Wheel alignment

Monday, 12 April 2021

The Occidental Tourist

Excuse the title which is a play on the award-winning book and subsequent movie "The Accidental Tourist".  The new title is perfect for my geographic origins and the fact that we've spent the last few days taking a break (a break from what, I hear you ask!) and  doing tourist stuff with friends from Wellington that we catch up with annually.  This year, it was in the Rotorua area.  We used to live not far from there many moons ago and had visited the various geothermal hotspots many times.  However, there were lots of fun things to do besides that, so no motorcycling adventures this time around and showcasing a bit of NZ instead.  Here are one or two of the multiple things we got up to.  Not a very PC thing to say, but nice to go sightseeing without being over-run by seething crowds!

Mamaku Railcruising
The rail line was closed to commercial traffic in 2001 and 10 years later, some entrepreneurs opened a 10 km stretch through native bush for a 90 minute return journey as a tourist enterprise.  Continuous improvement currently sees computer-controlled electric vehicles which trundle along at about 20 km/hr which is great for photo ops. It's not an all-action activity but allows people access to parts of the countryside which are not all that easy to reach.
Loading up

Ready for the off

Native forest - young Lancewood trees in the foreground

Lake Rotorua caldera - still geologically active

Not exactly a high speed thrill but great to see parts of the country that you wouldn't normally see.  The owners have plans to extend the line but I guess that will be down to the level of tourists over the next few years.

Redwoods eco tree walk
Part of the Whakarewarewa Forest includes a stand of Californian Redwoods covering some 6 Ha.  They're around 118 years old and up to 75 metres in height. Walkways are slung between the trees and can be traversed in both daylight and at night.  We did the night walk first and it really is a world class spectacle with all the superb lighting.  The photos really don't do it justice.

Access spiral

Suspended Walkway

Walkway at night

Another fantastic feature was clusters of suspended lights up to 2 metres tall, made by artist David Trubridge.  They looked sensational at night.

Light clusters at night

More light clusters

During daylight

More suspended walkway

It was great doing the tree walk in daylight but the night walk was truly breathtaking with ever-changing lights illuminating the trees and tree ferns below the canopy.  The best was saved for last with perhaps a couple of acres lit up by continuously moving points of light in green and red which smothered the ground, tree trunks and foliage.  It looked like luminous insects (or fairies if you prefer!) and we could have watched it for hours.  Nothing can replicate the real thing but at 7 mins 38 seconds on the following video, you can get a sense of it: 

Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre
Established at Rotorua in 2002, Wingspan is heavily involved in the conservation and research involving birds of prey; rehabilitating, breeding and returning them to the wild.  The principal activity is centred around the NZ forest falcon, or Karearea in Maori. The Australasian Harrier Hawk and the small native Ruru owl are also cared for, as is the Australian Barn Owl which has also become established in small pockets in NZ.

Jennie with a native forest falcon

Who are you looking at, human?

A tasty bit of fresh chicken

In addition to more traditional methods of training the birds to hunt, Wingspan also uses a bird-shaped drone for them to attack. Seeing a falcon smack into the drone at speed was an incredible sight.

Wingspan member Heidi launching the drone

Falcon closing in on the drone


Heidi with an Australian Barn Owl
Landing craft lake tour
There are multiple lakes in the Rotorua area, mostly filling old volcanic vents - more dormant than extinct!  We thought it would be nice to enjoy them in a genuine WW2 landing craft which has been modified for tourism.

Ex-WW2 landing craft built in 1944

View of the controls

The first lake visited was Okareka, which has houses scattered round the foreshore.  Good trout fishing and the photo below is of a house with a private beach and various toys - nice!  We were told that the Thai royal family also has a lodge on the lake which I guess could also be a bolt hole with all the recent unrest.  However, paying guests are apparently charged NZ$6000 per night for the privilege of staying there.  I hope that includes meals and use of the exotic water-borne toys they allegedly have there!

Private house at Lake Okareka

We were also amazed to see an air boat being retrieved from the lake.  Didn't know that there were any in NZ!  It's used by a contractor to spray Diquat, an aquatic herbicide used to kill hornwort, a non-native invasive weed species.

Airboat driving onto the trailer

Being inspected for weed

Landing craft on Lake Tarawera (file photo courtesy of Duck Tours)

With no overseas tourists, it's nice to indulge in a bit of tourism in our own country and support local tourist operators.  Also great to catch up with our Wellington-based friends whom we first met some years ago on a holiday in Rarotonga.  Great weather throughout although the 200+ km drive home was in torrential rain and gale force winds.  Dinner that evening was a makeshift affair as a tree had fallen on power lines not far from where we live so the BBQ on our deck was pressed into service.  The storm was abating but it was still as windy as heck and right on sunset, everything was bathed in an eerie light.  Made for a good photo though whilst I was cooking!

Aftermath of the storm from our front deck


  1. There is so much to see in the vicinity, when you start looking for it. Lovely area. I just had a thru-drive when I was visiting (already: nine years ago) wishing I'd had more time.

    The view from your deck... priceless!

    1. Hi Sonja,
      There is indeed lots to see but it feels odd being a tourist in my own country! Is it really 9 years since you rode my Street Triple and drove Jennie's MX5? That's plain scary!

      Thanks - always room for you and Roland when all the troubles are over!

  2. Rotorua is certainly a beautiful area Geoff, if you can get past the sulfur stench. We stayed there a couple of days on our honeymoon.

    1. Hi Steve,
      Yeah, the sulphur smell seemed to come in waves at our motel as the wind swung about. Hope it didn't stuff up your romantic inclinations 😉. Planning our next meet-up at the bottom of the south island next year.

  3. Many interesting modes of transport! There was a DUKW tour in London some years ago but it was banned due to safety issues.

    1. Hi Nikos - yes indeed! I've come across several DUKW's in NZ being used for all sorts of purposes. They all seem to have originated from the Pacific theatre of war. This one had a reasonable turn of speed on flat public roads but not much grunt up hills.

  4. Interesting use of that rail line. Being a former rail guy I always wish state utilities would work with local government to preserve a section of their branch lines rather than simple shut them down and run a bus. Nobody visits somewhere to ride a bus (in my opinion ha-ha).

    1. Hi Warren,
      Couldn't agree more and the fact that they will be doubling the length of track when "normality" resumes is great news.