New Zealand Day 8 – Rotorua to Tongariro National Park

Rotorua

Today we bid farewell to Rotorua and all of its burbling, steaming oddness and made our way to Tongariro. Fortunately, I had my trusty co-pilots and navigators with me.

navigator

As you can imagine, the drive was amazing. We were blessed with more sunshine so everything looked fantastic.

We stopped and Huka Falls which is easily accessible from the main road. These falls are a spectacular blue color and very fast moving.

Huka Falls

Huka Falls

Huka Falls

After only a few hours we reached our accommodations at Tongariro National Park. We arrived a bit early so we were unable to check in right away. This afforded us the opportunity to go see the Tawhai Falls which were only a 20 minute trek off the highway. I carried my tripod and filters to take some long exposure shots of the falls.

jayfalls2

Tawhai Falls

We got ourselves checked into the hotel and found we had the most spectacular view of Mount Ngauruhoe, the mountain that was used for Mount Doom in the Lord Of The Rings movies.

Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom)

Tonight we had dinner and are taking it easy as we prepare to drive to Wellington and on from there to the south island.

New Zealand Day 7 – White Island and Wai-O-Tapu

IMG_4440

We woke up to a glorious sunny day which was good, because our plan was to fly by helicopter to White Island, an active volcano off the coast of Rotorua.

We got up and had some breakfast and found our way to the lake shore and the offices of Volcanic Air Safaris, the company that we had bookd for our adventure.

Besides Cynthia and myself, there were two other people who had booked the tour so that meant a small group headed to the island. And, as luck would have it, they were also photographers so they would not be impatient while I took my time photographing the island.

White Island

We took off a little before 9:00a am for our 35 minute flight to White Island and the view was simply spectacular.

White Island

We circled the island and then landed in an open area, not far from the crater lake

White Island

We spent the next hour and half hiking around while our guide told us the history of the island.

White Island

White Island

White Island

White Island

White Island

White Island

White Island

Cynthia was very pleased with herself for overcoming her fears of flying in a helicopter and of walking on an active volcano. Truth be told, we both agree that this was the most amazing thing we’ve done on any of our travels.

When we returned to the city we went back to the hotel and quickly went back out to visit the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Mostly I wanted to see the Champagne Pool…the rest I was not so enthusiastic about which was a good thing, too, because we were fairly tired after the previous adventure.

The Champagne Pool, named for the tiny bubbles the fizzle and pop on the surface, did not disappoint.

Champagne Pool Waiotapu geothermal area

Champagne Pool Waiotapu geothermal area

Tomorrow we’re headed to the Tongariro National Park and hoping for more good weather.

New Zealand Day 6 – Whitianga To Rotorua

We got up early and found breakfast at a place called Jandals Cafe. In New Zealand, jandals are how they refer to sandals or flip-flops. It was a casual, local space and the menu was AMAZING!

jandals

We opted for the Handle The Jandal Breaky (breaky means breakfast) and it was SOOO good. The tomato was sweet, the eggs were fluffy and you can’t see it in the photo, but there was toasted homemade bread under that pile of yum.

jandals2

We got on our way early and again, the weather was great and the scenery was just unbelievable.

Open Road

We stopped a few times for some photos

Cynthia Bridge

But we kept things moving today so we could get to the Hobbiton Movie Set.

Hobbiton

This is the place where they filmed the Shire scenes for the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. The tour is pricey. And it’s a little on the long side at 2 hours. But it has to be this way because it’s a guided tour on private property. Frankly, I could have taken the whole thing in in about 30 minutes. But it was still fun to do.

jayhobbit2

Hobbiton

Hobbiton

The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn where you can sit and have a beer or a cider before departing the movie set

The Green Dragon Inn - Hobbiton

The Green Dragon Inn - Hobbiton

The Green Dragon Inn - Hobbiton

From Hobbiton it was on to Rotorua where we will be staying for a few days. The area is known for its geothermal activity and there’s steam coming up out of the ground all over the place. And it smells like sulfer here.

Geothermal Activity - Rotorua

Tomorrow we take a helicopter to White Island, an active volcano.

