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New Zealand:  March - April 2018


Auckland – Paihia – Opononi – Paparoa – Auckland (890 km and 18 days) 

We are finally back to New Zealand! Auckland is a wonderful city, we absolutely love it! It’s really pleasant to live here, very different from Brisbane. Although Brisbane has become our strategic hub and we have our storage there, we never felt at home. Everything is so welcoming in Auckland, from the people to the fabulous bars, delicious restaurants and exciting attractions. There’s always something going on… Auckland has a modern and vibrant urban lifestyle and is within one hour of secluded beautiful beaches, adventurous and challenging hiking trails and dozens of enchanted holiday islands. A mild, sometimes sunny climate combined with a deep passion for outstanding food and enticed with exceptional wine … wow!

Auckland, the world's premier sailing capital, is once again welcoming the Volvo Ocean 65s fleet home as an official stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-2018. The around-the-world-race is held every three years and last nine months and crosses for a long leg the remote Southern Ocean. The race first visited Auckland in 1977-78 and this edition will be the 10th time the city has hosted a stopover. The arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race and the campaign to Turn-The-Tide-On-Plastic in Auckland has coincided with a petition hand in to the NZ Government demanding a ban on single-use plastic bags.
The Auckland Viaduct has been transformed into a pulsating Race Village for the Volvo Ocean Race with a packed program of entertainments and events until March 18, the day of departure of leg 7 Auckland-Itajaì. 
The actual race boat display and the pit-lane of team bases is the central point in the race village. In the ”Race Boat Experience”, you can crawl through a Volvo Ocean 65 boat display and see what it’s is like to sleep in a bunk, stand at the helm, check out the living conditions and get a real feel for every aspect of life on board. And believe us, it’s awfully though… Nothing in comparison to our Marion Dufresne adventure! "The Boatyard" gives you a behind the scenes look into the repair and maintenance of the race boats. "The Globe” is home to the sustainability program, and much more to see and experience.
Tomorrow, we are starting our second tour of the Northland!

Today is caving-day!
We stop at Abbey Caves near Whangarei. Abbey Caves is a network of three caves that are part of the same cave system. The surrounding karrenfeld is covered by luscious green pastures with exposed giant limestone outcrops. The first cave we approach is the Organ Cave, it’s the largest of the 3 caves and a classical outflow cave (resurgence). The underground stream is discharging under the massive boulders at the cave entrance. After climbing down these boulders to the bottom (challenging with the mud and moss), you start wading the ankle to knee-deep stream in the cave (of course, with your shoes off ...). The sections of the cave show a vadose development of the cavern (free water flow). Unfortunately, we have to stop the exploration in the knee to hip-deep section of the stream before reaching the end because one of our headlamps was running out of batteries … grrrr … up the cave and back to the car for a fresh set of batteries.
So then, we go to the second smaller cave, the Middle Cave. Only an ankle to knee-deep stream, much easier. The water is amazingly clear, reflecting the beautiful erosion forms that have been carved by the water over millenia. In the middle of the cave, about 100 m from the main entrance, we see clusters of glowworms shining in a wonderful cool blue light on the ceiling like fairy lights at Christmas. New Zealand’s caves are famous for their very unique “glowworms”. The glow worm (Arachnocampa Luminosa) is actually a transparent larva of a fly (Fungus Gnat)! As long as the lights are out (you must be in total darkness), the glowworms at the ceiling look like the blue stars of the milky way … Hyper-galactic !! Star Wars feeling but a bit creepy...
We continue along the stream for another 100m before emerging to the daylight … the cave is interrupted here by a collapsing doline … you can get out here at this secondary entrance or continue by crawling on the knees in the water, deep below the crumbling rocks.
We return to the car wet and full of mud but happy! We experienced the glow worms in a free and totally natural cave. This is very different from a guided visit in the big tourist attractions of Waitomo.
Another day in beautiful Northland: a visit to Marsden Estate to taste their amazing wines (4 whites, 1 rosé, 1 sparkling rosé and 6 reds) and to enjoy a high class lunch. But it’s not a discovery, we were there in November … and the sommelier recognized us immediately and warmly welcomed us again! What a feeling to be nearly at home! The same at Cottle Hill: welcomed again! And this time, we could visit the back-chamber with some exclusive views of the secret wines and grappas! It’s sad to learn that both estates will not be able to harvest this year due to the bad weather since Christmas.

