Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pt 12 - Auckland to Waitomo and Otorohanga Kiwi House; Huhu Cafe for dinner

Wednesday 24th February 23, 2010 Auckland to Waitomo inc Otorohanga Kiwi House; Waitomo Caves Hotel and Huhu Cafe

We muck about getting petrol, with some frustration arising from incorrect directions provided by the reception staff at Quay West. It is 10:30 am by the time we are heading out of Auckland on the Southern Motorway. Leaving Auckland and merging onto the motorway there is actually a set of traffic lights controlling the merge. This seems to us to be an unnecessary delay for motorists. Is it really necessary?
We wonder if drivers around here unbelievably rude to eachother or something? Surely they could handle just taking turns on a voluntary basis…. but. we have seen no evidence of driver discourtesy that would warrant such an intevention. Ultimately it is explained that this trickle feeding of cars onto the motorway is in an attempt to ease congestion and keep the traffic free flowing.

The scenery is pretty similar to the rural views around Northland for a while, then at Rangiriri there is a promise of things to come as we wiz past a majestic view down across some wetlands to the ranges beyond. There are signs for turns to the wetland and to Rangiriri Pa. It seems like a fun place to explore if more time was available. These late nights and late getaways are starting to become frustrating.

The landscape is brown. Dried in the summer heat in a period of unusually low rainfall. We pass through some sections where roadworks are underway and we are advised to wash our car the same day if we should get concrete splashes on it anywhere. We have passed a lot of roadworks in our travels this trip so there’s quite a few sections where travel time has been extended as a result.

Our next sign of note comes as we are alerted in brown that there is a lookout to the local power station… hmm.. we just can’t resist it so we chuck a uey and head back and pull over into the viewing layby where a mobile coffee shop has set up operations. It is indeed a clear view of a large power station across a river. It seems from the look of it that some effort was put into making the power station an interesting and modern looking edifice.

Huntly itself seems a nice little town. It was a good decision to erect some nice ornate poles for the street lighting. A little way along there is a sign to a Coal Museum. Ah ha. So it is a coal fired powered station. That’s interesting. You don’t hear about NZ’s coal industry much at all. A coal museum sounds rather quirky and interesting.. I wish I had more time today. Looking into it on their website, apparently Huntly Power Station is the countrys’ largest thermal power station. Its generating units burn either coal, gas or a combination of the two, and can provide up to 20% of New Zealands electricity.

Huntly township has a flash set of electronic public toilets in the main street too if a comfort stop is needed. In our experience these sorts of facilities involve a small payment, but we don’t check this one so can’t say for sure what if any cost might be involved.

Leaving Huntly there is a long avenue of large evergreen magnolias.. these big magnolias seem a popular choice around this part of New Zealand.

It is a fairly uneventful drive heading down to Hamilton. We decide to take the SH1B when we see a sign to an historic home and garden along that route. We continue to follow the brown signs and we end up at a lovely place called Woodlands. There is also a Woodlands Café nicely set overlooking a cute playing field. The house itself is a beautiful and ornate white weatherboard set in “gardens of significance”. We are really tempted to stop here , but the café looks not quite open yet, though there are people about. Hamilton Gardens is just down the road. We decide we had better just be satisfied with the quick squizz we have had and head to Hamilton Gardens… a decision we come to regret.

It’s interesting skirting around the edge of Hamilton on this side. We note new housing developments with virtually non-existent backyards. .. like new developments everywhere, it seems. Very much like new developments at home at any rate.

You can’t miss the entrance to Hamilton Gardens as the main routes heading generally south throw you straight at them. We have no difficulty parking today. It’s bang on lunch time and the weather is quite warm. Lunch is a priority but I can’t resist a slight detour to admire some beautiful remote control boats that are operating on the lake.

