We slept very well last night as the hotel in Te Kuiti was located out of the town. After breakfast we headed for Auckland. We had intended to head straight for Hamilton but noticed that here were some points of interest along a coastal route so decide to take that instead. Unfortunately our map does not give distances nor does it clearly indicate the windiness of the roads. What I had expected to be an extra 40km or so turned out to be more like 80km extra. In addition the travelling speed was much slower so that it took us three hours to get from Te Kuiti to Hamilton (about 85km)
However we did get to see an amazing gorge and "natural bridge" which apparently occurred when the roof of a cave system collapsed, except for a small section, forming a gorge. There were even some stalactite type structures hanging from the roof to indicate that it was originally part of a cave. Further on we walked to a lovely waterfall on the Marokopa river which was reached down a cool, leafy path. A bit further down the road we had some close encounters with one of New Zealand's endangered bird species. Just around a bend we almost had a falcon as a bonnet ornament as it flew out of the bush straight across in front of us. A little further on Maree spotted a falcon standing on its prey (roadkill??) in the middle of our lane. We drove slowly towards and then around it as it tried to stare us down before losing its nerve and flying off. I hope that it survived. As we drove on, the lack of clear signs on the road had us shooting past a required turnoff on two occasions. On one of these occasions we had just passed a car with a trailer after following them for quite some time and then we ended up behind them again. We eventually arrived in Hamilton at 1:30 and had lunch in a paved city square while watching some children playing in some fountains in the middle of the square.
Maree had discovered that Hamilton is host to one of New Zealand's most popular attractions. The Hamilton Gardens include a Paradise Garden Collection where you can experience 7 or 8 specially designed gardens which reflect different cultures and periods. Some of the gardens represented were a 14th century Japanese, 19th century English, 11th century Chines Scholar's, American modernist, 15th century Italian renaissance and 16th century Indian Char Bagh gardens as well as a Tudor garden and a perfumed garden. We also took a walk around a delightful lake watching ducks, other walkers and looking unsuccessfully for some of the turtles after which the lake is named.
Continuing on towards Auckland we were pleasantly surprised to find dual lane Motorway (also called Expressway but what's in a name?) This time we found our hotel without difficulty as it is the same one we stayed in on our first night. We were a bit hot and bothered because the vent switch in the car is not working properly and we cannot get the aircon to blow on our faces. With the fan on full there is just a gentle breeze towards our faces but our feet are freezing. We only have three more days of long drives left so we'll just have to grin and bear it.
For dinner we finally found where Parnell Village is and wandered over to enjoy a nice Italian meal followed by a Movenpick icecream (highly overrated and overpriced).