As the weather is turning from gray to black, it’ll only be a short trip today: from Paihia to Matauri Bay. But before, a comforting stop at Makana for a terrific chocolate-rich breakfast.
Matauri Bay is the place where Reverend Samuel Marsden made his first landfall in New Zealand. From the hills surrounding Matauri Bay, there are stunning panoramic views of the nearby Cavalli Islands. The wind is getting stronger with gales up to 100 km/h, so it’s time to return to Paihia but only after a wine and beer tasting at Kanui Road Winery & Brewery.
The next day we stay in our room, planning for our next leg: 988 Nouvelle Calédonie. Outside, there are strong winds of 90 km/h with heavy rain falls. The remnants of hurricane Hola, visiting us from Nouvelle Calédonie ;-)

On the way to Opononi, we pay a visit to the Kaikohe Marae. One of the rare marae with beautiful carvings among the numerous ones you can find in Northland. A marae is a sacred place for the Māoris and it’s also a gathering spot for special events such as weddings or funerals. However, one can not enter a marae without being invited.

After the storm, the sun is out again. The perfect day to cross the Hokianga Harbour from Opononi to access the giant sand dunes of Niua. Many people are going over there to practice sand-boarding down the sand dunes directly into the harbor at high tide. The 3 hours time until the last ferry-crossing are just enough to explore these magnificent yellow and orange sand-dunes. The highest dune is elevating 158m from the harbor shore and the view up there is breathtaking! It’s one of the most scenic places in New Zealand but barely mentioned by the tourist boards. The giant orange dunes with scattered green oasis, bordered by a huge white beach along the deep blue harbor and, on the other side a hilly landscape covered by green pastures and a deep forest is a scenery to die for.
With such a beautiful day, we need to make the most of it. So in the afternoon, we go to the South Head for another walk, following the rugged coastline along its intertidal zone covered with natural sea pools.

The day after, we take the SH12 through the Waipoua Forest, the largest remaining tract of native forest in Northland. The road is very winding with hundreds of bends, it reminds us of the Centovalli. Suddenly, once emerged from the dark Waipoua Forest, you’re in a totally different world. An idyllic hillside of green pastures scattered with patches of forest: it’s like the Swiss Jura. In Waipu (pronunciation: why pooh), we stopped at McLeod’s Brewery for a rest, a micro brewery making a really good beer especially the barrel-aged Scottish Ale, the Tropical Cyclone DIPA and the Great Migration IPA. After the beer, exercise is a must … so, let’s go to the nearby Piroa Falls. Even if it’s only a short walk to see these nice falls of 20 m height.

After spending few months in NZ, our preferred yogurt became Puhoi Valley. Really tasty and fruity but we never went to visit them on our first tour to Northland … why? … Well, you can find them everywhere, so we believed it’s like Fonterra … a huge manufacturing plant like a cement factory with no soul …On our second trip however, we decided to stop there … and what a surprise! Puhoi is a small historic village in the middle of a quiet and pretty valley. The cheesery and café are lovely. Puhoi Valley cheeses, ice creams and yogurts are excellent with a good selection available. You can view the cheese making through a window and visit the stored cheese in the cellar. Puhoi was settled in 1863 by Bohemians. The offer of free land was the motivation for 83 emigrants to settle on the other side of the world. The factory, nestled in the upper reaches of the picturesque Puhoi Valley, was originally a goat farm. In 1983, a small manufacturing plant was built to convert goats’ milk into ice cream powder and camembert. It wasn’t long before the factory diversified into making cheese from cows’ milk and broadened the product range. Today, the company employs 80 people some of whom are descendants of the original Bohemian settlers.

Back to Auckland, just on time to see the start of leg 7 (Auckland-Itajaì) of the Volvo Ocean Race.


Auckland – Waitomo – Te Ahiaua – Whakatane – Taumarunui – Stratford (960 km and 5 days)

Today, we picked up our camper. We know it well: it’s the same model as the last time, a Hi-Top Toyota Hiace, small, fast and agile. But this time, it’s a brand new one. Everything inside is shining, and Britz made a lot of useful improvements from the previous model. We have a fantastic sound in the “living room” like in a “discoteca”, a big laptop safe, a huge but silent freezer-fridge, strong LED’s everywhere and much more. It’s gonna be a nice home for our next weeks.

