Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour

Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour is a luxury 5 star hotel located overlooking the Viaduct Harbour in downtown Auckland.

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This trip to Auckland was to catch up with a friend and see Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the ASB Waterfront Theatre.

In June I booked our tickets and a room at the Sofitel, as it was only 400 metres from the ASB Waterfront Theatre.

I was unsure if the production would go ahead after Auckland had a community outbreak of Covid-19 in August, which saw the city move to level 3 lockdown status.

Although Auckland had moved down to level 2 in September Auckland Theatre Company made the decision to cancel the production. It was not financially viable for them to put on the production with social distancing requirements.

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Although for a long time it was possible that I would not be staying at the Sofitel anyway as in July the hotel went into liquidation.

The hotel was promoted as reopening in Spring, but it wasn’t until early October that it was announced that it was reopening October 19th, after a makeover.

When I lived and worked in downtown Auckland I use to often walk around the waterfront and Viaduct Harbour and would see the Sofitel with its water features and lions at the entrance.

My room was a suite on the 4th floor, which provided views on the Marina. The room was 52sqm and had a King Size Bed, 48″ LED TV with Freeview , Sky Digital and free in house movies.

The marble bathroom had a deep soaking bath and separate shower.

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The room included access to the executive lounge – Club Millésime, which is is on the 2nd floor (street level). They serve afternoon tea between 2pm and 4pm and in the evening they serve hor d’oeuvres, wines and cocktails.

My friend and I had afternoon tea but were out during evening drinks. To finish the evening we had a non-alcoholic cocktail at the Sabrage Champagne Bar, which is open from 3pm till late.

The next morning I had breakfast at La Marée by Marc de Passorio. I had the sweet crepes.

The breakfast was included with Club Millésime access.

There is also French Press Cafe, a French style dockside cafe but I did not eat there.

Also there is heated 20 metre lap pool and small gym, and a communal library in the lobby.

The staff at the Sofitel Viaduct provide efficient service while being warm and welcoming. My experience from other upmarket hotels is that service can often be efficient but cold.  It is the little details that make the experience – the welcome drink in reception, the macrons and cake left by the guest manager in my room, the evening turndown service.

Sofitel is at 21 Viaduct Harbour Avenue, Auckland Central.

Waipahihi Botanical Reserve

Waipahihi Botanical Reserve is a 35 hectare botanical reserve in Taupo.

It is also known as the Waipahihi Botanical Gardens and sometimes referred to as the Taupo Botanical Gardens.

It is managed by volunteers. Volunteer begun work on the Waipahihi Reserve on October 1st 1966.

The gardens provide views on the Lake Taupo and Mt. Tauhara.

The garden is opened daily until dusk. Entry is free but donations are appreciated.

Waipahihi Reserve is located at the top of Shepherd Road, Taupo.

Fun Ho! National Toy Museum

The Fun Ho! National Toy Museum is a toy museum in Inglewood, Taranaki.

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The museum displays the popular New Zealand made Fun-Ho! toys that were produced between 1935-1982.

Harold (Jack) Underwood began making toys from his Wellington basement in the 1930s. His first toys were made from lead. This was not very healthy and he changed to aluminium around 1940.

Jack later moved to Taranaki and opened a factory in Inglewood.

By the mid 1970s, over a million Fun Ho! toys were sold each year. In the late 1970s import restrictions were lifted allowing cheaper imported toys. Sadly this lead to toy production ceasing in 1982 and the factory closed in 1987.

Barry Young, who had worked for Jack for about 30 years had a big collection of Fun Ho! toys, and when the factory closed he took the rest of the collection.

In the old factory Barry opened the Fun Ho! National Toy Museum. The museum later moved to its current site in the town, where is it also operates as the Inglewood Visitor Information Centre (look for the fire engine on the roof – a replica Model No 105 Large Fire Engine)

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The museum has about 3000 Fun Ho! toys as well as many other New Zealand made toys. Today reproductions are made onsite in the workshop. If you are lucky the toymaker may be firing up the furnace when you visit. They use the original moulding plates – including ones from the 1940s.

Yes they sell reproduction toys in the shop and repair and restore them too.

The Fun Ho! National Toy Museum and Inglewood Info Centre is located at 25 Rata Street, Inglewood. Inglewood is 16 kilometres southeast of New Plymouth.

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Rotokare Scenic Reserve

Rotokare Scenic Reserve is a bush and lake reserve in South Taranaki.

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Rotokare Scenic Reserve is a 230 hectare forested hill-country with extensive wetlands, native bush and a 17.8 hectare lake. It is managed by the Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust.

The Lake Rotokare Walkway is a 4 km walking track that circles the lake. The first 600 metres feature boardwalks around the wetlands, which include a boardwalk out to a floating viewing pontoon.

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The boardwalk up until the pontoon is wheelchair accessible, and many visitors only walk as far as the pontoon and then return. The track after this can be muddy in winter. It should take approximately 1.5 to 2 hours to complete the loop walk.

The reserve is protected by a 8.2 km pest-proof fence. Entry is through a double set of gates. The gate has to close behind before you can open the next gate.

Entry is free but donations to the trust are appreciated.

Rotokare Scenic Reserve is at Sangster Road, 12 km from Eltham, South Taranaki.

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Eltham, Taranaki

Eltham is a small town in South Taranaki.

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Eltham in named after an English village in Greenwich, England. European settlement began in Eltham in the 1870s. The settlement become a town district in 1884.

Similar to much of Taranaki, Eltham has its roots in dairy.  The first pound of butter was made at Eltham in New Zealand’s first commercial butter factory, which opened in 1887. Today cheese is probably the town’s claim to fame.

Eltham is also known for its Victorian and Edwardian architecture. There is a heritage walking trail with information panels dotted around the township explaining the town’s heritage.

