Rotorua, New Zealand
Today we have made an enormous jump south to Rotorua – 460km on the car’s clock in one day – that’s heck a lot of driving. Sadly there was no avoiding a drive like that given the things we want to see in the time we’ve got. The trouble with Northland is it’s just so in the wrong direction to everywhere else in NZ. I don’t begrudge it a bit though because it was a really nice place.
After breakfast we filled up with go-gas – petrol is about 1/2 the UK price – then made a quick call in the local Woolworths to see what they had. Just a food supermarket it turns out, but we stocked up with supplies for the journey there anyway. Weather was really beautiful when we said goodbye to Paihia and I was sad to leave. The return journey to Auckland via Highway 1 was a little less easy than the journey up on Saturday. Firstly the road menders had come out to play and we must have gone through at least 20 sets of roadworks in 3 hours. They very rarely stopped the traffic, but they would slow us down from 100km/h to 50km/h for a couple of kilometres, which was a nuisance. Come back in a year or two and the road North will be pristine! Secondly the lorries had appeared, so there was a constant shuffling of cars forwards past the latest lumbering lorry at each dual-carriageway passing place. And finally the weather was sunshine and showers. A lot of both. I would estimate it changed from one to the other every 15 mins, so much so I felt like Horatio Caine in CSI:Miami – sunglasses on; sunglasses off: sunglasses on… etc, etc.
But the motorway to Auckland appeared finally and we blasted through Auckland to the southern service station at Papakura for lunch. There was a craft shop in the service station and Wendy got talking to the woman there about quilting (as you do) and she told us of a quilt shop that was on our route. Resigned looks from me. The sun had come out to play properly at this point and has stayed with us for the rest of the day as we made very good time down the motorway, then expressway, then mere dual carriageway to Hamilton. Hmm, not sure I liked the look of Hamilton – I suppose nowhere looks it’s best from the bypass, but Hamiton looked very American with a US-style industrial strip running either side of the road. Maybe it looks better down by the river? Maybe we’ll get chance to find on the way back up since it’s a handy couple hours from Auckland airport for the day we leave?
Out of Hamilton, still on Hwy 1 for Rotorua and Taupo, about 2 hours down the road we hit Tirau and pretty immediately spot Tirua Quilt Cottage. The owner is just about to shut as it’s a slow day – I told you these buggers shut early – but I think we brighten her day considerably. We can’t carry much weight-wise because of the baggage allowance, but that doesn’t mean we leave empty-handed! That’s Wendy’s b’day pressie sorted out from me, and several friends Xmas pressie sorted out from her!
Leaving Hwy 1 at Tirau, we joint Hwy 5 for Rotorua, which is another hour down the road. It’s single lane, but it’s a 100km/h blast over wooded hills the whole way with no holdups. At first sight Rotorua is very American, with the highway dotted with MaccyD’s, KFC’s and the like, but we turn off onto a lakeside road and go past Kuirau Park. We catch a sight of the thermal bubbly fountain that was on Billy Connolly’s programme, and a whiff of it too! I am tired of driving by now, so when we spot the Grand Hotel Rotorua, I drive straight in. Hmmm, they might have been a little generous with their name as it’s the least ‘grand’ hotel we’ve stayed in so far. However, it’s not at all bad – it’s got everything the other hotels have had, just a little less sumptuous with it. For example the telly is not an LCD for the first time and there’s no internet in the room. If you’ve ever stayed in a Travelodge, it’s a bit like that. The price is a lot less than the others as well. Oh and I have just found I can get a wireless signal in this room from Milly’s Cafe over the road – it’s going to cost me $8 for an hour, but what the hell, live a little, eh?
Just been out for some tea. Rotorua is a lot nicer round the town centre, but of course being after 5pm is completely closed. Well apart from the shops operated by people from Japan/China/Korea et al – if the Kiwi’s aren’t careful they’ll have their country off them!