Auckland to Picton, NZ
First of all, it's great to no longer be struggling with the Spanish (although Mel does enjoy throwing in the odd "Si" every now and then). Secondly, New Zealand is fantastic!
In Auckland we headed to the museum, one of the best either of us has ever been in with Mel spending a whopping 7 hours in there! The next day we got a boat out to Rangitoto, an island created by the eruption of a volcano 600 years ago. It was amazing to be walking on hardened lava flows and through a forest which was only beginning to take over the island. At the top of the volcano, we walked around the crater rim and the cone itself was covered in lush vegetation. We also walked another volcano, Mt Eden, which is located smack bang in the city centre, whose crater was more visible and had stunning views over the city.
After Auckland we headed to Taupo, a lovely little town on Lake Taupo, the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere. The bus journey down was the best yet due to the world's happiest bus driver - he gave a running commentary on the places we were passing through, adding personal touches to it like "This is where I live with my wife.......my parents still live down that road there....that place does the best fish and chips in the North Island etc etc". (Although this bus driver has been topped by the singing bus driver we had yesterday!). In Taupo, we went on a beautiful walk to the Huka Falls, a 10m high wall of water. We continued past the falls to the Aretiatia dam which we were in time to see the dam open and water rush down and fill the gorge below. Afterwards, we hiked up to The Craters of the Moon, a geothermal area full of steaming craters and bubbling mud pools. It looked like something out of "The Land Before Time".
The next day Mel and I popped down to the free thermal pools we'd passed earlier on our way to Huka Falls - gorgeous hot water stream poring into the river below. We sat in the scorching pool and chatted to a few locals before heading off to the Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park. We got a boat across a lake and saw Diamond Geyser (hilarious considering the fact that Mel had been corrected earlier by a local for calling them "Geezers"). At The Rainbow Terraces, we saw a geysers bubble up and water gush down in a torrent over the terraces. There was a geothermal cave and then mud pools bubbling away with the heat.
*warning: numerous Lord of the Rings references below*
*advisory: watch the damn movies!*
'Course last Saturday was a very important day - wee Mel turned the big 2-6. In celebration of this, Mel was treated to a surprise gourmet wine tour (not by me - I'm on a budget!!). The day started at 10am when we were collected by our lovely hostess, Kerry. I'd let her know in advance it was Mel's birthday so the first winery opened a bottle of bubbly for the occasion before getting cracking on the range of wines on offer. The second place we visited was the famous Cloudy Bay (overrated!) where another lovely bubbly was tasted, along with a few more wines. At Allan Scott's, we had another 6 tastings to wet the palate before a sumptuous lunch (and yet more bubbly!). As requested, Mel was suitably embarrassed when her dessert was brought out with a candle and a Happy Birthday sign on it to a chorus of the restaurant singing her wishes. Next stop was a lovely family run spot, before hitting Framingham's, which had a beautiful Riesling that couldn't be left behind... The last spot had a winery, olive oil section and liqueur area, which had yummy butterscotch shots (although Mel and I were more taken with the Roast Garlic Vinegar Sauce, yum). The final detour of the day was to a chocolate factory, a perfect way to finish off a great tour (and celebrate making it through a full 6 wineries, with at least 5 tastings in each of them...you do the math!). The day wasn't over yet so we headed out for a lovely dinner (in pretty much the only restaurant in Picton) and then drinks in, yes, the Irish bar...in our defense, it was the only place with people in it!