Living in New Zealand and travelling the world, expat Rhonda Albom takes you on a vicarious adventure as she captures the essence of travel through photography, stories, tips, and humour. She inspires young baby boomers to travel New Zealand and the world.
Billed as one of the world’s most spectacular road trips, the Great Ocean Road runs from Torquay to Allansford along the southern coast of Austraila in the state of Victoria. Despite its name and impressive coastal views, much of the drive is inland through temperate rainforest, offering wildlife spotting opportunities. Unlike many of the long stretches of Australian roads, the Great Ocean Road self drive should be savoured, drank slowly like a fine wine.
We took two days, stopping to see each of the Great Ocean Road highlights below. If you don’t have a car, don’t worry, City Discovery can take you from Melbourne.
Key Stops: Great Ocean Road Victoria Australia
Day 1: Torquay to Apollo Bay
Bells Beach (Australia’s Famous Surf Beach)
Easter weekend brings the world’s best surfers to Bells Beach for the annual Rip Curl Pro. However, on the calm day that we visited it was difficult to imagine that this is one of Australia’s most famous surf beaches. The annual surf event has been held here since 1961, converting to a professional competition in 1973.
Bells Beach was the first stop on our Great Ocean Road self drive adventure. From the carpark, we had two options: Bells or Winkipop Beach (another of the popular Great Ocean Road beaches).
Bells Beach, home to the annual Rip Curl Pro surf competition
There are about 100 steps down to Bells Beach
Views From the Boardwalk at Point Addis Marine Reserve
The short boardwalk at Point Addis leads to expansive views of the Point Addis Marine Reserve. This protected reserve covers 4,600 hectares of ocean and extends from Bells Beach to the town of Anglesea.
View of the Point Addis Marine Reserve from the boardwalk
Split Point Lighthouse
There is something romantic and quaint about a lighthouse, and the one at Split Point was no exception. It was built in 1891 in an area originally called Eagles Nest Point.
Split Point Lighthouse
View from behind Split Point Lighthouse
Memorial Arch at Eastern View
Possibly the most important, yet probably the most obscure fact about the Great Ocean Road is that it is the world’s largest war memorial. It was built between 1919 and 1932 by returned soldiers to honour their fallen comrades. The Memorial Arch at Eastern View is a tribute to the soldiers who constructed the road.
Memorial Arch at Eastern View
Lorne Australia: Erskine Falls and Teddy’s Lookout
There are two must-see stops in Lorne, Erskine Falls and Teddy’s Lookout. Lorne, an artist community, is a popular place to stop for the night.
While Erskine Falls can be seen from the lookout point, walking the 200+ steps to reach the bottom is well worth the effort. The power of the water cascading 30 metres over one of the Otway’s highest points can’t really be appreciated from the top. I used a tripod to create the flowing water effect in the image below.
St. George River outlet viewed from Teddy’s Lookout in Lorne.
We enjoyed the sunset as we drove, finally stopping to capture this shot between Lorne and Apollo Bay.
Great Ocean Road Accommodation
We opted to stay in Apollo Bay. If you are travelling in winter, you can fairly easily take the gamble that you will find accommodation wherever you find yourself at sunset. However, in peak season you will probably fail if you try this. There are several great options ranging from resorts to hostels. We highly recommend booking ahead if you are travelling the great ocean road in spring, summer, autumn, or during Australia school holidays.
If my photos from the first day of our Great Ocean Road self drive adventure didn’t inspire you to hop on a flight to Australia, perhaps the next portion of our journey will. Day two took us from Apollo Bay to Point Fairy, just beyond Allansford, the end of the Great Ocean Road.
Maits Rest Rainforest in Great Otway National Park
Maits Rest in Great Otway National Park is named for the area’s first forester, Maitland Bryant, who rested his horses here between his patrols.
Wild Koala spotted from the road to Cape Otway Lightstation
Wild koalas live in the eucalyptus forest lining the sideroad from the Great Ocean Road to the Otway Lightstation. As Jeff drove, I kept my eyes peeled on the trees. They are not easy to spot, but so exciting to see when we were successful. In total, we were able to spot five wild koalas on this portion of the drive, all from a distance. TIP: Bring binoculars. It makes the search for the koalas much easier.
Twelve Apostles in Port Campbell National Park are a quite impressive collection of limestone stacks rising from the sea. They are the most famous site on the journey, however, they were not our favourite. Once called the “Sow and Piglets,” some say the name was changed to increase tourism. I guess it works. This was by far the most crowded destination we came to along the Great Ocean Road.
The Loch Ard Gorge was named after the clipper ship Loch Ard that ran aground at a nearby island in 1878.
It was impossible to capture the true magnitude of the Razorback. According to the signage, the sharp edges and bumps along the back are caused by wind-blown spray. It was one of my favourite stops on our Great Ocean Road self drive.
The Arch is another site worth hiking down to see.