New Zealand Day 5 – Pahia to Whitianga

Today was a long day of driving. Over 250 mile all told. And not 250 miles over straight, level roads. Oh no, it was up and down mountains via twisty curvy roads. There was also slow, stop and go traffic getting through Auckland heading south.

The scenery was spectacular, but there were few options to stop and photograph it. Still, we managed some good shots.

The jet lag has not worn off, so we’re still waking up very early. Since we were up an hour before sunrise we decided to go to the beach which is down the road about a block to capture this

Sunrise Paihia

When we checked out of the hotel and started our journey we decided to stop in and see the Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa. This public toilet was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who lived in Kawakawa from 1975 until his death in 2000.

Hundertwasser Kawakawa toilet

Hundertwasser Kawakawa toilet

Hundertwasser Kawakawa toilet

Hundertwasser Kawakawa toilet

From there it was scenic spot after the other.

View From The Road

Orewa Beach

Hatfields Beach New Zealand

Whitianga Beach

We arrived in Whitianga in the late afternoon very tired, but went out for dinner where Cynthia had Coromandel mussels. These things are huge! And green! And delicious.

Coromandel Mussels

We’re beat. Tomorrow we drive to Rotorua.

New Zealand Day 4 – Bay of Islands

Today was our day to explore the Bay OF Islands region. Our first stop was to go see the Haruru Falls which are about 10 minutes from our hotel.

When we arrived at the falls we pulled into the small car park and were immediately accosted by hungry, free range chickens.

chickens

From the car park it was a very short walk to the falls.

Haruru Falls

After visiting the falls and laughing as the chickens accosted new arrivals we set off to go to Russell. We needed to find our way to Opua to catch the ferry and as I went to enter the destination into the GPS the GPS just died. I used my recently repaired iPhone to get directions back to the hotel to see if I could sort out the GPS. After fidgeting with it for awhile I decided it needed to be reset. To reset the device required a small pin to push the tiny reset button. In these situations I tend to use a paperclip, but I didn’t have one with me.

Cynthia loaned me an earring which I used to push the reset button and, sure enough, it started working again. Cynthia’s jewelry saved the day.

With our GPS back up and running we set course for Opua where we could catch the ferry over to Okiato. From Okiato it’s only a 10 minute drive to Russell.

Ferry

Ferry from Opua to Okiato, New Zealand

It should be mentioned that Cynthia hates boats

Cynthia Hates Ferries

Cynthia is a trooper and the ferry ride is less than 10 minutes long so she managed it just fine.

Russell is a wonderful little town. Very scenic and laid back. And it’s quite easy to walk around and take in the sites.

Tree Swing in Russell, New Zealand

The Bay at Russell, New Zealand

Moreton Bay Fig Tree - Russell, New Zealand

Russell, New Zealand

Did I mention is was very laid back?

Sleeping Dog

After exploring Russell we drove north up to Rawhiti. The drive was spectacular and passed through forests and up and down mountains and past various bays and inlets. Unfortunately, there were not many places to stop and take photos as the road just doesn’t have many options for pulling over.

Ferns in Manawaora

Manawaora, Northland, New Zealand

Rawhiti New Zeland

We ended up on some pretty rough, unpaved roads and eventually decided it would be prudent to drive back to Russell and then back to our hotel in Paihia.

When we got back to Russell we had lunch at a place called The Duke Of Marlborough. The back of the menu had the history of the restaurant and we were amused to learn that the Duke of Marlborough began its life in 1827 as “Johnny Johnston’s Grog Shop”. A superior name, to be sure.

After lunch we had a short walk in Russell to see Christ Church before catching the ferry back to Okiato so we could drive back to the hotel in Paihia.

Christ Church - Russell, New Zealand

It has been a great day. Tomorrow we drive to Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula. This will be the longest day of driving on this trip at 256 miles.

New Zealand Day 3 – Auckland to Paihia, Bay of Islands

Today we said goodbye to Auckland and picked up our rental to drive to Paihia in the north. The beautiful Bay Of Islands.

We were collected at the hotel by Europecar and taken to sign our rental agreement and pick up our vehicle.

The car was nice and practically brand new with only about 4,000 kilometers on it. Built in sat nav and all the amenities.

car1

We loaded up and pulled out and before we had gotten too far I noticed the oil light was on. We drove back to the rental place and the manager suggested topping off the oil and I suggested that driving off into the remote wilds in a car that had low oil combined with low mileage didn’t fill me with confidence so they swapped cars for us. It was the least they could do.

