some hiking… Quite a bit of hiking to be fair. We start easy with a visit to Waitomo caves and some of the other curiosities around, such as Marokopa falls. We then head to Tongariro national park and start with a gentle hike to Taranaki Falls, before heading for the ‘classic’ Tongariro crossing the next day with near-perfect weather!
Then, we head to Mt Urchin. It’s a steep climb, but the view on Mt. Ruapehu, Mt. Ngauruhoe, and Mt. Tongariro is well worth the effort.
We then drive through the Forgotten World Highway to Stratford for a first hike on Mt. Taranaki to Dawson falls. We stay a few days in New Plymouth and visit the festival of lights, and have time for a last hike to Pouakai. Again quite a steep climb, but perfect view on the plateau and the sea, and of course on Mt. Taranaki!
3-week visit from my parents, just in time before the pandemic. We had time to visit a few spots around Auckland, starting with Devonport, right after they stepped out of the plane. This was followed by a day trip to Brick bay and its sculpture trail.
We also made a few trips to the West coast. We went to Muriwai to see (and smell) the gannet colony and for a walk along the Goldie bush walk to Mokoroa falls. We also went to Piha and the Kitekite falls, as well as Bethell beach and the walk in the river to lake Wainamu.
We also took the time to enjoy the city (Wynyard quarter, Mount Eden, One tree hill), and its wide choice of dinner experiences from all around the world, but also enjoyed a few delicious BBQ on the deck (after all, isn’t it summer?).
Finally, we took a short trip to Great Barrier Island to enjoy the empty beaches and the view from Hirakimata (Mt Hobson).
A few days out of Auckland… We start with a flight to Wellington, and are welcomed by a freezing weather. Typical Christmas temperature… Except that it is summer here! Well, we’ll stick to indoor activities. This includes a visit to Te Papa museum, and then to Weta studios. The next day, 24 December, we catch the 6.30 ferry to Picton.
The weather is not much better than yesterday, but a ray of sun hits a cruise ship moored in Wellington Harbour. The weather improves on the way to Picton, and ends up being nice and sunny once we arrive.
As the weather is nice, we walk along Snout track, which provides excellent view on Queen Charlotte Sound.
We then drive to Blenheim, where we spend the night. Christmas day ends up being quite a challenge, as everything is closed. Our AirBnB host recommends a trail in the Wairau Lagoons and a visit to the nearby beach. The weather is a bit cloudy and windy, and it is therefore not possible to swim at the beach, but the view is nonetheless beautiful and well worth the trip.
On 26 December, we wake up early and drive back to Picton to catch a boat that drops us at camp bay for a bit of hiking along Queen Charlotte Track.
The track climbs to Eatwell lookout, where we are rewarded by a breathtaking view on Queen Charlotte sound.
We wait for the boat at Punga resort, and have time to drink a nice and cold ale, and for a quick dip. The water is not very warm, but the scenery is priceless. Once the boat brings us back to Picton, we drive to our next stop: Nelson. This turns out to be longer than expected, for even though the two towns are quite close on a map, the road goes around the mountains. The next day is already the last of this short trip. We have breakfast at Kaiteriteri, and then a quick dip at the beach, followed by a short visit to split apple rock and the nice beach nearby.
We finish this trip by some wine tasting at Rimu Grove’s cellar door, followed by lunch at Mapua wharf, and it’s already time to drive back to the airport.
After breakfast, we take the train to the centre of Johannesburg. We don’t have a precise plan and want to just walk around, but the surroundings of the station are quite sketchy, so we decide to use the hop on hop off bus to get a tour of the city. Even though Johannesburg exists because of — and owes its fortune to — the gold rush, there is nothing glittering about it, and it looks rather raw from an architectural perspective.
We take time to visit constitution hill, that was used both as a fort and a prison. That is where Nelson Mandela and Gandhi were incarcerated. There is interesting information about life during the apartheid, and we can see pictures of the young Mandela, that contrast the respectable-looking older gentleman image that comes to mind when thinking about him.
Towards the end of the afternoon, we go back to the airport, and this marks the beginning of our long flight back to New Zealand.