The viewing platform is a 350-metre walk from the carpark, but the real magic of the Grotto is seen from down at sea level. There is a labyrinth of stairs and walk paths to bring you there. The Grotto is a sinkhole (although completely different from the sinkhole we saw in Oman). Once at the bottom, it was my favourite of the rock formations we saw on the day.
View from the Grotto viewing platform
The Grotto from sea level.
We went beyond Allansford, the westbound end of the Great Ocean Road to the charming fishing village of Point Fairy. From there we turned inland to the Grampian Mountains. Then we completed the loop heading back to Melbourne.
Where is the Great Ocean Road in Australia?
Great Ocean Walk – One of the Great Walks of Australia
If you are into hiking and outdoor adventure, perhaps you should try the 7-day, 104 kilometres Great Ocean Walk. Walking 10 to 15 km per day and sleeping in hike-in campsites, you will travel from Apollo Bay to the Glenample Homestead (near the 12 Apostles, Victoria). The walk meanders through the Otway National Park along high cliff tops and sandy beaches.
Do it yourself, or go with a guide. For an even bigger, yet more luxurious adventure, check out this guided Great Ocean Road Walk including eco-luxe lodging and meals. You’ll walk from Apollo Bay to Cape..
Karangahake Gorge is an odd mix of remnant goldfields and nature’s majesty. Once the site of New Zealand’s most lucrative gold strike, it is now a recreation and impressive hiking destination. Swing bridges, gold mine shafts, a historic cyanide treatment plant, and lush green forest led us to the gorge, a jaw-droppingly beautiful site.
Waitawheta River cuts through the Karangahake Gorge. You can see the Crown Tramway along the canyon’s left wall.
The Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway parallels an old railway line that once ran between Paeroa and Waihi. With several walks to choose from, we opted for the Karangahake Windows Walk. It took us into the mine shafts, and then out to “windows” offering impressive views of the gorge and the river below.
Much of the history dates back to 1875 when gold was first discovered here. In fact, 60% of the gold mined in New Zealand originated here. While this rush lasted for a while, by 1920 it was no longer profitable and the main batteries at Karangahake were demolished. However, gold is being mined today in the nearby town of Waihi.
The Karangahake Gorge walks should be taken slowly. Read the signage. Learn the history. Enjoy the extraordinary remains of the mining and railway ages.
This swing bridge leads from the carpark to several trailheads on the other side. The sign reads, “Historic Rich Gold Mining Site.”
The view from the bridge of the Ohinemuri River.
Rusty equipment from the gold mining days.
Next, we passed through the site of the Talisman Powerhouse (foreground) before crossing another swing bridge, this one over the Waitawheta River.
This is the remains of the Crown Goldmining Company’s cyanide treatment plant which, in 1889, was the world’s first commercial user of potassium cyanide for extracting gold from the crushed ore.
Overlooking some of the trees from a point where the aerial tramway once passed.
Views from the Karangahake Windows Walk
A rusty tram trolly once used to transport gold ore from the mine to the stamping batteries is now a family photo spot as kids can’t resist crawling inside.
Next, we followed the tracks leading into the old mines. You will need a torch (flashlight) to continue from this point.
No doubt, the Karangahake Windows Walk is the highlight of any visit. We walked along the old mining tram tracks toward the mine shaft tunnels. Even with a flashlight, the mine shafts felt cold and dark, not a place I would have wanted to work early in the last century. The periodic light from the side tunnels made the windows easy to find. The windows were created when the miners blasted holes through the cliff face to tip tailings into the gorge below. Today, they offer spectacular and unexpected views of the gorge and river.
Branching off from the mine shafts are tunnels leading to the “windows.”
A view from one of the “windows.”
This bridge crossing the Waitawheta River in the Karangahake Gorge is one of my favourite views from the windows. Had it been summertime, we might have opted to walk upriver to one of the many swimming holes before crossing the bridge on our return walk.
After crossing the bridge, we looked back towards the cliff face from the Crown Tramway. The arrows identify two of the four Karangahake windows and offer perspective to the massive size of the gorge.
A closer look at the Crown Tramway, the return trail that was where horse-drawn ore trucks once travelled.
The Waitawheta River has a golden cast as if trying to tell us of its history.
What You Will Need for the Karangahake Gorge Walks
Good solid walking shoes as much of the ground is uneven.
Torch (flashlight) as many areas of the tunnels are dark.
Camera, the photo opportunities are endless. If you want an easy to handle, go everywhere, waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, freezeproof sturdy camera that can shoot in RAW files allowing you to edit if you choose to later, I recommend the Olympus TG-5. It’s the top of my current wish list.
Riverside: If you love the region, why not stay a while. There is plenty to explore and in summer you can take a dip in some of the waterways. Our pick is the Riverside Accommodation. Perfect for couples, families, and budget travellers. The rooms are comfortable, the staff is friendly, and the range..