Waitomo Caves is a very small village with a major tourist attraction … the caves! The word Waitomo in Māori means water (wai) and doline or sinkhole (tomo), it translates with “water passing through a hole”. This huge karst landscape has been the center of increasingly popular commercial caving tourism from as early as 1900.
Today, a number of companies specializes in leading tourists through the caves from easily accessible with hundreds of tourists per hour to extreme adventurous crawls which are only booked by a few tourists each day. There are around 300 known limestone caves in the Waitomo region. The main caves in the area are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Ruakuri Cave and Aranui Cave. These caves are famous for their fantastic stalactite and stalagmite displays as well as for their immense population of glowworms.
On our first visit to Waitomo back in November, we were short of time thus we could not take any tour. This time, we selected the black water rafting: tubing through the river of the Ruakuri Cave. It’s incredibly fun … we started going through a small cave entrance that you share with a cold creek cascading through. You then follow the creek underground until it becomes a real river and the cave gets really broad and high. And here starts the fun: the first backwards jump into the river followed by a passage in the water under a very low ceiling with no more than 40cm air before walking in the water until you get to the second waterfall … Now, things are getting more challenging … the stream is stronger and you have to manage a backwards splash-down of 2 meters … it feels like a water-bomb !!! You disappear for a few seconds in the cold black water … but we made it!
From now on, we’re quietly navigating along the river with the roof of the cave entirely covered by millions of blue glowworms … of course, in total darkness … no lamps allowed … you want to see the glowworms and experience this surreal moment with only the sound of the water flow. Feels creepy at times when you bumped on the rocks...
After 3 hours of intense emotions underground, we get back to the daylight … we’re so happy because we’re freezing cold … the water temperature down there is at 11 degrees and it gets awfully cold after a couple of hours soaking in the water despite the wet suit!
In the afternoon, we made the touristic part of the Ruakuri Cave with clean suspended pathways and lights … a very different perspective from what we had a few hours ago, down the cave deep in the black water. The suspended pathways bring you to a different level of the cave, the fossilized part with stunning concretions like a fabulous wonderland. The total length of Ruakuri Cave is 6 km, we guess we saw about 3 km of it with the two tours!

Bad news: the weather forecast is rain for the next 10 days … well, we’re back to chasing the sun … So, let’s check the rain radar and change of program! The climb to the summit of Mount Taranaki is not going to be for now and instead we move to the North to have 2 days more of sun before a new cyclone hits us. On our way to the North Coast, we return to Putaruru to buy the best cheese in NZ at “Over the Moon”. It brings back nice memories as we visited this fabulous place in November!

In the lovely city of Whakatane, we have beautiful weather but unfortunately our plan B (Trip to the White Island) does not materialize. It’s sunny and hot but the trip is canceled due to adverse sea conditions around the island, making it impossible to land safely! Nevertheless, we gain two days of sunny weather at the beach … and we’re back to plan A: Mount Taranaki. Therefore, we cross the North Island again !!!

Alongside the SH 32, we discover an immense rural region with evergreen pastures and large forest only scattered with small villages. After Taumarunui, we take SH 43 (The Forgotten World Highway) … it’s a narrow winding road, sometimes one lane, sometimes unpaved with a long past history. The landscape is now very rural, remote and looks like the lost world. There is nothing here … no fuel, no mobile coverage, no village … and it rains along the entire length of the Forgotten World Highway. It’s clearly a wet region, the road and the road signs are heavily covered by lichens and moss… unbelievable!

After a long day ride, we finally cross the border to the Republic of Whangamomona (14 human residents and a lot of sheep). This quirky little village is its own republic. Passports and passport stamps to ensure safe passage through Whangamomona Republic can be purchased at the Republic’s Headquarters … the Pub and Hotel of Whangamomona! Make sure to get your passport stamped! It’s just 2 NZD to get a Whangamomona Republic’s stamp in your passport.


Stratford – Tahurangi – Stratford – Napier (480 km and 3 days) 

We arrive in Stratford under the rain but a sunny window of 36 hours is forecasted. Mount Taranaki is one of the most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world and because of its resemblance to Mount Fuji, it provided the backdrop for the movie “The Last Samurai”. At noon, we move to North Egmont, the Visitor Center of the Egmont National Park (Mt Taranaki).

