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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Anzac Day 2015

One hundred years on – today is the centenary of the Gallipoli landings.  Record numbers are expected at Dawn Parades all over the country, and we drove to Foxton to join in with approximately 2000 others for this year’s service.  Gathering with all the other participants at the RSA building, we walked along the dark streets behind the parade, following the military contingent and the veterans.  and then we all gathered around the cenotaph.  Speeches were made, wreaths were laid, the names of the local fallen were read out and a white wooden cross was planted in the honour of each man.  But, we were reminded, the fight goes on, and some of our military are serving overseas at different locations in the present day.  As the sky started to lighten the hauntingly beautiful Last Post was played from the hill top.

The Last Post

Everyone clapped as the parade marched back, in recognition and appreciation of the military and veterans there today.

P4250013 Part of the parade

P4250017Wreaths laid at the Memorial

P4250020 Hill of Remembrance in Ihakara Gardens, Foxton

It was a very poignant Dawn Parade and we felt very privileged to be here at this very special 100th  Centenary celebrations.  Anzac Day is very special indeed to New Zealanders and Australians alike, forged all those years ago in the horrors of war, and the common bond keeps us closely aligned in times of trouble.

We stopped off at the National Army Museum earlier in the week and the staff were busy making the finishing touches for their Anzac Day celebrations.  The 6.00am Dawn Parade was to be followed by an Army Style breakfast, and Armoured Personnel Carrier rides.  It would have been quite an occasion to take part in.

P4230065 Army tents ready for action on the big day

We saw the many thousands of hand crafted poppies on display, one for each person on the Tears on Greenstone roll of honour database from all services, Army, Navy, Air Force and Merchant Navy.  Over 30,000 of these were made and received from all over New Zealand.


P4238838 Hand crafted poppy display

P4238846Mt Ruapehu glimpsed  through NZ flags at Waiouru

P4238836A lighter moment – in the men’s loos

Friday, April 24, 2015

Taupo to Himatangi

Our trip from Ngongotaha to Taupo was just under 100kms.  We arrived at the NZMCA site at Taupo Airport after looking around the Lava Glass complex and lunching at the cafe there.  There has been work done here at Taupo, more trees have been cut down, we noticed, and parts of the grassy area has been blocked off from use and reseeded.   Once we had parked up as we wanted,  it was time to head back to town to replenish the larder, and refill one of the gas bottles. 

P4230038 NZMCA site at Taupo Airport

P4220034 Lake Taupo was looking a little moody as the clouds rolled in.

It was getting darker and darker as we drove back to camp with our supplies, past steam vents in the hillside.  5kms from camp the rain came down with a vengeance, and we were concerned because we had left the roof vents wide open.  Sure enough, rain had come through, all over items left out on the table, and the quilt on the bed got quite a wetting too.   Who would have thought that the weather would change from a nice sunny day to a heavy downpour in such a short time.

P4220036 Steam coming from the hillside at Taupo

Staying just one night at Taupo, we packed up in the morning and headed off to the dump station, one recently re-opened in Tokaanu.  Dump stations are not usually found in very attractive settings,  after all, that’s where vanners go to get rid of all the “nasties”.  But this particular one overlooked the bottom of Lake Taupo, water fowl were serenely padding around, the area was nicely planted, and it was close by a freedom camping area. 

P4230044 Tokaanu end of Lake Taupo

With that business taken care of, our next stop was the National Army Museum at Waiouru.  With Anzac Day fast approaching, there was a lot going on preparing for the big day.  We had to wait at the back of the building to get into the caravan parking area while an Army truck was unloaded.  One of the Assistant Curators came to see what the hold up was in the car park.  “Won’t be long now till they have finished”, he told us.  “But if you need any more help – you are on your own.  I’m off to lunch!”  Luckily the unloading didn’t take too much longer and our car and caravan were soon neatly stowed in a car park.  Army tents had been erected on the grassy areas, all sorts of deliveries were being made inside the building, even the cafe was receiving brand new tables and chairs.  Everything had to be spic and span for Anzac Day on Saturday.