Darkness descended quickly after the sunset. We climbed into sea kayaks and gently slid into the water. A night kayaking glow worm tour wasn’t what I had in mind when I initially thought about Tauranga nightlife. Yet, gazing upon the Lake McClaren glow worms turned out to be a highlight of our time in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty.
Bathed by the moonlight, the guided night kayak tours are surprisingly peaceful. It didn’t take long before we reached the canyon wall. Rafted together, we turned off our torches (flashlights) and the magic of the glow worm canyon enveloped us.
Photo credit: photo provided by Waimarino Kayak Tours. Used with permission.
A prelude to the glow worm tour
Our adventure started before sunset. The meeting point for the kayak tour is the Waimarino Adventure Park, a water park that looks like a great place to go in the summer. On the chilly autumn evening when we set out for our glow worm kayak tour, the park was closed. A 20-minute van ride brought us to McLaren Park where we took a few minutes to enjoy McLaren Falls before heading down to the lake.
McLaren Falls on the day we visited. I have seen more impressive photos after a rain, or when the water flow was higher.
Before preparing the kayaks, our guide set the mood for a bit of whimsical fun with a delightful spread of local wine, cheese, and snacks. It was an ideal way to enjoy the remainder of the evening as the warm glow of the dusk settled over Lake McClaren. We even had time to enjoy the local birdlife.
They served mulled wine, juice, cheese, and venison salami as we watched the sunset over Lake McLaren.
We made the false assumption that if insect repellent was on the table, we needed to use it. However, I didn’t see any mosquitoes throughout our entire glow worm kayak tour. I wonder if we hadn’t used it the mozzies would have been a problem, or perhaps it is more of a summer issue.
Ducks on Lake McLaren.
Black swans on Lake McLaren.
The kayaks being set up as the sun sets, my new idea of Tauranga nightlife.
Before we head out, there was a safety briefing followed by an offer of few more layers. I opted for a fleece top, water/windproof jacket, and of course, the mandatory life jacket and kayak skirt.
We are ready to go. Having added all the available layers, I was overdressed for the season (and looked a bit like Violet Beauregarde [blueberry] from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), but I was never cold.
This glow worm kayak tour is the best of the things to do in Tauranga at night
Finally, we were off. Kayaking on an autumn night is something new and different for me. Yet, it only took a moment for all of my apprehension to vanish and the thrill of this glow worm tour to take over.
As for capturing the magic, there is no question that I love my mirrorless Olympus OMD em5 Mark II camera. However, despite being water resistant, I was reluctant to take it on the glow worm tour, as it requires two hands to shoot, and I would need one hand for holding the paddle or rafting.
And that did turn out to be the case. There were two people in each kayak. I was in the front, and hubby was our navigator in the back. To more easily pass the hydroelectric station, all four kayaks rafted together (held on to each other’s boats, so we moved through the water as a raft), and our guide did the majority of the paddling.
Next, we glided through the beautiful lake, gently lit only by the moon and our small red lights. About 30-minutes after we set off, our waterway had narrowed, and we found ourselves between two tall canyon walls. Again we rafted together, this time to prevent the boats from drifting off. Turning off the lights, there was nothing left to do but stare in wonderment at natures brilliance. The glow worm canyon came alive with 1000’s of tiny lights.
The height of this image helps to put into perspective the surreal environment of being in the canyon surrounded by the glow worms. Photo credit: photo provided by Waimarino Kayak Tours. Used with permission.
I hopped out of our kayak first, so I could snap this image on my phone before the girls got out of their kayaks.
Best camera for glow worms or any adventure
Meet the Olympus Tough TG-5
Today, I discovered the perfect camera for any kayaking or other adventure. Also, by Olympus, have you seen the new Tough TG-5? It is the top of my camera supplies wish list. Tough, like the name says, this camera is waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof, crushproof, dustproof, and it offers a high-resolution RAW capture option. If its still image capabilities are not enough, it has HD 4k video. This is the perfect camera for any kayak or glow worm tour.⇒ If you live in the USA or Canada, you can click here to buy the Tough TG-5 directly from Olympus.
Technically, glow worms are not worms, but are the larvae of the fungus gnat. Some species are carnivorous and use their glowing lights to attract small flying insects into a web of sticky threads. Most New Zealand children will giggle when they tell you that it is their ‘bottoms’ that light up.
Home to New Zealand’s top rated beach, the world’s most accessible active marine volcano, kiwifruit, glow worms, street art, and more, the region is aptly named the Bay of Plenty. It is filled with exciting and fun things to do in Tauranga (the largest city), Mount Maunganui (coastal beach town), and the surrounding region. It’s a locals playground, a weekend getaway for other New Zealanders, a key cruise port, and a haven for international visitors.
