Mona and I set off from Fairlie, without having been murdered in our sleep, and made it back to Christchurch airport with plenty of time to spare. And then it dawned on me – how was I going to recognise Stephanie, my relatively recently discovered aunt whom I had never met? But there she was, waiting in Auckland, and I couldn’t have mistaken her!
On my first day in Tauranga, we ascended Mt Ranganui, which turned out to be a lot steeper than expected. However the breathtaking views from the summit were definitely worth it. And we made it back before the rain!
The next morning, after a wonderful night’s sleep and delicious smashed avo for breakfast, we all headed off to Rotorua, famed for its geothermal activity: hot pools, geysers, boiling mud, natural springs – you name it, you can probably find it. One thing to note though is the pungent and unmistakable smell of sulphur, something I think I would struggle to get used to.
When we arrived, we headed straight for the Polynesian Spa where we soaked in pools of varying temperatures, each containing different minerals. Stephanie and I particularly enjoyed the ageless beauty one! It really was an amazing experience, floating in this naturally hot water, in the sun, gazing over Rotorua lake (and hundreds of nesting seagulls!).
Then it was time for our picnic and the Smiths do not do those by half. Out came the hamper, some delicious food and the flask of hot water for tea, as we sat in the shade of a big old tree by the rose garden. Sadly, we were not able to visit the beautiful Rotorua Museum as it was damaged in the latest earthquakes but we at least got to see it from the outside.
After lunch, we headed off to the redwoods, the biggest after California’s. It is an extremely peaceful place despite being relatively busy, something to do with the majestic and immense trees towering in hushed silence over you. I even got to climb up and walk above the lush ferns, along narrow suspension bridges hung between the trees. A great experience!
On the way home, we stopped at Kuirau Park in search of some boiling mud – you see, by this point, I was very excited by this idea. And there, much to my bewilderment, in the middle of a park where children were playing, were fenced off areas of “geothermal activity” or clouds of hot steam, small lakes of boiling mud, all just on the surface, as if our planet was bursting at the seams. I still can’t quite get over it!
The following day was Tauranga day and not everyone has access to Stephanie’s profound knowledge of the area’s history. First, we headed to the Mission house, the oldest building around and were personally greeted and let in free of charge. Then, we popped into the library and I was able to consult rare books in the archives containing original maps of Captain Cook’s adventures – it is amazing how intrepid he was in those days. Nowadays you can look it all up online but back then it truly was a shot in the dark.
After a quick and tasty cafe lunch, we stopped by the local art gallery before wandering along the front and up to the redoubt. Our final stop was Gate Pa, the scene of a famous historic battle where the Maori not only won but gave water to their dying enemies.
In the evening, we all headed out for a delicious dinner at Phil’s Place, owned by the ex-drummer of AC/DC who serves surprisingly delicate food. Then, early night before we set off for Auckland, via the beautiful Wahi Beach. Once there, Stephanie and I climbed Mt Albert itself, one of many old volcanoes dotted around the city, before all heading out for Mexican in trendy Ponsonby.
Not only was it great to meet Stephanie, her husband Colin, and their lovely cat Ella, it was fascinating to find out more about the larger-than-life character that was my grand-father – material, perhaps, for a different post altogether. Thank you both for your generosity and hospitality, I really had a wonderful few days.