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February 24, 2006

Waikato Region

We've been staying at a lodge in a place called Whakamaru ('Fakamaru', kiwis pronounce 'wh' as an f sound) as part of a help exchange. is a website where hosts can advertise for helpers - the work is varied and in return hosts offer free accomodation and sometimes meals as well. Very handy for the budget traveller!

Whakamaru is a small village built round a dam (the village was there first!). It's in the Waikato region which is in the central North Island and the whole area is very remote and beautiful, some of Lord of the Rings was filmed in the area and Hobbiton is very close by! The dam is very popular in the summer with water skiers but is pretty quiet right now. The village is very quiet and there isn't even a pub!! We planned to stay for 1 week and in return for free board and all meals, we were to strip, sand and paint a workshop - we only have to work 4 hours per day. It was a very big job and we all decided that rather than leave after 1 week, we would like to stay and finish the job, which our hosts were more than happy with. Our hosts are Mike, his wife Sharon and their daughter Gina as well as their dog Zeb, a friends dog Libby, 2 goats, 2 cats and 2 sheep! We have 2 bedrooms in the lodge, help ourselves to breakfast & lunch and have dinner with the family. Sometimes we work from 8am-12pm and then go out for the rest of the day and other times we work on longer. We are getting very toned with all this physical hard work and Tiago and I are very tanned (Gemma and Ian are not sun fans), the weather has been fantastic - very hot except for 2 days. Gina, who's 10,has taken Tiago and I swimming in the school's outdoor swimming pool, walks with the dogs, swimming in the lake and out on mountain bikes - we've had a great time with her! And Mike has taken all of us out on a jetski which was so much fun - Tiago and Ian each had a turn by themselves but I was too chicken and just held onto the back of Mike! Today Gina had a school swimming competition so she asked us if we'd like to come watch her. The school is so amazing - it's only a small village and the primary school has a 15m outdoor pool, rugby field, football field, basketball & netball courts and a play area with climbing bars and things. All the kids are very active and in all sorts of competitions - Gina is in 2 triathalons in the next month! The family have been so welcoming to us and looked after us well - they've even left us house and dog sitting tonight as they're staying in Taupo. Will be very sorry to leave here.

Whilst we've been staying in Whakamaru, we've managed to see quite a few other places as well. It's very near to both Rotorua and Taupo which are both very popular tourist destinations. Both of them have been affected by volcanic activity at some time and so there are some really cool things to see. Rotorua has a permanent stink all over the city! It smells like rotten eggs and is because of all the sulphur pools or something! The first day we went there, it was pouring with rain so we just went to the Museuem but we've been back and had a look at the Government Gardens which have some sulphur and mud pools as well as a geyser. Taupo is a lovely town and has a huge lake - it's the biggest lake in NZ and was created by a volcanic eruption. We went to some beautiful water falls there called Huka falls which run very fast - totally spectacular, the water is like a jade green colour. We also went to a something called Craters of the Moon which is named because of the 'lunar' type landscape - it's full of craters, mud pools and steam vents. Both places have loads of activites to do like bungy, skydives etc but we haven't tried any of that yet!

We also went on a trip last weekend to the west coast of the North Island - a place called New Plymouth, which is a lovely little town. The main reason we went was so Ian could go the the Rugby but whilst we were there Tiago and I did an activity that you can only do in New Plymouth, called Dam dropping. Bloody awesome! Basically we got all suited up - wetsuits, helmets, boots, life jackets - lay flat on a plastic board (bit like a boogie board), held on and then went sliding down the dam drop - it was so much fun, like a giant water slide! We also went on a 1km river run, where we floated down the river on our boards but the river was really shallow cos of the hot weather so we went quite slow and also banged into loads of rocks- a few rapids gave us a taster though, would be great fun in the winter when it's been raining loads. The girl running the dam dropping was giving us a lift back to our hostel but had to take out another group first, so we were able to use the most amazing outdoor swimming pool while we waited for her - it was huge and the weather was great so we had a great time mucking about in the pool for a few hours! The rest of our time in New Plymouth was mostly spent in the pub - we've been cooped up in the middle of nowhere for too long! On the way home, we took a road called the Forgotten Highway - the scenery was completely breathtaking - completely untouched and so remote, was very like Lord of the Rings country. We went to some more waterfalls (we do like them falls!) which were allegedly the highest in the North Island at 72m but we've since found out this is a lie! Bit of a mission to get there - we had to drive along unsealed road for about 17km and then walk through farmland and bush for about 15 mins - they were pretty cool when we finally got there but not the best we've seen.

Next plan was to go the East coast and specifically Napier, Gemma and Ian were going to do some fruit picking for a couple of weeks to top up their savings. But Ian has decided he doesn't want to fruit pick and he can't afford to stay in Napier wothout work so I think we are going straight to Wellington for at least a couple of weeks (which is the capital of NZ). There is loads to do in Wellington so looking forward to going. Gemma and Ian are going to work for a bit and Tiago and I are trying to stay with another helpx host. As I say nearly every time, I promise I will try to get some photos on here very soon!

Just a quick footnote on the car before I go - our wonderful Ford Cortina has done as well so far with no problems at all - the only mishap we've had was when we first got to Whakamaru. We had gone to Rotorua in the afternoon - it was pouring with rain. On the way back, on a road in the middle of nowhere and with no signal on our phones, one of the back tyres blew out! Very dramatic! Poor Tiago and Ian changed the tyre with rain so heavy they were drenched within seconds! All good now though - we have a new tyre which cost us about $70 - could have been worse!

Posted by Trish on February 24, 2006 05:28 AM
Category: New Zealand

you hoo hellooooo

you sound like your having an amazing time and i am very jealous to hear of this dam dropping- how did we miss it???!!! sounds fantastic. can only imagine how tanned you both are.... everything going well here at the moment and we are both working reasonably hard to pay off debts but went to manchester with the girls last weekend so not going without treats!! miss you loads and you have no idea how much i wish dunc and i were there with the four of you in our little yellow camper- keep an eye out on the roads for her! hi to tiago and gemma. speak soon love laine and duncxxx

Posted by: elaine and dunc on March 4, 2006 06:12 PM
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