Turns out the restaurant is closed today for a private function but the café is open. We wander around and find a large group of outdoor tables with umbrellas and a small doorway into the café. They offer pretty standard fare. Burgers, lamb salad, chicken salad, various Panini or croissants. We place our order – croissant and salad and a burger with wedges and head out to the last available table to wait for delivery. We wait ....and wait… and wait. I guess I got off lightly, my croissant doesn’t come from the kitchen apparently and so I only have to wait 20 mins or thereabouts. Hubby’s hamburger is a kitchen product and it’s about 40 mins before the food is brought out. It’s getting pretty warm even with the protection offered by the umbrella. Oh how we wish we’d stopped at Woodlands House and Woodlands Café! My salad is nicely dressed but is mostly lettuce leaves. The bacon on the croissant is dry and hard. As have the other burgers we’ve tried, hubby’s burger has a sort of sausage patty for the meat. We’re concluding that kiwi burgers are intended to use crappy meat. The café at the Museum yesterday also used crappy meat and overall that café was pretty high quality, so this must be how kiwis prefer their burgers.. oh well, each to their own we suppose.

It’s hot and we’re over it by the time we’ve finished lunch and time is slipping away. I can however report that the toilets were pretty darn impressive.

We prioritise the Kiwi House at Otorohanga over a walk around the gardens. These late starts have just got to end. They are really cramping my travel style!

It’s only a pretty short drive down into Waikato. Waikato is pretty. There are more mountains and apparently they have had more rain. Though we have noted that even in the brown regions where rain has been limited the dams are full. It’s a kind drought that still leaves the dams full!

We pass through Te Awamutu noting for hubby that this is the Finn brothers’ home town. It’s quite substantial and prosperous looking. I note the sign out to Yarndley’s brush remnant forest, but we have no time for more detours…grr.
Otorohanga has lined the long main road with hanging baskets of flowers. Nice Touch.

Once again the Kiwi House is well signposted. Just a few cars in the carpark. We head on in and pay our $16 entry.

The first stop on the route through the park is the kiwi house. Here we find two male north island brown kiwi. One from Taranaki and the other from Northland. They are so adorable and it is so interesting seeing them reaching up as they fossick around their enclosure. You just get so used to seeing them in their downward facing fossicking pose you don’t think about what they might look like when they look up.

Moving on there are a number of enclosures with young geckos and tuatara. One enclosure includes some beautiful bright green fellows that look like the ones we saw news reports about saying people try to smuggle them out of the country. I have to say, they are very beautiful so I can understand why they would be in demand… not that that justifies smuggling such a rare little guy out of their habitat of course.

There are a lot of different sorts of skinks and reptiles, most native to New Zealand. The Otago skink climbs up and demonstrates its preference for sunning itself on rock ledges. There are also foreign reptiles such as leopard geckos from Asia and the middle east which is really cool.

Very active and entertaining, the tuatara are a hit as they get stuck into their dinner of what we assume are probably meal worms or something.

On we go to visit the birds. At the pond we enjoy watching some other tourists feeding the ducks. Lovely little Pateke (brown teal). They are so dainty. A few of these individuals are injured or deformed. One has a deformed foot, another a broken bill. Lucky they have made it here where they have an easier time of it than in the wild.

By comparison the Parere (grey ducks) seem huge. The big threat to Parere is cross breeding with mallards… yes, like the Pacific Black Duck in Australia, which is an extremely similar bird.. but PBD’s aren’t in so much trouble as far as I know.

Several enclosures house the flightless Campbell Island Teal. One of the rarest ducks on earth and subject of a captive breeding program. We pause for a while to look at one male still in breeding colour. Cool.

Nearby, what I thought might be a young black stilt wanders about in the enclosure with a Campbell Island Teal. The black stilt is another beautiful indigenous bird that is subject to captive breeding programs, as we know from our visit to the black stilt hide near Twizel last November. However it turns out this bird is actually a pied stilt. Stilts and avocets are such nifty birds!