P4230051 Hold up in the museum car park

P4230067 Cloud topped Mt Ruapehu from the museum car park

Lunch over, it was time to move on, down SH1 to Himitangi.  Autumn had definitely arrived, and we passed trees coloured in gorgeous shades of red, orange and gold.  This pretty grove of gold toned beauties was close to Hunterville.

P4230069 Autumn coloured trees beside the road

It was caravan club rally time at Himitangi Beach Motor Camp this weekend.  That’s surely a nice way to complete our four week caravan trip.  Five vans made it an extra long weekend and arrived on Thursday, including us three.

P4240005 Three in a row at Himitangi

Other club members arrived on Saturday.  It’s going to be a busy old weekend here at Himitangi Beach Camp for the camp managers, with three caravan clubs in attendance.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Vision of Beauty at Taupo

That's another thing ticked off our holiday list – a visit to the Sculpture Garden at Lava Glass.   I had heard of this amazing place from a friend, so today was the day to check it out.  There was plenty of parking for the car and caravan, it was a lovely warm sunny day,  and the entrance fee was quite modest,  especially with our seniors discount.  The Sculpture Garden came about because of a light bulb moment from the glass blowers, and was officially opened in 2014.  Set in an acre of manicured grounds lie more than 500 glass sculptures. The gentle walk took us around ponds, through fields of glass flowers, and past the water tumbling down the 15 piece waterfall. Created by Lynden Over and his team, the pieces are the biggest pieces of glass ever blown in New Zealand. 


The large Rainbow Sculpture was the first work of art to be seen as visitors enter the garden.  The pleasing form in such beautiful colours made this one of our favourite pieces.

P4228815 Rainbow Sculpture

Spiral Flowers were a challenge to make and the early trials were dismal failures.  Finally, a technique involving four glass artists working together made the spiral flowers a reality.  The glass spiral was drawn out in one movement, some applying cold air while others applied hot air, while the master craftsman swirled the shape around in a seamless fluid motion.

P4220009A garden of Spiral Flowers

The five giant orbs making up the Glass Forest were spectacular.  Built from the inside out, these solid glass balls weigh 8kgs each and took 2 months to cool down.  The detailed flowers and mushrooms had been made previously and were added in during the construction process.  Seen up close, the detail is amazing.


P4220012The Glass Forest

What’s taken Robin’s fancy? Here he is looking through the Giant Kaleidoscopes to see the ever changing patterns created by mirrors and different coloured pieces of glass.

P4228827 Checking out the Giant Kaleidoscopes

P4228819 Water trickled down the glass waterfall

P4220021 And giant flowers grew in profusion

There was so much more that what we have shown you here  to see, admire, and take in, so a quiet contemplative amble around the garden is a must.  Highly recommended – and the cafe was great too!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Rail Cruising in Rotorua

It was a misty start to the morning at the NZMCA park at Ngongotaha.  Luckily the mist cleared away and the sun came out for our Rail Cruising adventure in the early afternoon.

P4210086 Misty morning at Ngongotaha

Our self-drive rail trip started at Mamaku Railway Station, a log cabin type purpose built facility.  The passengers all gathered for the obligatory but very necessary safety briefing, then we sent on our way.

P4210088 Arriving at Mamaku Station

The railway line into Rotorua was first planned in 1877  to bring tourists to view the famous Pink and White Terraces, then known as the 8th Wonder of the World. The famous terraces disappeared when Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886, and the railway was finally completed in 1894.  The line eventually closed and Rotorua Railway leased the section from Mamaku to Tarukenga after it lay unused and overgrown for the last 13 years, and the business venture was officially opened in 2012.