The weather is getting better and we can see Mount Taranaki for the first time, free of clouds. A good sign ... Mount Taranaki is the first mountain on the rainy West Coast and every single cloud normally discharge its entire content on it!
The North Egmont Visitor Center is at 986 m and the summit of Mount Taranaki is at 2518 m, it’s an ambitious ascent of 1532 m denivelation, a mere 12.6 km return.
In the afternoon, we walk to the Tahurangi Lodge (1520 m). The following morning, we witness a magnificent sunrise and there’s no clouds on the mountain!!! Mount Taranaki, here we come…
So, we start our Taranaki north climb … with a never ending steep staircase of thousand wooden steps … followed by an even steeper toboggan of sand and gravel. It’s like walking on soap, one step forward and two backwards … this long climbing over loose volcanic scree consumes a lot of energy … all people are struggling here … it’s not a matter of muscle strength but being able to progress on a slippery and unstable ground. Unfortunately for one of us, it’s the end of the trip, just before the lizard… no energy left in those exhausted legs… But at least, one of us made it to the top!

At the base of the nearly vertical outer-crater rim, it’s like at home with real rocks to scramble over: this is the fun part of the ascent. A very short crossing of a small snow field before starting the very final climb over the central dome … done!
At 2518 m on the top of Mount Taranaki, there’s an incredible vista … 360 degree clear panorama. The descent will be much tougher … the scree toboggan is made to fall down … and the legs are now very weak … it’s a never-ending descent … muscle pain everywhere but one of us is happy!
It was the most beautiful day in the Taranaki region since the beginning of 2018. And we were part of the lucky ones.

During the night, again heavy rain fall, thus we decide to implement plan C and to move to the East Coast … to the lovely city of Napier that we already visited in November. We remember everything here, it’s like returning home … at the caravan park, they have our names ... we take the same place … It’s party time with sparkling wine to celebrate the fantastic day on Mount Taranaki.


Napier – Gisborne – Whakatane – Gisborne – Tauranga – Auckland (1250 km and 5 days)

From Napier, we move to the Mahia Peninsula and then to the wine region of Gisborne.
Gisborne is a sunny seaside town with a relatively warm, dry and sunny climate. Most of the vineyards are concentrated in a relatively small area around the city. The fertile Gisborne region originally grew prodigious grape yields, which was mostly used to make fortified and cask wines. In the 1980s, huge areas of bulk wine varieties, most notably Müller-Thurgau, were uprooted and replaced with Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, for which the region is well known today. Gisborne is the world's most easterly wine producing region.

On our first day, we visited Millton Vineyard and Bushmere Estate. At Millton’s, we tasted 5 whites, 1 rosé and 2 reds. Millton Vineyard was organic since its foundation and was the very first organic vineyard in NZ! Since 1986, it’s also biodynamic. We discovered that they’re very creative and innovative, for example a purely natural Gewürztraminer (no additives, no process control, no filtration) fermented in open amphora for 86 days! Our recommendations are the natural Gewürztraminer Libiamo, the very smooth Chardonnay Naboth’s and the Te Arai Chenin Blanc.
At Bushmere Estate, we had very good lunch where we enjoyed the excellent Amelia bubbles (the Sangiovese & Montepulciano rosé as well as the Pinot Gris), followed by a very aromatic Gewürztraminer and a pleasant Pinot Gris.

Back to Gizzy town, we discovered near the harbor, the Sunshine Brewery, a micro-brewery crafting excellent beers and with a very broad selection. We liked very much the Mighty Cannon triple IPA (11%), Czar Bomb Russian Imperial Stout (9.6%) and Ad Victoriam Barley Wine (10.6%). We will come back here to complete the tasting of their huge selection!

We left sunny Gisborne across a series of deep valleys covered by very luscious forest to reach again Whakatane for our second attempt to get to White Island.
A call at 18:00 the evening before confirmed that we were good to go as the forecast was good. Hurrah! This time, we’re going!
At 7.15, we’re at the wharf to board the ferry to White Island. The weather is mixed: cloudy and some rain over the sea but it should develop to fine in the afternoon.

