Tramping, caving, sandboarding and more tramping!
28.01.2009 - 10.02.2009
A rainy day whilst travelling spells a day of updating the blog! So here I am in the south island in a tiny town called Te Anau; gateway to the Milford Sound and other fabulous fiordland walks. However, as beautiful as the South island is, this entry is regarding my time spent in the North island.
New Zealand - an Overview
I came to New Zealand with certain expectations and ideas as to what it would be like; was it like the UK 40 years ago, rolling hills filled with sheep, quaint little towns, friendly locals and numerous outdoor pursuit opportunities at your fingertips?
I'm finding NZ to be a country of 2 extremes: there is definitely a resemblance to home, but the countryside is more like Wales on a sunny day (well apart from at the moment!). The towns are large retirement villages and if you have a go-slow attitude then this is the place to be! That's until you reach the odd place which is full of adrenaline junkies dropping out of the sky, swinging by their ankles, crawling through caves or trying desperately not to fall out of their rafts.
Many say that the great attraction of NZ is having mountains, lakes, white sand and turquoise waters in such close proximity to each other and I'm definitely finding that, especially after coming from Oz!
NZ has so far lived up to my expectations of being activity central and having gorgeous scenery but I'm disappointed by the lack of sheep, where are they all?
The Kiwi's are as friendly and helpful as I expected them to be. Having come from Oz, where the aboriginals are viewed in a negative manner, it was refreshing to see the Maori population playing a large part in New Zealand society. The cross-cultural relationship may not be completely harmonious but it's a far cry from Oz.
I have had a number of opportunities to learn about the Maori culture; in Waitangi, where the treaty was signed with the UK regarding land ownership etc, learning about their traditions and seeing the infamous Hakka war dance in Rotoroa before finally spending their national holiday (Waitangi day) in New Plymouth, where we were also joined by hundreds of retired couples with their hampers for the festival of lights (live concerts in the park for a few months of the year).
Festival of lights
Three day roadtrip: Auckland to the Bay of Islands
Within one hour of being in the country, Martine (Dutch girl I met Wwoofing near Sydney) and I had already hired a cheap car and were off for three days to explore the Bay of Islands (right in the north of New Zealand, a few hours from Auckland). I was very privileged having the opportunity to teach Martine how to drive on the left hand side of the road, on the right hand side of the car and in an automatic (all of which were new experiences for her!). I have to say that at times I had a few butterflies but the I fact we had paid for full insurance gave me a little piece of mind!
Our first night in the country we stayed with a friends parents who fed us up with gorgeous home cooked food and gave us a lovely warm, comfy bed for the night (Many thanks Ron and Maggie). Well that was to be the last sign of decent food and accommodation for a while. We picked up their tent and spent the next few days surviving on a diet of coffee, salami sandwiches and bananas!
With 140 islands to explore surrounded by turqouise, calm waters we could see why the bay of islands was such a popular tourist destination.
First day in NZ
Bay of Islands
Even though we didn't do a boat trip around the islands, we got some stunning views from the numerous lookouts around the place and with perfect weather I felt like I had walked into the TV advert that constantly used to be played 'come to NZ!'. I love being surrounded by mountains and you find yourself constantly having beautiful ranges around you throughout the country; perfect for tramping!
The founding settlements of NZ are also located here, Russell and Waitangi, so it was a good introduction to the countries history.
Before we returned to Auckland, we treated ourselves to a sandboarding experience in Oponea, the west coast of the Northland. What I didn't realise is the amount of energy you need to run up the hill in the first place before you can even contemplate the slide down, remembering to use my feet as brakes to prevent a very wet landing into the water (we had to drive back to Auckland so didn't fancy getting drenched!).
We returned the hire car with minutes to spare after wiping off the dust from a 30km off-roading trip that we took to try and save money, by not taking the ferry - good rally driving but as the one lady at the information centre pointed out, I don't think we were insured for that!
10 day Roadtrip: Auckland to Wellington
Martine and I moved up in the world as we joined Rob (from Newcastle) in his yellow van. We all three shared the mattress in the back and the evening menu had steak on it at one point! Where we chose to park in the evenings was just a matter of what we could find! It varied from the back of a pub (we had to quickly grab our washing from the fence in the morning as we realised it was the location for the School bus stop!), hot water springs in the middle of a field to the beach car park, which we realised at 3am was the sight for the locals to fight each other! It was occasionally difficult to find somewhere we could shower and from the look of the lady at the mineral baths, I don't think she had seen such dirty customers and was a little hesitant in giving us a robe!
Our 10 days together was filled with both adventure and amusement! We did the usual tourist route, stopping at the thermal parts of the north island, Rotorua being the main location with the Geysers and mudpools.
Taco (Dutch friend), Rob, Martine and I at Huka Falls in Taupo
We'd only known Rob an hour when he had us booking a trip to spend 3 hours in caves, abseiling down waterfalls, rock climbing, crawling and swimming in the freezing water on the Haggas Honking Tour. The lady on the phone assured me that you didn't feel claustrophobic, but when Martine and I arrived at the caving company and saw the video we tried to think of a plausible excuse not to go, that didn't make us sound like typical girls!
I have to say that whilst walking through the NZ countryside in a field full of sheep muck with 6 others, wearing a wetsuit and bright white wellies, I was still wondering why we hadn't jumped ship earlier! To my surprise, I loved every minute of it, especially the rock climbing at the end - wouldn't advise to do this in wellies though!
Taupo, has the largest lake in NZ and as Martine and Rob found out, is the best location for Skydiving (I had already done this in Canada). We were in Taupo for other reasons though; It's called Tramping to the Kiwi's but what is known as hiking to us is what I was really excited about coming to NZ for.
Our 1st major hike, after a 3hr warm up a mountain the previous day in Taupo, was the famous 8hr 18.5km Tongariro crossing featured in Lord of the Rings movie. This walk was a huge wake up call for my body, just the decent at the end made muscles, that I'd forgot I had, ache - Gluteus Maximus I think!
You capture every landscape along the way, if you're not too nervous about where you're putting your feet and fixating on your boots! We crossed volcano craters, scaled steep ascents before taking in the views of the emerald lakes, with a bitter chill at 1900m, before returning past thermal pools and into rainforest.
We had managed the crossing in 6 and a half hours (1hr stop along the way) and were keen for a well earned drink! With a huge number of vineyards in this country (Mainly known for good Sauvignon Blanc) the wine here is cheap by our standards (4 pounds for a good Pinot Noir) and good quality. We had found a very cheap supermarket to buy it until we got escorted out of the shop, by 4 members of staff, for trying to buy alcohol without our passports and driving licences weren't good enough as apparently you can get them at 17. The fact that you're date of birth is on there is obviously neither here nor there, so we left very embarrassed and trying hard not to give them a lecture on our way out!
Our trip with Rob can to an end slightly earlier than expected as the yellow van which had been so loyal to us decided to blow a tyre whilst on a very windy road with cars behind us (close to a garage though!). This happened to coincide with me pulling out the charging mobile phone, so Martine though that I'd blown up the car which fortunately wasn't the case. After two very lovely people had stopped and tried to help, but ended up pulling out 3 of the 6 bolts of the wheel (it was a clockwise thread!), the lovely man from the garage fixed the tyre on his national holiday but we left Rob in New Plymouth, with the retired population, as we got a bus to Wellington.