The new car was not as new, but was a Mitsubishi Outlander with very low mileage.

car2

I like this vehicle much more that the precious one so I am quite happy now.

We packed up the replacement and drove off.

The weather was good and we made good time on our 140 mile journey to Paihia. After clearing the city we pulled off at a service station to get some road snacks and so I could start wiring the car to charge our various devices like iPhones, iPads, the GoPro and my spare camera batteries.

gadgets

The drive was fantastic and the scenery was spectacular. Sadly, there was not an abundance of places to pull of and photograph the views. I especially enjoyed the windy mountain roads that climbed and dove through the mountains. Cynthia, on the other hand, was not so thrilled. Especially after seeing the warning signs.

signs

Before arriving in Paihia we stopped to view and photograph the Whangarei Falls.

Whangarei Falls

Whangarei Falls

After that we drove on to Paihia and checked into our hotel. Once that was done we went exploring and found some dinner.

I have to say, Paihia is a beautiful town and we are happy to be here. Tomorrow we explore the area in greater detail.

Paihia New Zealand Lending Library

Paihia New Zealand Public Toilet

Paihia New Zealand

Paihia New Zealand

New Zealand – Day 2

jaycyn

We woke up around 4 am due to the jet lag. Hopefully by tomorrow we will have our sleep cycles under control.

On this day we were scheduled to spend it in Auckland City. Frankly, Auckland is not all that exciting. It’s much like any other big city and we’ve seen plenty of big cities. As we pondered our options Cynthia found a brochure in our literature that talked about Waiheke Island which is only a 40 minute ferry ride from the harbor here in Auckland. We thought we would give it a go and off we went.

waiheke

Buying tickets for the ferry we spotted (and Cynthia photographed) this sign.

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They are very protective of the island and don’t want any pests carried over. Cynthia pointed out that if she had any skinks hidden in her bag they came from New Zealand and not from home.

We boarded the ferry, skink free, and before we knew it, we were at Waiheke.

The sky was overcast but we didn’t let that stop us from renting a car and heading off to explore.

Right off the bat, we were overjoyed with our decision. The island is relatively small and filled with twisty, turny roads. Each turn brought us to something amazing. Beaches, hidden coves, hills and valleys…

Waiheke

Man O War Bay - Waiheke

Cynthia was happy to see her first sheep of the journey and she captured this wonderful image of two lambs.

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We had a great time exploring the island. Though small, it was sometimes confusing and we did get a little lost…

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(photo by Cynthia)

But we didn’t mind because we knew it was a small island and we’d eventually get back on track.

We wrapped up the journey at a lovely little restaurant with a deck that looked out over one of the many bays on the island. And toward the end the sun even peeked out and gave us a glimpse of the the true beauty of the island

Waiheke

The restaurant also featured some rather fearless seagulls which swarmed the table as soon as we got up to leave and devoured all of our scraps.

Seagull Want My Food

While waiting on the ferry to go back to the mainland I did manage to drop and smash my iPhone. Fortunately there was a repair shop near the hotel and I was back up and running in less than an hour after returning back to base.

We took some time and got some rest before heading out to dinner and going to the top of the Sky Tower which towers some 1076 feet over the city and offers some amazing views of Auckland.

Sky Tower - Auckland

View From The Sky Tower

It was pretty cool to see, but we didn’t stay long as we are pretty tired and have a big day tomorrow as we head off to the Bay Of Islands in the north.

London – Day 13

Up Periscope

Today our plan was to go see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. We got there early and staked out a great spot for watching the ceremony.

Changing Of The Guard At Buckingham Palace

Changing Of The Guard At Buckingham Palace

Changing Of The Guard At Buckingham Palace

Changing Of The Guard At Buckingham Palace

One of the reasons we had a good spot for viewing the ceremony is due to the fact that we met a remarkable man who was also there to see the changing of the guard. His name is Michael and he is 80 years old and was one of the children evacuated during the blitz in WWII.

Our new friend, Michael

He was a wealth of information about the war, the crown and London in general. After the ceremony he invited us to a pub to have a drink and then proceeded to walk with us all around Westminster. He showed us many things and told us many stories as we walked and talked for hours.