Unlike cruise visitors, we had several days to explore. We included the Bay of Plenty in our recent North Island driving adventure and arrived after driving around the East Cape. We were ready for relaxation, but couldn’t resist the unique and fun things to do in Tauranga and the surrounding area. If you are arriving via cruise ship, be sure to see our recommended shore excursions below.
Most Exciting and Unique of the Bay of Plenty Activities
• White Island volcano tour
White Island is New Zealand’s (and possibly the world’s) most active marine volcano. Some compare the lunar landscape and active geothermal vents to their image of walking on the moon. The Māori name ‘Te Puia o Whakaari’ translates to ‘the dramatic volcano’. At 50 kilometres off the Bay of Plenty coast, White Island boat tours or White Island helicopter tours are popular and fill up early.
White Island Volcano Photo Credit: Julius Silver. Used with permission.
Boat to White Island: Once at the island enjoy a guided tour of the inner crater including steam vents, bubbling mud pits, and a lake of steaming acid. Then observe the island’s walls from the boat, as well as wildlife viewing often including gannets, dolphins, and whales.
Things to Do in Mount Maunganui
• Swim, surf, or snorkel at Mount Maunganui Beach
No question about it, Mount Maunganui Beach is paradise. Voted New Zealand’s number one beach, the seemingly endless white sand and surf are frequented by locals, Kiwi travellers, and visitors from around the world. It’s a popular surfing area, although the weather was calm when we visited. Also popular is snorkelling, and if you prefer to have a guide, check out this 2-hour guided snorkelling adventure.
Overlooking Mount Maunganui Beach to the south (towards Leisure Island) late on a cool autumn afternoon. A popular beach in the summer, it’s included on Trip Advisor’s list of the world’s top 25 beaches.
• Hike up Mount Maunganui (Mauao) or walk around the base
The extinct volcano’s Māori name is Mauao which translates to “caught by the dawn.” Rising 230 metres above sea level, the views from Mount Maunganui summit track are unforgettable. Due to a random turn of events, we didn’t make it to the top and had to turn back about midway up. To that point the walk was steadily uphill, but not too steep. It’s a popular walk that is now labelled “the best” by one of the Game of Thrones stars.
If climbing Mount Maunganui isn’t your thing, the more popular track is the 3.4-kilometre path around the volcano’s base.
View from about halfway to the top of Mt. Maunganui. We can see Mount Maunganui beach, Leisure Island, Motuotau Island, and south to Papamoa Beach.
• See the Blow Hole on Leisure Island (Moturiki)
Moturiki (Leisure Island) is accessible via a manmade land bridge from Mount Maunganui Beach. You can see the island in the photo above. The blowhole spot shoots up at high tide on days with a wild surf. We visited on a calm day, so despite the proper timing, there was no splash. However, the island is a lovely nature walk offering plenty of rock pools and endless views.
Hiking path on Moturiki (Leisure Island).
If the sea were rougher on the day we were there, the water spout would shoot up here.
• Mt. Maunganui Street Art Crawl
Just off the main street in town (Manganui Road), there is incredible street art, some of which is from well-known street artists like Askew One, Flox, or Andrew Steel. Ask at any i-site for a free street art map.
“Huli” by street artist Hula originally created for Street Prints Mauao 2015.
Locals are often seen fishing off the rocks, and if you have a rod, join in.
• Relax at hot salt-water pools
The perfect place to relax and soak away the day. Or, if you are looking for things to do in Mount Maunganui with kids, there is a children’s pool with water slides. Less relaxing than a soak, but good family fun.
• Watch the sun set behind Mount Maunganui
Enjoying the sunset from Leisure Island.
Fun Things to Do in Tauranga
Tauranga is the largest city in the Bay of Plenty. Tauranga Harbour welcomes nearly a quarter million cruise ship visitors annually, and the port of Tauranga is now the largest cruise tour port destination in New Zealand, and consistently voted the favourite. (If you are arriving via cruise ship be sure to check out the excursions lower on the page.
• Tauranga street art
Tauranga has impressive street art. You can pick up a free street art map at any i-site.
The two on the right are interactive. In the upper image, hubby and I are sitting on a seat and Cupid is shooting an arrow in our direction. In the lower one, I am standing in the space left between the wings. Do I look angelic?
Kiwifruit Country produces a classic New Zealand icon, the kiwi fruit. And not just a few, they grow 1,500 tonnes annually. That’s a lot of fruit, especially when you think that each piece is handpicked. We toured their kiwifruit orchard just days before the start of the annual ten-week picking season. The fruit on the vines was plentiful.
Golden kiwi fruit ready to be picked.
Visitors tour in giant kiwifruit shaped carts. Our driver, Simon, has been working for Kiwifruit Country for over 15 years and knows everything there is to know about the orchard.
In the first image we drive alongside a row of tall trees built as a wind block to protect the fruit from banging into each other. The second shows the kiwi fruit carts.