We wake up early to go back to the falls at sunrise. From the hotel garden we can see the plume of mist against the background of the pink sky.
After a short walk, we are back at the falls, and we select the viewpoint which we think will lead the best view. We are not disappointed, and seeing the falls at sunrise was well worth paying the hefty entrance price to the park. Back at the Hotel we eat our breakfast, and it is already time to go to the airport for a flight to Johannesburg.
We arrive in Johannesburg at the end of the afternoon, and take the train to our hotel. We walk around and get lost in a huge mall, designed so that you don’t find the exit.
From our balcony, we can see the plume of mist from Victoria Falls, and that’s precisely where we are headed, but not before having taken a copious breakfast. On our way to the falls, we have to fend off a few vendors who want to sell us old Zimbabwean dollars, with surreal amounts in the billion or trillion dollar range. The switch the the US dollar must have made life much easier.
Victoria Falls is much more touristy than the areas we visited previously, and the prices reflect this fact. While the entrance price to a national park in Namibia costs about USD 5.5 for a whole day, the entrance to Victoria Falls costs USD 30, for a single entry. Not far from the entry, there is an imposing statue. Doctor Livingstone, I presume. (Sorry, lame joke…). The falls are impressive with so much water going over the edge that at some location it is difficult to see the fall. The reflection of the sun on the mist makes taking pictures difficult.
After the visit, we walk over the bridge that separates Zimbabwe and Zambia. We don’t go through the Zambian custom checkpoint, as it would then take some time to reach the falls from that side, and we are going for a cruise in the afternoon. On our way back on the bridge, we watch a girl bungee jumping. From the bottom of the gorge, we hear her shout: I’ve lost my cell phone!
We go back to the brewery for lunch, and spend some time at the pool in the afternoon, from where we witness a baboon stealing food from the table of a couple eating at the restaurant. We then leave the hotel for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river. We are on a nice small wooden boat with 10 other people. The boat is named Ra-Ikane, from Lazarus Ra-Ikane, a young african boy who became one Livingstone’s guides. Or at least that’s what the crew of the boat tells us, passing a book amongst us that describes the fact, as well as Livingstone’s exploration of Africa. However, the book is edited by the tour operator, and searching about Ra-ikane on Google only points to the operator of the cruise. No mention of Ra-Ikane on Livingstone’s wikipedia page… So has the boat company created a legend around the character? Has he been forgotten by History? Who knows, but anyway the cruise is very enjoyable with good nibbles and a very ginny gin and tonic.
After breakfast, a bus picks us up to drive us to the border with Zimbabwe. Leaving Botswana is painless, we just need to fill up a form. Getting into Zimbabwe is a bit less organised due to the need to get a visa on arrival, a process which is not efficiently managed. Once this formality is done, another bus takes us to Victoria falls, and drops us at our hotel at the beginning of the afternoon.
We walk around town and stop for lunch at a local craft brewery. The food menu is reduced, due to a power cut.
After lunch we do some shopping and hunt for some souvenirs to take home, but the task is made more difficult by the lack of power which keeps the shops in darkness. In the evening, we wanted to find a restaurant in town, but there is still no power, and therefore no public lighting. We decide to stay at the hotel, which has a very nice restaurant with tables on the lawn, as well as a powerful (albeit noisy) diesel generator.
We wake up very early to join the morning game drive. After our experience in Etosha, we knew it would be freezing cold, so we put on warm clothes. It’s still very cold, despite the blanket we are given, particularly for the hand holding the camera.
An early morning game drive is an opportunity to see predators, but footprints aside, they remain well hidden. Despite this, we see numerous animals, and spectacular views of the river from the hills of the park.
We come back to the lodge for breakfast, enjoy some quiet reading time on a wooden deck above the Chobe river, and after lunch, we are ready for the last game drive of our trip. A group of about 20 elephants crosses the road just in front of our jeep, which is quite a sight. After much game viewing, we enjoy a stop under a tree with some beer and biltong, and then drive back to the lodge while admiring the sunset over the river.