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

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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.

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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 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 14

We took today to go to the National Portrait Gallery as Cynthia wanted to see the Tudor and Elizabethan portraits. You see these paintings all the time in various context but seeing them in person is quite remarkable.

From there we decided to go to Fortnam and Mason to have high tea. When we got there it was still closed and they would not open till noon. We did notice that there were barricades up for the New Years Day parade so we decided to watch part of that as it was only about an hour away.

Interestingly enough, most of the marching bands were from Texas.

London New Years Parade

There were bands from Austin and Dallas as well.

There were also some London specific entries to the parade

London New Years Parade

London New Years Parade

London New Years Parade

London New Years Parade

We stayed and watched the parade for about an hour before deciding it was too cold and headed inside of Fortnam and Mason to experience high tea.

Fortnam and Mason Staircase

We enjoyed a nice tea and a tray of finger sandwiches and made our way back to the hotel to pack. Tonight we had our going away dinner and are preparing to come home.

cynrthiafortnam

It has been a wonderful trip to London.

London – Day 11

cynstpauls

Another great day of sunshine. Cynthia had said she wanted to climb to the top of St. Paul’s while in London so we made our way to the cathedral after breakfast. We explored the cathedral (no photography allowed inside} and, knowing I could never make the climb, Cynthia headed up the 528 steps to the very top while I took the opportunity to do some photography down by the river.

St. Paul's

St. Paul's From Millennium Bridge

St. Paul's From Millennium Bridge

We had arranged to meet up on the Millennium Bridge once Cynthia had finished her climb so we could go exploring some more of London.

We made our way to see St. Bride’s Church

St Bride's Church

St Bride's Church

We also walked down Fleet Street to see the art deco buildings. I wanted to see the street that was the home of British national newspapers until the 1980s

spaceinvaders

It was an interesting walk that took us to the house where Dr. Samuel Johnson lived and where were told we could find the statue to his beloved cat, Hodge.

Hodge The Cat

After walking around all day I wanted to get a photo of Battersea Station, the power station many of us know from the cover of the Pink Floyd “Animals” album. Unfortunately, the building is undergoing major restoration as it is being turned into a living and shopping space.

Battersea Station

All in all, though, a good day.

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 5

Double Decker Bus

Museums, museums, museums. We hit the British Museum and the National Gallery. A full day exercise. Both museums are fantastic.

British Museum

National Gallery

I even had the opportunity to add another shot to my “Camera On The Floor” series. This is the National Gallery Dome.

National Gallery Dome

We also strolled about Trafalgar Square. Great to finally see it. They do need to flush out some, if not all, of the buskers. So tacky.

Trafalgar Square

We also made the trek out to see the Christmas lights at Oxford Street this evening. Not worth the effort if you ask me. Too crowded and the lights are not all that great.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Things should be calming down for us for the next few days.

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.

London – Day 2

After yesterday’s adventures we slept good. Woke up, had breakfast and with another sunny day stretching out in front of us we decided to make our way to Greenwich to see the sites. This starts with a quick Tube ride to Westminster

Big Ben and Parliment

Then a walk past the London Eye to get to the ferry

London Eye

And then it’s a 45 minutes ferry ride down the Thames to get to Greenwich.

Cynthia Reviews The Safety Instructions

Headed to Greenwich

Along the way we spotted a dazzle ship. Apparently these are part of an art installation where the ship is painted in specially-commissioned ‘dazzle’ designs to pay homage to artists’ wartime contribution.

Dazzle Ship London - Tobias Rehberger - HMS President

We visited the Painted Hall in the Old Royal Naval College which was really interesting to see.

Painted Hall | Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

This gave me the opportunity to take some wide angle shots using the technique of setting a timer on the camera and placing it on the floor facing up. It’s the best way I have found to get some of the amazing details present in ceiling paintings.

Painted Hall | Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Painted Hall | Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

From there we made our way up to the observatory so we could stand on the Prime Meridian

Prime Meridian in Greenwich

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Then we went down to the Maritime Museum which was interesting, but no photography allowed. But there was a large ship in a bottle on display in front of the museum

Ship In A Bottle - National Maritime Museum

We grabbed a late lunch and then headed back to our hotel. We’re taking it easy tonight as we have run ourselves just a little ragged. Tomorrow should be a good day for hitting some of the museums.

London – Day 1

We were so tired after arriving in London and that, combined with the sun going down by 4:00 pm we could not manage to stay awake after about 5:30 pm. We knew going to sleep that early might result in some problems, but interestingly enough we managed to pretty much sleep through to 7:30 the next morning. It was still dark outside so we both thought it must be like 2 am or so. We were very relieved that was not the case.

We got dressed and had breakfast and were greeted by a sunny day with big blue skies.

We found our way to the Tower Of London

Tower Of London

Tower Of London

Tower Of London

We didn’t take the tour as we wanted to fully exploit the sunny day. We moved on from the Tower Of London to the Tower Bridge.

Cynthia and Me @ The Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge

Here we decided to take the tour. We were especially keen to see the new glass floor in the upper walkways of the bridge that had just recently opened.

Tower Bridge Glass Floor

Glass Floor @ Tower Bridge

Glass Floor @ Tower Bridge

Glass Floor @ Tower Bridge

After touring the bridge we took a rather leisurely stroll down the Thames just to take in the sites.

The Navigators sculpture by David Kemp

The Millennium Bridge

Turnips

The Shard

Later that afternoon we had plans to meet up with some friends for dinner. We set The Shard as our meeting point.

The Shard

When we met up we took a stroll through Borough Market and sampled some of the foods and then headed to The George Inn, a pub that was founded in 1677.

From there we all moved on to have dinner at Rabot 1745, an amazing restaurant where everything on the menu is cocoa-centric. Basically using either sweet chocolate or cacao in the making of the dish. Even my martini had cacao flavored vodka.

After a fantastic dinner we walked with our friends and explored the riverside after dark. It was then we noticed that The Shard was treating the city of London to a light show.

The Shard Light Show

The Shard Light Show

All in all, a very successful first day if our utter exhaustion and blistered feet are any indication.