A big pod of common dolphins welcomes us just before getting to the island. The island itself is quite disappointing: it looks like a big abandoned quarry and the geothermal features are well below our expectations … a couple of sulfurous vents, a few tiny hot water streams and the remaining of the sulfur-production factory: that’s it! We crossed two times the North Island for that! It would have been better to spend that time in Gisborne tasting good wines ... Anyhow, chasing the sun across the island, transformed 10 days of forecasted rain in 8 days of sunshine! We are definitely Pro at this game!
It’s of primary importance to be flexible when traveling in NZ: follow the weather and not the program – it’s what makes the difference!

We’re back in Gizzy to another hot summer day. We made today the full tasting at Bushmere Estate: 3 whites, 1 rosé and 4 reds. As usual in NZ, the reds cannot convince us; the whites and rosé are very good. We made our second tasting of the day at Matawhero, where we tasted 5 whites, all very good too.
In the late afternoon, we go back to the Sunshine Brewery for another round of the fabulous Mighty Cannon triple IPA and Ad Victoriam Barley Wine … simply excellent beers and we bought a double pint of their triple IPA to take home (our homey camper).

The sunny weather continues but unfortunately we have to leave Gizzy to move towards Auckland. It’s a beautiful journey along the Waipaoa and Waikohu valleys and the deep Waioka Gorge, entirely covered by a luscious green forest.


Auckland – Waiheke – Auckland (120 km and 17 days) 

Auckland is surely a beautiful lively city and with the warm sunny weather, it’s a delight to stroll along the viaduct harbor degustating a home made gelato or spend the evening in one of our favorite restaurants like the Grove or Headquarters …
For the weekend, we’re taking the ferry in downtown Auckland to go to Waiheke Island. It’s only half an hour away, very convenient.
We have rented a villa on the hills with a stunning view over Omiha Bay. The sherry on the cake is that the house comes with a free car. So, no worries for us to discover this beautiful island.

The 3 km long Onetangi beach is a nice spot for a walk on the sand and if brave enough at this time of the year for a swim in the sea. Palm beach is also a nice place with its boulders not as long as Onetangi and if you cross the boulders you’ll be right in the middle of the naturist section ...

As opposed to the South Island and Martinborough, here none of the wine tastings is free. But it doesn’t stop us touring the island’s wineries.
During our weekend, we managed to visit 8 wineries out of the 20+ vineyards with cellar doors. We were right in the middle of the harvest season.
Poderi Crisci Estate, located on the Eastern side of the island … A beautiful and luxurious estate who does not deserve the credit. All the wines we tasted were awful!
Obsidian in Onetangi is located up the hill from the Onetangi beach. The wine tasting was very disappointing. None of their wines stood out.
Batch Winery with an amazing view over the Auckland bay and most specifically the Omiha Bay at sunset. Nevertheless, the wines are nothing to be mentioned. Due to the size of the winery, they’re producing the wines for some of the small vineyards which do not have in-house facilities.
Kennedy Point Vineyard, at Kennedy Point, close to the vehicle ferry is the organic and biodynamic winery of the Island. Our expectations were high but were not met.
Miro Vineyard is tucked nicely into the rolling hills above the shores of Onetangi beach. Their wines are ok but not great. However, lunch at Casita Miro is a must with a succulent selection of tapas. It’s inspired by life of the Catalan region with Gaudi-esque mosaics all over the restaurant and the vineyard.
Te Motu vineyard has the oldest vines planted on the Island. Great reds and a white made with the Flora varietal (crossing bred from California between Semillon and Gewürztraminer). The first and only batch as this will be the sole attempt because the vines have been pulled up.
Their Shed restaurant is one of the best restaurant on the Island! Flavorsome and delicious dishes to die for. We were lucky to have an entire fish-night when dining there and the manager is French….
At Goldie Estate in Putiki Bay, we tasted a very good viognier and beautiful reds. Good wines as we like them.
Passage Rock vineyard offers exceptional wines in Waiheke. Located on the Eastern side of Waiheke in a cute small estate, they have indisputably the best wines for us on the Island, whether red or white.

Time was too short to explore the far east coast of the Island only reachable via gravel road…
And we missed to taste on the island the best viognier we ever had from Cable Bay vineyard.




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Haere Ra Aotearoa ! 

Auckland at sunset!
Auckland at sunset!