A visit to Kiwifruit Country is great on its own or as part of a cruise ship excursion from the port of Tauranga. Here are a few fun options (more details near the bottom of this page):
Green kiwi fruit is the primary crop of Kiwifruit Country. Often called a Kiwi fruit tree or kiwi plant, the fruit actually grows on vines. In New Zealand, 35 – 90-year-old vines are still producing viable fruit. Even more impressive, some wild vines in China are thought to be 600 years old (and the fruit is called the Chinese gooseberry).
Newly planted vines take four years before producing fruit.
Green kiwi fruit ready to be picked.
Each mature green kiwifruit vine can produce up to 1000 pieces of fruit.
Growing Kiwi Fruit at Kiwifruit Country
The western Bay of Plenty produces 80% of the New Zealand kiwifruit crop. The nearby city of Te Puke markets itself as the kiwifruit capital of the world. Kiwifruit Country is one of the larger orchards (at 75 acres), amongst about 2,500 in the region (average size is 10 acres).
Kiwi fruit grows well in the Bay of Plenty due to its temperate climate, volcanic ash soil, topological conditions, and coastal location.
We arrived in autumn when the vines were ready to be picked. This is a labour intensive job, and New Zealand brings in almost 20,000 people to pick and pack for ten weeks. It’s an opportunity for people to visit New Zealand and earn enough to pay for their travels. Click here for more information on kiwi fruit picking.
This is what you will look like:
My daughter wears the kiwi fruit picking bag. It can weigh up to 50 pounds when full.
Different seasons bring other opportunities. In winter, the kiwi crew prunes the trees and sets the foundations for the following year. Spring is for flowering and pollination. An interesting fact: the flowers have no nectar, so sugar water is provided for the bees.
One concern in both winter and spring is frost.
The frost fan stands tall above the kiwi orchard. It is used to keep frost off the flowers and is activated when temperatures drop to 35C.
Frost cloth is also used as a windbreak.
Golden Kiwifruit Orchard
Golden kiwi fruit vines start out a bit differently. Using the “tipi effect” grows the canes stronger.
Two-year-old immature golden kiwi fruit vines.
Once established, the golden kiwifruit vine grows similarly to the green kiwi fruit.
The height of the vines passing overhead is taller than it looks.
A closer look at the golden kiwi fruit.
Kiwifruit Country Tasting After the Tour
After an hour surrounded by all that kiwifruit, I could hardly wait to taste the smooth fruity flavour. A bit of a cross between strawberry, banana, and possibly pineapple, the kiwifruit has a bit of distinctive character that is difficult to define. Then there is the gold kiwifruit, a bit smoother with an added flavour some describe as mango. We got to try them all, even the ENZA Red kiwi fruit that isn’t grown at Kiwifruit Country.
You can see why some people mislabel the golden kiwi fruit as yellow kiwi fruit.
Have you tried kiwifruit juice? It, along with both fresh and dried fruit samples, was included in the tasting. It was a treat to be served by owner Gavin.
Do you eat the kiwi fruit skin? It is loaded with vitamins and nutrients. But don’t worry if you don’t, as it turns out, only 10% of consumers eat the skin.
Coffee in hand, I watched the rolling surf as the sun rises over the horizon. There is no better way to start the day, and I did this each morning from my beachfront villa at the Papamoa Beach Resort in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. From here, my days only got better. I found a paradise that caters to everyone.
For visitors to New Zealand, Papamoa Beach Resort offers an opportunity to relax or play, as well as the perfect base to explore the Bay of Plenty. Centrally located, yet it feels like worlds away when you are sitting on the endless beach.
Our beachfront accommodation comfortably held the four of us. Walking in, we passed through a room with two twin beds, next through the kitchen and past the bathroom, finally into the main living area. Our king bed sits in one corner, but we don’t stop to check it out. Our eyes are drawn past it, as well as past our table and lounge area, to the beachfront view visible through floor to ceiling windows and the sliding door.
Inside our beach front villa at Papamoa Beach Resort.
Outside we had a second table on our deck, and there is a shared picnic table just beyond that. A short path leads to the beach where the white sand feels warm against my feet and a few children splash in the surf. Mostly I saw miles of empty paradise. It was late autumn and I imagine the cool weather kept some beachgoers at home.
Shared picnic table outside our beach front villa at Papamoa Beach Resort
Being a traditional kiwi style accommodation, we had a kitchen and could make our own meals. We opted to make our breakfast to eat out on the deck and enjoyed dinner at the nearby fun, funky, and family-friendly Papamoa Beach Tavern. There are several restaurants and shopping within walking distance, plus the recommended Bluebiyou Papamoa (the restaurant right next to the resort). Or, we could have used the BBQ next to our unit.
Kitchen inside our beachfront villa.
Looking back at our villa and deck table.
In the evening we returned to our villa to watch a movie. We put the heat pump on low to take the chill off the air and crawled into bed without the need to turn on the electric blankets. The bed was so comfortable that I fell asleep almost immediately missing the film. I was glad I had set the alarm for just before the sunrise.