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Also in 2009 the town was the location for a film adaptation of Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s 1975 novel Predicament. Many of the building frontages were renovated and repainted at the time.

The are numerous cafes and shops with antiques, arts and crafts, and vintage and retro clothing. Although when I visited on a Friday many of these businesses were closed, a result of COVID possibly.

There was a small market on, the Friday Eltham Market, which is held nine till noon in the TouchPoint carpark (High Street), weather permitting.

Eltham is approximately 50 kilometres south of New Plymouth. State Highway 3 runs through the town.

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Opepe Bush Historic Reserve

The Opepe Bush Historic Reserve, which is a short drive from Taupō, has scenic bush walks to explore.

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The Opepe Bush Historic Reserve bisects the Napier Taupō Highway (SH5). There are carparks on both sides of the road.

The southern walking track is a 3 km loop walk. I did the northern walking track, which is a 30 minute, 1.5 km loop bush walk. The walk leads through mature podocarp forest, which are rare in the Taupō region because these forests were destroyed by the Taupō eruption, fires and milling.

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Opepe is most noted as a site of an attack in the 1869 New Zealand Land Wars. On June 7th 1869 members of Te Kooti’s party attacked the Bay of Plenty Cavalry, who were camped there. 5 of the 14 members of the cavalry escaped. The nine soldiers that were killed are buried here. Later residents of Opepe and the Armed Constabulary are also buried here. It is a 10 minute return walk to the cemetery.

Opepe Bush Historic Reserve is located on the Napier Taupō Highway (SH5), 17 km from Taupō.

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The Quadrant Hotel & Suites Auckland

Last weekend I was in Auckland to see the musical Book of Mormon at The Civic. I stayed the night at the Quadrant Hotel & Suites.

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The Quadrant is less than a 10 minute walk from The Civic, so it is conveniently located for the CBD. Although there is a hill to climb from the CBD – good for those wanting to increase their steps.

The hotel has 277 rooms across 23 floors. I booked a Deluxe Queen but was upgraded to a one bedroom classic apartment on the 13th floor. They also have one bedroom premier apartments and two bedroom apartments (executive, premium) and a penthouse apartment.

Recently it has had mixed (leaning more towards poor) reviews on TripAdvisor, so I went in with very low expectations. The room was clean and comfortable, but was starting to look a bit worn. It is a perfectly adequate place to rest your head.

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Onsite there is the Quad Kitchen & Bar – a bit of design flaw as you have to walk through the bar / dining area from the lobby to get to the lifts. This put me off eating there.

There is a fitness centre with a gym, dry sauna and spa pool. I did not use these facilities though.

The Quadrant Hotel & Suites is located at 10 Waterloo Quadrant.

P.S. The Book of Mormon is amazing – I cried tears of laughter.

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Kemp House and Stone Store – Kerikeri

Kemp House and the Stone Store, located in the Kerikeri River Basin, are two of New Zealand’s oldest buildings.

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The two buildings were built as part of the Church Missionary Society’s second Anglican mission to New Zealand.

Kemp House is the oldest surviving European building in New Zealand and was built by Reverend John Gare Butler in 1821-22 as a mission house. The house was occupied by missionary George Clarke from 1824 to 1831. In 1832 blacksmith and missionary James Kemp and his family took residence.

After the mission closed in 1848 the Kemp family stayed on eventually buying the house from the Church Missionary Society. Descendants of the Kemp family lived at the property until 1974 when Ernest Kemp gifted the house to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

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The Stone Store, which is the country’s oldest surviving stone building, was built between 1832 and 1836 as a storehouse for the mission. After the mission’s closure it became a general store. The Historic Places Trust purchased it from the Kemp Estate in 1976.

Today the ground floor is a gift shop. There are museum displays on the top floor.

Entry to Kemp House is via guided tour only.

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Christmas at Prince’s Gate Hotel

I celebrated a Christmas Day with a buffet lunch with my parents at the historic Prince’s Gate Hotel in Rotorua.

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The hotel was originally built in Waihi in 1897. In the 1900s the booming gold-mining town of Waihi was the third largest town in New Zealand.

The hotel played a significant part in early New Zealand. It housed extra police officers deployed to the area during the Waihi gold miners’ strike and was used as hospital following an influenza epidemic.

In 1917, it was decided to relocate the building to Rotorua. The hotel was dismantled and transported by horse-drawn wagon to Waihi Railway Station where it was taken by rail to Rotorua.

It was reassembled on the corner of Arawa and Hinemaru Streets directly opposite the gates to the Government Gardens. The Prince’s Gate, also known as the Prince’s Arch and Gateway, was built for the 1901 Royal Visit by the Duke and Duchess of York.

The hotel reopened in 1921 as the Prince’s Gate Hotel.

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The lunch was $95 a head and included a carvery / hot station with manuka smoked champagne ham, turkey breast, roast angus beef sirlon, salmon, steamed and roast vegetables.

On the opposite table there was a cauliflower soup, antipasto platter, penne & tuna salad, Caesar salad, and Greek salad.

The dessert station included pavlova, mini cheesecake, brandy snaps, creme burlee tarts, and Christmas pudding with custard.

Breads and tips were served at the table.

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Christmas Village, New Plymouth

The Christmas Village is a beautiful Christmas shop in New Plymouth.

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The shop has a seven beautifully decorated areas that are each stylised around its own theme. They also have a marquee attached to the main building with more beautiful Christmas items.

Santa’s sleigh is also parked outside the village. Although Santa was not home when I visited.

The village is traditionally open every Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10am to 4pm. From October it is open 7 days a week.

The Christmas Village will close on 23rd December and reopen for 2020 in April. It is located at 63 Egmont Road, RD 2, New Plymouth.

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