Westminster Abbey

After we finished our specially guided mini-tour with this amazing man we found our way back to the hotel to freshen up, get some dinner and prepare for the evening’s festivities.

Good friends and good times for NYE 2015 in London

Though we are not usually the type of people who go out on new years eve, we had managed to secure tickets to attend the The Mayor of London’s NYE 2014 Fireworks which takes place on the Thames River. Since they had limited ticket sales to 100,000 we felt that it might not be TOO crowded to go down and ring in the new year with a mass of London revellers. It really turned out quite well. It felt safe and the people were so fun and friendly. We met up with our friends Michael and Katrina and rang in the new year in amazing style. The fireworks display was one of the best I have ever seen in my life. Words can’t even describe what it was like to stand there and have the London Eye erupt right before your eyes.

New Years Eve - London

New Years Eve - London

Fortunately our hotel is not too far from the site where the celebration was held so we were able to walk home after the event rather than have to try and crowd into the subway or find a cab.

What a fantastic day! Tomorrow is our last full day and we will likely take it easy as we get ready to come home.

London – Day 10

London Eye

Another bright, beautiful day in London. Temps are in the upper 30’s so it’s quite brisk. We had intended to go to St. Paul’s today, but it’s only open for services on Sunday so perhaps tomorrow.

London Eye

Today we took advantage of the weather and took a spin on The London Eye. It’s a bit pricey for a 30 minute ride, but the views are spectacular.

London Eye - Big Ben and Parliment

London Eye

From there we made our way to The British Library via King’s Cross Station.

King's Cross

King's Cross

No photography allowed at The British Library, sadly, as there are some very cool exhibits there including a Gutenberg Bible and some original hand-written Beatles song lyrics. We even got to see an inverted Jenny in the philately exhibit.

After that we just enjoyed some more walking about and taking in the sites before heading back to the hotel.

I should note that subway travel has been complicated as the Central and District lines are not running while they undergo maintenance.

St. Pancras London

London – Day 4

Christmas Carols In Victoria Station

Christmas is in the air in London, that’s for sure. Carolers in various places as we move about the city. It’s quite festive and fun.

Today we made our way to the Sherlock Holmes Museum. It’s cheesy, as you might expect, but you can’t go to London and NOT visit 221B Baker Street.

Sherlock Holmes Museum

Even William The Sheepie got in on the fun.

Sherlock Holmes Museum

We walked around the neighborhood and found our way to The Windsor Castle Pub which is the meeting place of the London Handlebar Club.

Handlebar Club - The Windsor Castle Pub

From there we found our way to the Victoria Albert Museum to make up for missing it yesterday.

It is a fantastic place but as usual, not my cup of tea for photography. But I did enjoy seeing it. And I made my best effort to get an interesting photo of the ‘Rotunda Chandelier’ sculpture using my circular fisheye.

Rotunda Chandelier in Victoria and Albert Museum

After running around town during the day we made our way back to the neighborhood near our hotel for a late lunch/early dinner. From there it was back to the hotel to freshen up and then we made our way back to the Tower Bridge and had a nice photo walk down the Thames to the Millennium Bridge.

Tower Bridge

The Shard

Millennium Bridge

A great, but tiring day.

London – Day 3

A BEAR!

Today was the end of our glorious sunshine. Clouds have rolled in, but fortunately no rain to speak of. We took The Tube to South Kensington to visit the Natural History Museum with the intention of also visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Natural History Museum, London

The Natural History Museum is a fantastic building with an amazing collection of animal specimens ranging from insects to dinosaurs. I think the dinosaur exhibit is the most popular, especially with the kids.

Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum, London

I was struck by the beauty of the building itself. No tripods allowed, but I found a railing where I could perch my camera and shoot some longer exposure shots which yielded some good results.

Natural History Museum, London

When we left the Natural History Museum it was out intention to go to the Victoria Albert Museum, but we noticed that the Science Museum was right next door so we popped in there for a visit. I was curious to see the newly opened information age exhibit.

There were some very cool displays featuring technology that I was happy to see.

1959 Pegasus Computer

IBM System 360

I will say it is odd going to a museum and seeing technology like the Tandy TRS-80 that I used when it was new as a museum exhibit behind protective glass.

