A still photoless continuation of my time in New Zealand, covering events in the North Island.
After the early morning ferry across the strait of about 3.5 hours I arrived for a day in Wellington. It didn’t really feel like much of a capital city, in a good way I mean, everything accessible and not at all over crowded. First I drove up to Mount Victoria for we magnificent panoramic views over the urban area and out to sea in all but every direction. I descended into the city centre for some exploration and then found my way to Te Papa, the museum. What a wonderful building and selection of exhibitions, all really well presented and somehow free for all to enter. It’s not the first time since being here I’ve thought it, but there definitely seems to be a difference in relationships with the native culture than that of Australia. I haven’t quite worked out exactly why yet but it all just seems much more at ease, embraced and without awkward over-apologetic feeling. Anyway, just some thoughts from my tired walk back up the hill.
With cities there is never anywhere reasonable to camp so I left it behind me and drove out to the countryside where I fell to s rather long sleep.
Forgotten World Highway
Today turned out to be a rather long day of driving. With nothing much in the southern regions interesting me I deemed it best to head straight for where I had things planned. Having said that, I did make a point of taking the long way around so I could travel the scenic route known as the Forgotten World Highway, a 150km stretch of road with nothing more than a couple of small villages and farms. And I’m glad I did, for the landscape was something to marvel at; undlessly undulating hills of greenest grass around every bend of the constantly winding road. At one point I turned a corner to find myself faced with what can only be described as an army of sheep! I had to stop for 5 minutes and wait as they were all herded along the road at me and around.
Someway after I also found an excellent lookout point which offered amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside and several mountains of whose identity I’m not certain. From there just a short drive to my next free camp site at the southern point of Lake Taupo, where I was reminded by home a little in the form of black swans!
This is the name of the national park area and also the river that runs through it…which I went white water rafting down! It was a great morning with over 2 hours on the water going down about 12km of river. The rapids took various forms, some long bumpy rides and other short but with sharp drops and collisions with cliffs. It was a hot sunny day but the fast flowing river was always there to cool us down, and halfway through we stopped off out of the boats to jump off from a 4 metre waterfall. When there was time to look up and at the surroundings we were deep in the national park so it was all beautiful; the cliffs, rocks and thick forest sounding board other wildlife. Needless to say it was all very fun and it definitely made me want to try it again sometime, perhaps even on more difficult routes.
I spent the balance of the day visiting Huka Falls for some gentle walking. It has been the same everywhere but it’s amazing to see all the different bird life around. The trees and bushes are always rustling with life and I’ve managed to see and photograph many of the species, from the larger scurrying ground birds to those perched above; often with plumes or in today’s case, for lack of the proper word, a beard. All in all another tiring day!
Perfect timing for a relaxing day. After some brief exploration of the town I set out to find various geothermal locations in the area. The first was easy enough, in a park near the outskirts runs a hot stream. As it joined with the Waikato river the temperatures mixed so there was something comfortable for everyone, but for me the pure warmth of the stream was perfect. I’m not sure of the exact temperature but imagine getting into a nice hot bath, only you’re outside in the sun and can get natural massages from the small waterfalls around, wonderful.
Venturing further out the next destination wasn’t somewhere you’d want to get into, being bubbling mud pools. Fascinating to stand and watch for a while as they continuously gargled and spluttered, filling the air with a sulphurous smell.
Then finally on to Kerosene Creek, another hot stream leading to a small pool of steaming waters. The world needs more geothermal pools I think, it would be so easy to sit for hours enjoying the natural warmth. The waters aren’t the clearest, with various bits of plant and tree making their way around, but that’s part of the beauty of it; the wild and natural essence of it.
On to the next town of Rotorua, somewhat larger but similar to Taupo with its lakeside position and geothermal activity abundant. Even when first arriving the sulphuric smell hits you and there is a large park filled with steaming pools, some of water and some of mud. None were for bathing as they were mostly boiling and often had the strange colourations of chemicals and metals. Following a walkway around the lake shore led to Sulphur Bay, where the acrid stench grows a little too much.
Fancying some fresher air I proceeded out to Lake Tikitapu for an easy hour’s amble around the water with great views half way around over to yet more lakes. With a feeling for more walking I then found nearby Whakarewarewa forest, which is now a beautiful area filled with Californian Redwood trees after they were introduced some time ago and thrived in the conditions. The weather has been kind to me the whole way through the North Island thus far and hopefully looks set to continue for my last remaining days.
Without pre-booking I did have to wait around for a couple of hours, making this take up most of the day, but it was worth it. The tour itself is around 2 hours and takes you around the whole Hobbiton film set that was built more permanently after they returned to make the Hobbit trilogy. It was mostly external viewing as of course most interior shooting was done back in the studio, but the village was still quite large with 40 or so hobbit holes of varying scale to shoot different sized characters. The grounds were filled with real gardens and there was also the party field and tree, the lake and mill, and finally the Green Dragon Inn. Here they had reconstructed the interior to male it a real pub where I had a very nice ale whilst admiring the scenery and attention to detail. Definitely a worthwhile experience for fans of the films and basking in the atmosphere created I also found myself yearning to return to some of the medieval festivals back in Europe.
Home of the famous glowworm caves was my first stop for the day. There are many cave systems in the area but these are home to thousands of the tiny insect larvae we call glowworms. The initial part of the tour wasn’t much to speak of, the same as any other caves really, but things differed for the better once we got down to where small boats take you along the water back out of the caves. The cavern ceilings were covered in patches of glowworms, giving it a beautiful starry night sky effect in the darkness. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos for fear of disturbing their habitat, but it certainly was a wonderful sight.
Setting my course for Auckland this seemed like a good place to spend the afternoon. I didn’t get into the town itself but instead opted to explore the massive gardens on the outskirts. Perhaps not the most exciting thing, but I have to say I was very impressed. The gardens were planned out in to sections and covered different styles including Japanese, English, Indian, Maori… and a lot more. Each created its own distinct atmosphere and all were beautifully maintained.
Heading on to my campsite for the evening I was now beside sea once again, with views over to The Coromandels, somewhere else I’m sure would have been nice to visit, but time is running short.
The first place in a long while that felt like a big city, traffic jams and all. To get a better view of the sprawling city I ascended Mount Eden. Not far from the centre this old volcano offered superb views in all directions. Despite being large it did seem from there that a lot of the suburbs were very green.
Into the city centre I walked, mostly just to look around and get a feel for the place. A lot or the business seemed to come from the swarms of students, with the university occupying a large part of the city. I did make a visit to the art gallery, another well presented free attraction. There were varying collections of interest but the Maori portraits and art were what gave it something unique.
With evening falling on my final full day I had a little sorting of things in the van to do and then the quest to find a suitable place to park and sleep for the night.
And so my New Zealand adventure comes to an end. I’m sure my previous words have conveyed how much I enjoyed my time here, it really is a beautiful country and having the freedom to go anywhere and be out in nature a bit more has been a great experience.
All that remains now is a clean up of what has been my home from the last 3 weeks before returning it and getting to the airport. There I fly back to Sydney for a few days of rest and photo sorting before my next destination of Japan!
A few mildly interesting things of note:
- I forgot to get the exact milage but i believe I drove at least 2000km, or 100km per day on average
- To prove to myself I could; I went 3 weeks without drinking any Pepsi Max (or equivilant)!
- And although initially inadvertantly I then went on to go 3 weeks as a vegetarian! Not a permanent thing but interesting to experiment with.