P4210103 A trio of happy rail cruisers

Four of the units were sent on their way at intervals.  Geoff joined us and sat in front of the four seater car, while the pair of us were in the back, with Robin being the designated driver.  Not that there was any driving to do, as these things are automated and run themselves.  But someone has to be in charge in case of emergencies, to call on the radio for help, or apply the handbrake.
 P4210095 Geoff was the front seat passenger

The railway line took us through the Dansey Scenic Reserve, full of beautiful native forest.  Rimu trees with their distinctive foliage were in abundance, from huge forest giants to the many young trees we saw alongside the track.  Tree ferns and lancewoods were also plentiful.

P4210094 Native forest in the Dansey Scenic Reserve

We cruised along at 20km, driving through a deep cutting covered in ferns, and listening to the onboard commentary which told us of the areas we were passing through.  Now and again we caught sight of the rail cruiser ahead of us, but usually we appeared to be all on our own.  Not that we were of course, there were two extra cars following us further down the track, and the monitor back at the station was keeping track of us by GPS.   

P4218806 Travelling through the deep cutting

Our halfway point was Tarukenga Station.  The passengers got out to stretch their legs while the carts were turned around on the nifty little turntable. 

P4210099 Turning our rail cruiser around

P4210101Time for a quick photo before the return journey

Each  cart is equipped with a generator in the rear, and these were turned on before we departed on our return trip.  We needed this extra bit of help to deal with the steep 1.35 uphill gradient on the return journey.  Back we went, through farmland and the lovely Danseys Scenic Reserve once more, and catching glimpses of Lake Rotorua.  Approaching Mamuku Railway Station, our 19km return trip had come to an end.  Ours was the last trip of the day and we watched while the carts were turned around and prepared to be safely stored for the night.  It was a great trip with an interesting commentary, taking us through very pretty country indeed.

P4210107 Rail cruisers backed up by the storage units

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rotorua and Wingspan

What to visitors to Rotorua notice when they arrive?  The smell of sulphur, steam rising out of the ground, and bubbling hot pools.  It’s like entering another world – and having all that volcanic activity just beneath your feet is a bit scary.  Rotorua is one of the best known thermal areas in the world, and is always buzzing with bus loads of tourists.   They spilled from the buses down at Lake Rotorua this morning.  The lake was looking calm and peaceful and covered in little black scaups, also known as black teal, which are the only true diving ducks.  With their dark, almost black feathers and bright yellow eyes, they are pretty little ducks indeed, much quieter than the raucous mallards.

P4208771 Black Scaups

The helicopters were lined up on the wharf waiting for some rich overseas tourists to take a ride, over  Mokoia Island, which was the scene of a long ago Maori love story.  Tunanekai sat and played his flute across the water to his beloved Hinemoa, but she was a maiden of high birth, the marriage was forbidden.  Longing for her true love, one night Hinemoa decided to join him.  With the help of floating gourds, she swam all the way across the lake to the island.  In the face of such passion and commitment, the families relented and the couple were able to marry and went on to have a  long and happy life together.

Lake Rotorua and Mokoia Island

Just across the road from the Rotorua Hospital is Kuirau Park, full of steam rising from the gardens and hot water pools.  There is even a pool where visitors can sit and soak their feet after a hard day of sightseeing, if they are so inclined.  And best of all, this park is free to visit and enjoy – just keep to the paths to stay safe.

P4200085 Kuirau Park

Without doubt, the highlight of our day was a trip to Wingspan, Birds of Prey Trust, a place we had long wanted to visit. 

P4200042 Entrance to Wingspan

P4200043 Carving of Pouakai, the extinct Haast Eagle which had a 3m wingspan

We walked through the light and airy aviary, and peeped through the windows at hawks and owls – not at all easy to photograph through the mesh.  Wingspan takes in injured birds, and also has a captive breeding programme.  Many of the young birds are later successfully released into the wild.