After we were done with the Science Museum we determined that we were a little too beat to try and tackle the Victoria Albert Museum so we headed back to the hotel to rest after having a late lunch. After we rested up a bit we caught The Tube out to Westminster to get some long exposure night shots.

Big Ben and Parliament

London Eye Up close

We walked around and took in the sites and then made our way back to the hotel for some snacks and now for some sleep.

Iceland – Day 14

drivingday14

The Golden Circle

After the somewhat disappointing rain and gloominess of yesterday we were quite happy to see blue skies punctuated with fluffy white clouds. We’ve had more sun than rain on this trip and today was just tipping the weather scales that much more in our favor.

Today we made our way back to Reykjavik as we wind down our Icelandic adventure. On the way we drove what is referred to as the “Golden Circle” to see the sites.

Included on the Golden Circle is Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. I would have shot this from the top of the back, but it was a bit too windy for me. I opted for this lower angle.

Kerið

From there we made our way to Geysir The Great Geyser to see the original Geyser for which all Geysers are named.

Geysir - The Great Geyser

Sadly, Geysir is not very active. However, it’s little brother Strokkur will go off every few minutes.

Srokkur Geyser

Srokkur Geyser

Strokkur Geyser

Srokkur Geyser

From there we drive to Gullfoss which is one of the most striking and beautiful waterfalls in all of Iceland. And if the sun is shining you get treated to a rainbow along with the majestic waterfall. Fortunately for us, it was a beautiful sunny day.

Gullfoss With Rainbow

After visiting Gullfoss we made our way to Þingvellir National Park. The dramatic Þingvellir landscape was formed as a result of sitting along the border between the North American and European tectonic plates. It’s really something to see.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir is where the parliament of Iceland was first founded around the year 930 and where it continued to meet until 1798.

Þingvellir

A flag marks the spot where the speaker of parliament stood. The speaker of parliament would stand atop the Logberg, or Law Rock, to read the law to the members of parliament in the valley below. It really is a magical place.

By the time we finished exploring the park it was getting pretty late so we set our GPS for our hotel in Reykjavik. We drove in to town just as the Icelandic gay pride festivities were breaking up. The streets were a bit crowded with rainbow wearing/waiving revellers so it was slow going to get to the hotel.

Now we are checked in and resting up for a day at the Blue Lagoon tomorrow. I think it will be very relaxing and just what we need before we wrap this Iceland trip up.

Steam Vent

Iceland – Day 8 – Part 1

DrivingDay7

Lake Mývatn´s Amazing Landscape

Today we left Akureyri to go see the Goðafoss Waterfall and then make our way to the Lake Mývatn area.

Goðafoss is not the largest or most powerful waterfall in Iceland, but it is impressive. I took the time to setup my filters to allow me to take longer exposures and blur the water for a more appealing effect.

Goðafoss

Goðafoss

Goðafoss

We got there early and beat most of the tourists, but they arrived in bulk pretty quickly and soon the whole area was overrun. We got out of there and continued on to the Lake Mývatn.

Lake Mývatn literally translates to Midge Lake and let me tell you, there are a LOT of midges. Fortunately we brought insect repellant.

Lake Mývatn is gorgeous. We drove all the way around it before making our way to the Námaskarð geothermal area. This area is volcanic and features some of the most alien landscapes we have encountered during our trip to Iceland so far. Steam is just venting to the sky everywhere you look.

Námaskarð geothermal area

Námaskarð geothermal area

Námaskarð geothermal area

Námaskarð geothermal area

When we drove up Cynthia and I simply ooh’d and ahhh’d at the fantastic site. When we got out of the car the oohs and ahhs quickly turned to “oh my god, the smell!” – There’s a lot of sulfur in these geothermal areas and it stinks to high heaven. Cynthia says it’s the smell of troll farts.

Along with the the steam vents are the very creepy mud pots. The mud of a mudpot takes the form of a viscous, often bubbling, slurry. And it it burbles and pops like a living thing.

Námaskarð geothermal area

Námaskarð geothermal area

Námaskarð geothermal area

This place is truly alien. It has been said before and I have to agree that sometimes being in Iceland is like being on another planet.