An enclosure with varied Oystercatches is interesting too. The perils of not bringing your birding field guide.. these varied oystercatchers may well be what we've been seeing around the place and I've been thinking of as than pied or sooty oystercatchers. The varied oystercatchers can have either black or white plumage colouration. Interesting. Water birds have never been my strongpoint! (I'm more a teeny little bush birds enthusiast as a general rule.)

We’re not done with the extremely rare creatures yet. Soon we are watching a female Antipodes Island Parakeet as she feeds in the grasses of the enclosure. Currently raising chicks hatched in January this bird is yet another participant in a captive breeding program. Insurance against a disaster occurring to the wild population.

We head into the large free flight aviary and find ourselves shadowed by a Pateke. It flies after us time after time, almost skimming our heads and then perching just ahead of us.. clearly expecting we should have bought the duck food on sale at the entrance. .. which I would recommend doing, even though we didn’t.

We wander past enclosures with north island kaka and kea. The kaka are asleep and the kea are missing the lively intelligence in their eyes and over all expressiveness that is such a great feature of the wild birds we have seen. I guess it’s a mind numbingly boring life for a kea in an aviary. I wonder what they are given to do. These captive birds have dry plumage. In the wild all the birds we saw were wet. When dry the feathers have a beautiful metallic green sheen.. that’s no substitute for the lively eyes though.

Back at the gift shop they have the cards Mum wanted me to pick up. The blue bird.. ah yes, it’s the kokako. It does look very blue on this card. That has to be the one she means. I had asked daughter 2 to check it and get me more detail but I’ve not heard back about it.. with her responsibilities as bridesmaid and medical studies in full swing, no doubt she’s being run ragged. I’ll just have to wing it. The bird call cards are expensive here though, the most expensive outlet for them I saw anywhere in all our NZ travels. Ah well, it’s for a good cause. The lady serving tells me that the calls were all recorded from live birds in the wild and it took ages to get them all clearly for the cards.

It turned out that mum actually wanted a bellbird card! Fortunately (?) although she already has a kokako card it has stopped working, so this new one was welcome.. phew!

We hop back in the car and its only a short drive through to Waitomo Caves Hotel. We are staying in the old section of the hotel. Weatherboard and over a hundred years old. It’s a spectacular building. Really gorgeous, but this section at least is in great need of restoration. We understand from overheard conversation at breakfast that renovations are being progressively undertaken and we are very pleased to hear it. This magnificent and no doubt iconic building deserves the best care. It will no doubt take millions of dollars to complete the job. Accommodation will no doubt be very expensive when they are finished. While the room we are in is showing it’s age we are pleased to contribute the dollars and keep the place with money coming in to hopefully contribute the resurrection of “a grand old dame” as one guest book comment put it.

Dinner is at the huhu café. We rang ahead and made a booking at the last minute and just as well. They are busy tonight, but they are coping brilliantly. Our first course we restrict ourselves to the Rewana bread with oils and butter. We don’t like the oil this time, a bit too peppery perhaps, but that’s no loss as the butter on the rewana bread is delicious.

So much on the menu we’d like to try, but we stick to just getting a main. Hubby goes for the crispy duck with citrus, pancetta & watercress salad, kumara mash, orange and port wine jelly ($35) and I have the organic sirloin steak with potato hash cake, peppercorn salsa verde, thyme roasted tomatoes and caramelised ($35). Both are totally delicious but hubby wins without any difficulty. Hmm. With the mains so good we cannot resist the dessert. We don’t need the menu. We decided earlier which were the irresistible looking options. Hubby goes for the caramelised rum banana on toasted banana bread with hokey pokey icecream ($12) I go for the oven roasted stone fruit with vanilla bean ice cream and brandy basket ($12). Delicious on both counts, the stone fruit a good choice if you don't like your dessert too be oversweet. Hubby says he won again… well… it’s pretty close on the dessert front I think, but overall he must be declared the winner.

Home for an early night which I badly need. Local TV stations doing their best to foil my plan but I hold strong and shut my eyes. Big day coming up tomorrow.

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