Our king bed inside the villa.
One of the morning sunrises and the path leading from our villa to the beach.
Very much a classic New Zealand accommodation, we had everything we needed, and more. There was enough to do at the beach resort that we never had to leave (but we did). The surf patrolled beach offers safer swimming, or you can surf, fish, or just have a walk along the white sands. Aside from ocean activities, we had access to bicycles, a private spa, a library, jumping pillows, a mini tennis court, and of course plenty of play areas for kids.
Some of the things to do in Papamoa Beach Resort include: (Clockwise) a children’s play structure; a library; a private moonlit spa (included with our accommodation, but requires booking); the ocean; all age jumping pillows; traditional and fun bicycle rentals.
Papamoa Camping Ground and Other Facilities
In total there are 250 sites including beachfront villas, garden villas, 3-Bedroom units, traditional Kiwi baches (holiday units), cabins, and campsites spread out across 16 acres. We were there during school holidays, and yet it never felt crowded.
Inside the 3-Bedroom garden villa. It holds up to 10 people with one king and 4 bunk beds.
A smaller unit at Papamoa Beach Resort.
The camping area is a cross between a Papamoa caravan park and tent camping facility. There are also a fixed number of “Weekenders.” These are owned campsites allowing owners to keep their camper there all year, but are limited to 100 annual days of use.
Campsites including tents, campers, and one weekender.
Terraced campsites mean more people can enjoy ocean views.
We had facilities in our villa, however, campers share. Clockwise: An eating area outside the shared kitchen; a spotless shared kitchen; a baby bathtub inside the family bathroom; the laundry room for campers.
Papamoa Beach Resort is the Ideal Place for a Conference
As I walked past the conference centre, I couldn’t help thinking that Papamoa Beach would be the ideal place for a conference. The perfect mix of work and play. Sunrise, a morning swim, then a few lectures indoors or an afternoon meeting out on the sundeck. Perhaps a lunch break by the beach, a late afternoon spa or even a massage, dinner at a nearby restaurant, and then an evening stroll along the beach.
The lounge is one of the three main meeting areas of the Papamoa Beach Resort Conference Centre. The other two are the Motiti Room (seen in the background) and the huge deck.
Exploring the Bay of Plenty
Never having been here before, when we first added Bay of Plenty to our North Island New Zealand itinerary we thought only about a Tauranga or Mount Maunganui accommodation. Not wanting to stay in Tauranga city, or get lost amongst the overpriced high rises at Mount Maunganui, we explored options down the beach. Our choice of a Papamoa accommodation is the perfect spot to explore the Bay of Plenty.
Here are our top recommendations (details coming soon), or check with the friendly staff at the resort. There is even a tour desk that can help with bookings.
Offering surprises around every corner, Ngatea Water Gardens in New Zealand exceeded our expectations on every level. While the landscape is beyond lovely and the birds and fish plentiful, it is both the owner’s sense of humour and the massive “Can Museum” that caught us off guard.
Ngatea Water Gardens
The five-acre water gardens are the design and creation of owners Roger and Emma Blake, but the humour is all Roger. The grounds are lovely, and their gardening expertise shines through the attention to every detail. The paved walking path makes the facility accessible for everyone.
The large pond filled with lily pads and fish set the scene for relaxation – until you notice the crocodiles in the water. (Don’t worry, they are only floating crocodile heads that can be used as garden art or decoys in the pool).
A few birds live in the aviary shown here. In the background, you can see King Arthur’s castle. If you visit it, be sure to heed the warnings on the sign telling you not to press certain buttons.
Can hubby remove the sword from the stone?
There is a variety of flora throughout Ngatea Water Gardens.
Ngatea Water Gardens is home to some of the oldest turtles in New Zealand.
Old, weathered wood was used make this bench as well as several other features at the water gardens. And the humour creeps in everywhere, notice the upside down anchor over the water.
Ngatea Water Gardens’ Sense of Humor
The sign on the door reads: “Warning: Joke Zone, Sense of humour required beyond this point. You have entered a property with high concentrations of jokes and humorous scenes. We are not responsible for any health problems arising from excessive laughter while viewing this amazing attraction.”
The humour is everywhere, but subtle. If one ignored all the signage around the gardens (most of it is jokes) and just looked at the beauty, I imagine one could get through the water gardens without a laugh. But you sure would miss out. My sense of humour matches Roger’s and so I read everything and took time to explore every nook and cranny.
For instance, one might walk past this outhouse and just find it an odd..
One of the things I really love about living in New Zealand is that we don’t have to go far to have an adventure. We drove less than two hours north of Auckland to Waipu Cove campground (with beachside cabins). In the morning we explored Waipu Caves, one of the glow worm caves in New Zealand as well as being home to Northland’s largest cave passage discovered to date.
