I have just finished a 5 day trip around the North Island and as the Kiwi’s say, I am knackered (tired)! It was a non-stop adventure for sure! I arrived in Auckland on Monday and hooked up with my group on Tuesday. There were 6 of us: a British couple, a male Brit, an American male and my roommate, a girl from Ireland.
We started the journey by driving to a city park in here in Auckland and climbing a big hill to get an overview of the city. Auckland is huge and since I’m not really the city type, I was ready to head to the country. We left the city and drove to a beautiful beach on the east coast. The water was brilliant blue and it was warm (bordering on hot) and sunny. What a great welcome to the North! There were lots of surfers in the water and one guy was wave surfing with a kayak. I wanted to try that!
After a swim and a hike along the coast to a private beach we headed inland through many avocado, kiwi and sheep farms. I learned that kiwis are grown on arbors much like grapes. I also learned that the movie “Whale Rider” was filmed at a Maori village only a few miles from the beach we swam at. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it.
Our destination for the next two days was the town Rotorua. It is in the central part of the island in the volcanic region. The earth’s crust is very thin there and the town is full of steam vents, bubbling mud pots and even some geysers…. and it REALLY stinks there in places! The sulfur odor in some areas is enough to make your eyes burn. I must be allergic as my nose ran the entire time I was there. Luckily it wasn’t too bad near our hotel.
We stayed at the Cedarwood Lodge on Lake Taupu. Our accommodations were very comfortable two bedroom suite with a sitting area and kitchen. Most motel rooms here have cooking facilities. It certainly makes for more economical traveling.
The next day we went for a long hike along a volcanic lake to another lake for a total walk of 13 miles. It was a lot of ups and downs on good trails. I later learned that our guide used this to gauge our abilities for the big upcoming hike. It was very hot so I walked directly into the lake in my hiking clothes after finishing the walk. Now I can say I’ve swam in a volcano!
The forest was lovely… full of lots of flora and fauna. What amazed me the most was fern trees… yes, trees! They are as big as palm trees and that’s what I thought they were at first.
The next day was thrilling for me as I got to see one of my travel companions bungee jump. While it’s something I would never do, I really wanted to see it done. Matt, the Brit was quite eager and he loved it. He was supposed to have his head dunked in the water but apparently the cord was a bit short as he didn’t touch. I guess that’s better than having it too long and drowning!
We also went mountain biking in the redwood forest. I expected a ride over huge hills with me sucking wind big-time. Instead it was a two hour lesson on how to mountain bike. The instructor was this long-haired bearded mountain bike nut. His dog, Silly, trailed him every step of the way. We started on very easy flat trails and he would give us instruction and then we would do a stretch and then he’d instruct us again. By the end we were doing big banked curves and even a few tiny jumps. I loved it!! It wasn’t just fun though, learned a lot about safety too.
The next day we drove to Turangi whose claim to fame is the trout fishing capital of the world. It’s not an understatement either. The Tongariro river is one of the top ten trout fishing rivers in the world. We saw HUGE rainbows jumping. It’s artificial bait only.
After settling in we went to a traditional Maori Hangi put on by the Matai tribe at thier Marae. The Maori are the natives here. They cook a huge meal in the ground using the heat escaping from the earth from all the volcanic activity. They also put on a presentation with their traditional dance, song and of course the Haka (warrior song) which is know all over the country and is also performed before every rugby game by the national team, the All Blacks. We were shown their sacred spring which produces over a million cubic feet of water an hour. I’m not joking… you could see it bubbling out of the earth and it formed a big stream. We then went to a kiwi bird rescue center and a they had huge trout there as well (30+ pound rainbows!).
Friday was our big hike, the Tongariro crossing in Tongariro National Park. It’s described as the best one day hike in New Zealand, and that says a lot! It was a long day, and probably the most unique hike I’ve ever done. It was up and over a dormant volcano. There was a huge red crater near top that was very eerie to look down into and several turquoise blue lakes near the top too. On the way down, I had to hike in scree which was a first for me. It’s deep, small loose rocks that you kind of slide down in. Once I got the hang of it, it was a blast. Unfortunately not everyone had it figured out and one guy went sliding by me on his side. The climb wasn’t technically difficult but there was 3000′ of elevation gain and a total of 13 miles of walking. Luckily the trails were very good and it was easier than climbing Katahdin. The scary part is that there are also two other not so dormant volcanoes very nearby. One went off as recently as 1996. Yikes!!
After the hike we showered (I don’t think I’ve ever been so dirty!) and then went to a Maori hot pool. It’s essentially a group of small swimming pools filled with the hot mineral water that comes out the earth nearby. It has to be cooled down from the boiling temperature it naturally is. My only concern was the sign warning users not put your head below water due to concerns about amoebic meningitis. My microbiology colleagues know what this entails and it’s not good! The baths were wonderful though and it eased any sore muscles I had left me feeling incredibly good considering I’d just walked a half marathon across a volcano!
Today we arose and drove to Waitanamo for the glow worm caves. Anyone of you who know me well know there is no way I am going into a deep dark cave with a stream running through it in a wet suit with an inner tube to look at worms! Luckily there was another claustrophobic traveler and we went on an above ground hike with a few wide open and well lit caves. I got the general idea without having an extreme panic attack. And now at the end of the day I am at the waterfront in Auckland where I plan to go for a sail tomorrow on the Pride of Auckland before flying down to Christchurch to begin my next adventure, a 14 day trip on the south island. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve walked 52 miles in 8 days.
*** In January of 2008, I ventured by myself halfway around the world to New Zealand. This was before blogs and smartphones. When I could, I would go to an internet café, purchase an internet use time card and type frantically hoping to finish my email before time ran out. Other than fixing some obvious spelling mistakes, the following is as written in 2008. As tempted as I am to edit and embellish, I want to maintain the moment as it was then. I have added pictures, some of mine, some of my travel mates. I apologize that I can’t give credit since I’ve long since forgotten which was whose, but I am thankful I have them to relive this wonderful adventure. ***