The Sky's the Limit

Monday, October 06, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 34:  Rotorua to Auckland
Back on State Highway 5, we left Rotorua and its clouds of steam and pungent aroma around 9 a.m., aiming northwest for Auckland, New Zealand's most populous city with two million people.  That's almost a third of the national population, 1.4 times the entire South Island, and more than twice the size of Christchurch and Wellington combined.
Around 10, we stopped for relief and refreshments in the quaint village of Tirau (pop. 730).  At the crossroads of SH-1 and SH-5, the town has transformed itself from a rural service center to a tourist stopoff.  Recycled corrugated iron, embraced as a building and unique signage material, has given Tirau a signature look.
Tirau signage
In keeping with the town's singular style, the visitor center is completely covered in corrugated iron in the shape of a giant dog, as is the nearby Big Sheep Wool Gallery, a shop selling woolen items and other New Zealand products.
Fortunately these two seem to peacefully co-exist. 
North of Tirau, we headed west on Totman Road toward the renown Hobbiton movie set, which has become a major tourist draw in New Zealand.  After the initial movies were filmed, the sets that had been built on a local farm were dismantled and removed.  But Tolkien fans flocked to the site where the Shire had been created anyway.  After filming the later movies, producers allowed the Hobbiton set to remain.

Today hobbit hounds can take a two-hour guided tour of the set for the princely sum of $75 each.  By the time we arrived at the ticket office at the farm, the morning's intermittent showers had become a steady downpour, which the gusting wind flung into your face and down your collar.  Thankful we were not diehard Tolkien devotees, we easily made the choice to pass on the Hobbiton tour and press on toward Auckland.  In our drives around the country, we've seen so many mystical, magical landscapes, it's hard to believe we missed more than a few hobbit houses.

Middle Earth wherever you look
We returned to SH-27 and drove north, the steady rain a constant companion.  After turning west on SH-2 we began to feel a coastal influence on the weather as the hovering slate clouds dumped out a deluge, settled back to drizzle and then cleared, as winds shuttled the clouds inland.
Arriving in Auckland, we checked in and unloaded our bags in our apartment at Quest on Belmont before heading over to the Sky Tower, a 1,076-ft observation and communication tower that dominates the Auckland skyline.  A bargain price of $17 bought us tickets to the glass-walled observation decks at 610 ft and 720 ft.
Riding up on the elevator, we chatted with John, a 20-something Brit wearing a bright blue and yellow jumpsuit.  And that is literally what it was—a jump suit.  From John, we learned about the Sky Jump activity offered at the tower.  Between the observation decks is a jump platform at 630 feet.  Harnessed in and guided by steel cables to prevent wind gusts from slamming them into the tower, brave souls step off tower firma into thin air, aiming at a target 53 stories below.
For the entertainment of those who prefer to experience such thrills vicariously, an LED message board on the main observation deck two floors below alerts visitors four minutes prior to a jump, allowing spectators to get into viewing position.  Benches are actually provided.  So we watched John, who had also bungee jumped off the Auckland Harbor Bridge, take the tower tumble.
John takes a dive
Quite a bit of entertainment for the price, and the views of the city were terrific also.  After watching several jumps and failing to persuade ourselves that we wanted to try it, we headed out to dinner and back to our hotel for the evening.  We have two more full days to explore Auckland before heading off to Honolulu and home on Thursday.
Daily Stats
  • Started in Rotorua, ended in Auckland
  • Mileage -  167   (Trip total: 15,721)
  • Weather - 45° to 57°, damp and drizzly to partly cloudy
  • Sky jumpers we watched - 4
Scenic drive or what?
Playing with the camera
View of Auckland from the Sky Tower
The small red square at the bottom center has the jump target painted on it.