New Zealand: Every day a Different Journey


article by Dean Nelson @GayWhistler PART 2 OF 2

Every day a Different Journey

There is one thing to be said about jet leg it allows you to get up and going first thing in the morning. In my case, I knew I would wake up early so the night prior I had stopped at the local grocery store (which is always one of my favorite places to check out!) and picked up a few breakfast items I could enjoy while hitting the road in the wee hours of the morning.

I had gone to bed fairly early after a big travel day and having an “Unexpected Adventure” the previous day (click here to read that story). I sprang awake at 5AM, grabbed my day pack, jumped in the car and started racing (sort of speak) towards New Zealand’s most Eastern seaborne city of Gisborne approximately 4-hours from Rotorua.

Gisborne was one of the first cities in the world to usher in the new Millennium sunrise and therefore had created a special wall along the Midway Beach looking over the bay towards the iconic Young Nick’s Head and the Kaiti Beach. My mom had given me for Christmas 1999 my name to be included among the original 32,000 names. Now that I had a destination and mission for the day – I was on my quest to find the Millennium Wall of Gisborne and see what other interesting things I would find along the way.

Sunrise at Bay Of Plenty, New Zealand. Photo by GayWhistlerThe drive was exhilarating as I navigated in near darkness the twisty mountain highway as the aura of daylight started to reveal the exotic fern forest. It was almost 7AM the sun was just starting to rise from the depths of the Bay of Plenty near the tiny village of Opotiki. It was time to pull over, run around and enjoy the first rays of sunshine on this crisp autumn day. I really enjoyed the tranquility of the surf crashing, the birds singing and just bare witness to the majesty of this pristine beach scape. It was the perfect place to enjoy my breakfast snack after doing a couple sun salutations.

Re-energized I continue down the highway to Gisborne. As I entered the city I eagerly looked for any signage to help me find the Millennium Wall. I drove around for a bit and finally stopped and asked a couple guys at a local store. LGisborne Tuia 2000 painted tiles in Gisborne, New Zealandittle did I realize that I would set off an exciting debate as to where this landmark would be. In all fairness, the first guy I asked, was most likely in his twenties so the hype of this monument may not be as interesting than I and some of the older customers may have thought. I was off an my quest to find this wall. My first stop was to a painted wall from school kids in 1999 to celebrate the coming millennium. Colorful hand-painted tiles adorn an otherwise industrial elevated Wainui road in front of the Wharf Cafe. Clearly this is not what I was looking for, but it was one of those pleasant surprises that I am sure I would have missed.Millennium Wall Gisborne New Zealand

Next stop, I was off to Centennial Marine Drive on Midway Beach near the Olympic Pool Complex. Alas I found the Millennium Wall as well as my name. It wasn’t as grand as I had imagined but nonetheless, exciting to see that it really does exist and my name had been itched in granite for all to see (if they can find it!). It may have been a different journey than what I had imagined however I did discover that the Millennium Wall stood guard over Poverty Bay, and the Midway Surf club, a popular spot for surfers to come and ride the surf. Just down the road is a great eatery right on the water’s edge, Peppers Beach Cafe. Here I enjoyed a late breakfast while watching the surfers. Both the service and food was good.

Spade Oak vineyard with Steve VoyseyGisborne is also known for some of their wines and it looked like they had a handful of wineries nearby. On route home was the Spade Oak vineyard with Steve Voysey as their head wine maker. The award winning vineyard situated on the family-owned estate on the flats of Gisborne’s sun-washed central valley. These wines, from the flagship Spade Oak Reserve through Heart of Gold to the V Series, capture the soils, sunshine and passion of Gisborne’s central valley region, in a mixture of exciting varieties and styles. If you plan on popping in, please note, you must make an advance appointment to tour the winery and tasting.

As the central valley fades in my rear view mirror I am in awe of the ever changing landscape before me. I wind my way through the mountain passes and along the majestic shorelines I arrive at my next destination, Hells Gate. Click here to read my TripAdvisor review on Hells Gate, 50 acres of rumbling and steaming geothermal features was once sacred ground for Maori warriors to heal their wounds and remove the “tapu” of war. This would be my treat after a long day of driving, to spend a few hours taking in this natural wonder and then retreating to the comforts of the healing waters. The Hells Gate Mud Spa, in stark contrast to the Polynesian Spa the night before, was more of a rustic and authentic Maori experience.

Hells Gate Geothermal Park and Mud Spa Rotorua New Zealand

The changing facilities were all outdoors with a thatched roof. You are given a plastic bin to place your belongings and acted as your portable locker. Besides the lack of luxurious changing rooms and being exposed to the night air, I really enjoyed the experience. The night sky was vibrant and you could see Venus, Mars and the Southern Cross quite well. You are surrounded by the gurgling and bubbling of the nearby geothermal park which just added to the rawness of this sacred space.Okoroire Hot Spring Hotel New Zealand

After a full day I finally made my way to the Okoroire Hot Spring Hotel. The hotel was completed and opened in 1889 and still has that old world charm. Located just outside of Rotorua on an acreage in the village of Tirau. The hotel reminded me of an old country club that wealthy families in the day would come to vacation. Besides the obvious, private hot spring, the hotel also has their own 9-hole golf course, volleyball, tennis court, nearby hiking and biking trails and of course their own restaurant. It was time to call it a day.

Travel Resources:

– There are many rest stops and camping areas just off the side of the highways. The government of New Zealand Park and Recreation has some great travel tips. Visit

– Things to see and do in Gisborne

– Millennium Wall in Gisborne, New Zealand

– Gisborne Wineries

– Hells Gate Geothermal Park & Mud Spa

– Okoroie Hot Spring Hotel

Travel Tip

Do a bit of research ahead of your trip and get a sense of some of the things you may want to see and do. I like to schedule one or two “must see/do” to help create my purpose for the day, and then allow the day to unfold as things pop up. Stopping in at a tourists shop and looking at the Post Cards will give you an idea of the most iconic things to see, but do make the extra effort and ask some of the locals for things to see and do. You would be surprised what you may discover.

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