Despite our plan to relax, we found plenty of things to do in Waipu.
Exploring Waipu Caves
Like many places off the tourist track, these New Zealand caves are free. Stalagmites, stalactites, and glow worms are found inside Waipu Caves, along with the bones of small animals (bats, birds, amphibians and reptiles) and fossil invertebrates.
However, Waipu Caves are not for everyone as they are undeveloped. You may walk through areas of waist deep water, or pass through tight passages. (At least that’s what the information we read tells us, I didn’t go beyond my comfort zone.) If I had, I would reach the end, turn off my torch (flashlight) and immediately understand why they are nicknamed the Waipu glow worm caves.
Our first view of the cave entrance.
On our way deeper into the caves.
Stalactites hang tightly from the roof, and you can see some of the water on the ground.
More stalactites in the caves.
A big column inside the Waipu Caves.
A light at the end of the tunnel – actually it’s the way we came in.
**I took all of the above shots with the Olympus OMD Em5 camera. With an ISO up to 25,600, it allows me to shoot without a flash even in a dark cave. Mirrorless, compact and water resistant (depending on the lens), it the perfect camera for caves, as well as being the best travel camera I have owned.
Waipu Caves require a moderate level of fitness as well as some caving experience.
Visitors are advised to check the past week’s weather, especially the current forecast, as the caves flood.
You will want to wear sturdy waterproof shoes due to a lack of paths in the cave. At times you will find yourself walking through water, mud, or on slippery ground. There is a shower (cold water only) outside the cave that comes in handy.
Bring a good torch (flashlight) and extra batteries.
The best glow worm viewing is found in the third chamber.
The 2-kilometre hiking track on the hillside surrounding the caves takes you past huge weathered boulders and up to a ridgeline offering panoramic views across Whangarei Harbour. The karst landscape is magnificent, although prone to sinkholes.
It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the top, enjoy the view, and return on the same trail.
Karst / limestone landscape and weathered rocks make up much of the hiking area.
Much of the path was a steady uphill climb.
Relaxing at the Beach or Surfing at Waipu Cove
I’ll be the first to admit, I am not good at relaxing, even at Waipu Beach. I found myself enjoying the waves, while other members of our group enjoy surfing or boogie boards. It, along with nearby Langs beach are two of the many Northland beaches waiting to be discovered.
The yellow and orange Waipu Cove Surf Lifesaving flags (midway down the beach) indicate the portion of the beach patrolled by the lifeguards.
Join us, the water is lovely.
The beach at low tide.
Sunset at Waipu Cove
More Things to do in Waipu
Discover the region’s Scottish history at the Waipu Museum.
Drink a coffee at the Waipu Cove Cafe, or any of the cafes in town.
Waipu Cove and Waipu Cave are a great destination on their own, or they can be part of a larger adventure. We have done both. The drive from Auckland to Waipu is just under two hours, while the drive from Whangarei to Waipu is only 40 minutes.
Our favourite several day excursion is from Auckland to the top of the North Island. If you are going to self-drive, don’t miss this itinerary:
Vivid colours, artistic lighting, and marine projections brought with it the challenge of photographing a light festival in Auckland at night. Bright Nights brought Viaduct Harbour alive with a light and sound spectacular curated by international award-winning light artist Angus Muir Design. As always, New Zealand knows how to throw a party.
“The waterfront means a lot to Auckland City, and creating a light art experience that interacts with the water itself was always the goal. The opportunity to use Viaduct Harbour as a canvas to launch a full-scale lighting festival for everyone to enjoy is pretty much a dream come true,” says Muir.
Light Festival Photographs (Photo tips below)
Auckland Bright Nights
Celebrating nothing in particular, this year’s theme focuses on clean seas and sustainability. It followed a path of light beginning at KZ1, the 1998 America’s Cup Challenger Yacht that sits on display outside the Auckland Maritime Museum. Here we discovered an ever-changing projection that showed geometric patterns when we first arrived and then a fabulous sealife creation.
Called Undersail this whale ‘swam’ across the hull of KZ1. Shutter Speed: 1/20, Aperture: f/1.8, ISO: 1000 Handheld
Next, we looked across viaduct basin at Light Field and it’s colourful reflection in the water. Shutter Speed: 1/20, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO: 1000 Handheld
The next exhibit, called Square Dance Discotheque was fascinating to watch. Coloured lights rotated on the ground while people danced to silence. The music played via Bluetooth headphones. We had to try it, and the queue moved quickly, possibly because the choice of music was loud and unpleasant (or maybe I am just getting old).
Know your camera’s limits. I shoot with an Olympus OMD em5 Mark II, a compact, mirrorless camera that is not only the ideal lightweight travel camera, it also offers very high ISO options and shoots beautifully in low light situations.