P4208775Inside the aviary

The rain was coming down in sheets and we wondered whether the flying display would take place at 2.00pm.  Just like magic, the rain stopped in time, the falconers wiped and dried the seating, and the show started.  First we saw Ozzy, an eleven year old male falcon, and quite a small bird, when seen up close.  Flying free, he flew from one post to the other, just for a tiny taste of chicken. 

P4208781  NZ Falcon

We were reminded that these birds are wild, and occasionally take off to hunt and kill a rabbit or a bird. The birds are light, with some hollow bones, but pack a punch when they slam into their prey. The speed of these small birds is impressive, as we saw when Ozzy swooped down as the hand lure was swirled around.
P4208784 Here comes Ozzy

At the end of the flying display the public was invited to put on the falconer’s glove and hold some meat out for the bird.  After the kids had been up, nothing would hold Robin back from getting up close to one of these remarkable birds.  Ozzy then flew back to the aviary, and the next bird was brought out.

P4200080 Ozzy and Robin

Next out was Atareta, a seven year old female falcon, who are larger than the males.  She was put through her paces, using both a hand lure and a pole lure, with duck wings attached to simulate a wild bird.  There are only seven practising falconers in New Zealand, we were told, and most of them work at Wingspan.

P4208795 Andrew and Atareta

At the end of the display, I got a turn to have a falcon sit on my hand.  What a thrill that was, I can tell you!

P4208797 She has eaten her tidbits and ready to fly off

This was a great outing, and one that we will remember.  Congratulations to Wingspan Trust and their sponsors, for all the wonderful work they do, working with these wonderful protected birds.  Their numbers are even less than the kiwi, surprisingly.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Next stop - Ngongotaha

It is always a treat to travel along a “new to us” road as we did today, the  Old Te Aroha Road,  on part of our journey from Paeroa to Ngongotaha.  The towering Kaimai Range looked down over us as we travelled along the undulating road through lush green dairy country, with quite a sprinkling of bee hives too, we noticed.  We passed by a  memorial to the Kaimai Air Disaster.  On 3 July 1963 a DC-3 airliner crashed in the Kaimai Range,nd all 23 passengers and crew were killed in what remains the worst air crash within New Zealand.  This memorial, at Gordon, about 4.3 km southwest of the crash,  was dedicated on 5 July 2003 to mark the 40th anniversary of accident.

Memorial to Kaimai Air Disaster

Leaving the meandering county road behind, we travelled a short distance along SH29, before meeting up with SH5. The trees on either side of the road made such a pretty drive as we approached Fitzgerald Glade.  It had been quite some time since we had passed by the Glade and it was just as lovely as we remembered.

P4190006 Almost at Fitzgerald Glade

We made a quick stop at the cafe to pick up some lunch time goodies, and then I noticed a standing stone circle.  These would not be as ancient and historic as those scattered throughout the UK, but someone went to a lot of effort to put them there, balancing a smaller one on top of the base stones.  There must be a story behind them, but I couldn’t find a plaque nearby.  But I did find something to gladden my heart – a kune kune pig.  And was he/she pleased to see me – the pig came rushing up to the fence making little piggy grunts.  Which probably meant, feed me, feed me!  Maybe the pig's job was to be "Guardian of the Stones".

P4190009 Standing stones at Fitzgerald Glade

P4190008Guardian of the stones - a cute pig!

We caught up with Geoff and Eileen for lunch at a rest stop not too far from our destination.  The striking “Toi Tu Whenua” sculpture in brushed aluminium was made by Lewis Gardiner and seemed to have a touch of Easter Island about it.   A graduate of Rotorua Waiaraki Institute of Technology, this artist has exhibited internationally and is well known for his innovative style.

P4190014 Toi Tu Whenua sculpture at the approach to Rotorua

P4190019Parked at the lay-by with the aluminium sculpture behind

Then it was not too far till our stop for the next few nights, the brand new NZMCA park at Ngongotaha, which had it’s official opening in the weekend.   We have a busy time planned for our stay here in Rotorua – exciting plans which should be fun.