Portugal is a treasure trove of small, picturesque medieval towns like Obidos. It’s a charming walled city whose highlights can be seen in just a few hours. At only an hour’s drive from the capital, it is ideal for a day trip from Lisbon.
While a day tour from Lisbon to Obidos would have spared us from a bit of confusion, we would have sacrificed our story: The sun was nearing the horizon as we drove up the narrow, windy, cliff edge dirt road that leads to the walled city of Obidos. The road was a bit nerve-racking, but when we reached the top, the real problem was staring us in the face. The closed Obidos city gates had a padlock and chain holding them tight. The sign plastered across the former entrance informed us of an upcoming Medieval Fair that starts in four days.
Our pre-paid apartment was inside those gates, the ability to turn around was difficult, and darkness was descending. However, we made our way back down, parked the car outside a pedestrian gate, and found our apartment. We shared a laugh with the proprietor, and he shared a Ginja with us. Then he went with hubby to move the car just outside a nearby walk-in entrance.
It was a long day. We opted for dinner and an early night.
Things to do in Obidos Portugal:
Study the Porta da Vila
Inside the main (south) gate into Obidos is Porta da Vila, a small Baroque chapel decorated with traditional azulejos tiles that depict the Passion of Christ.
Called Porta de Vila, the main gate into Obidos contains this intricate 18th-century tiled chapel depicting the passion of Christ.
Looking down onto Porta de Vila, we get a different perspective.
Walk the cobblestone streets
Fragrant and colourful flowers climb on the houses and shops along the Rua Direita, the main street in the old town.
Climb the steps to the city wall and walk the perimeter
One of the several sets of steps that lead to the top of the city wall.
View of the terracotta tiled roofs from the rim of the wall.
Our teen enjoys the view from the city wall rim. While some parts are narrow, missing any safety rail, or otherwise unnerving, the wall is intact and the perimeter can be walked in about an hour.
Also from the rim, this time we are looking outside the wall at the lush green gentle hills that seem to define many of the regions of Portugal that we visited. You can see the Santuário do Senhor Jesus da Pedra outside the wall.
Partake in a Ginja in a chocolate cup
Ginja is a local speciality sour cherry liqueur that was initially made by Benedictine monks. For hundreds of years, the recipe remained secret until the 20th century. Ginja (more officially called Ginjinha) is now made only in the Obidos region.
Ginja is even better when served in chocolate cups. After drinking the cherry liqueur, we ate our cups.
The Church of Santa Maria da Obidos was erected in 1148. The church is best known for a wedding in 1441 between 10-year-old King Afonso V to his 9-year-old cousin, Princess Isabella of Coimbra.
Admire the flowers that seem to grow everywhere
It is a date, rather than a street number.
Another example of the flowers that seem to be everywhere.
Stand under the Aqueduto of Óbidos
On the outskirts of the city is a 16th-century fully intact aqueduct. While not nearly as dramatic as the Segovia Aqueduct, it is still quite impressive.
More things to do in Obidos Portugal
Fantastic and far off views will reward your efforts if you climb the stairs in the tower along the wall.
Visit the Obidos Castle (any time of year other than the few days before the Medieval festival).
If you plan well in advance, you can stay at the castle as it is now a hotel.
Enjoy the Museu Municipal de Óbidos, the local art and municipal museum.
Play golf at one of the two nearby courses.
There are two festivals in this town worth note
Mercado Medieval de Óbidos
The Medieval Market and Festival takes place at the Obidos Castle for three weeks each July. The next Obidos Medieval Festival takes place from July 12 to Aug 5, 2018.
The Obidos Castle closes for a time before the event, so we didn’t get a chance to enter. We did enjoy a medieval festival in the medieval portion of La Coruna Spain.
The International Chocolate Festival
This delicious event takes place in April or May each year. The 2019 dates are not yet announced. Check their website for details.
Things to Know Before You Visit Obidos Portugal:
Obidos is a town that can be enjoyed in just a few hours which is what makes it such a popular day trip option from Lisbon. Not only is a guide interesting, but you can also avoid the hassle of parking in Obidos.
There is no Obidos parking (or driving) inside the city walls. In fact, there is only one car park, and it sits outside of the main gate to the south.
If you choose to spend the night, there are plenty of options. If you are planning on attending either of the festivals be sure to book early, as Obidos accommodations fill up. Here are our recommended places to stay in Obidos:
Casal Da Eira Branca – this is where we stayed and recommend. There are hotel rooms as well as apartments, all rustic, decorated with local wood, natural stones and tiles. Modern amenities and a shared kitchen for those who want to use it. We stayed in a huge two bedroom apartment with our own kitchen. ⇒ Check availability at Casal Da Eira Branca. ⇐
Pousada Castelo de Obidos – this is the castle and generally requires booking well in advance. With modern facilities, castle room features, and breakfast included, it is your chance to stay in one of the seven wonders of Portugal. ⇒ Check availability at Pousada Castelo de Obidos. ⇐