09.10.2008 - 09.11.2008
With stiff legs from our hiking in Abel Tasman we left sunny Nelson and made the trip to Wellington and the start of our adventures in the Northern Island of New Zealand. We got the Interislander ferry from Picton and thankfully the seas were nice and calm so neither of us were even seasick (which is a big surprise for me!). The ferry is enormous with 10+ decks and takes just under 4 hours to make the crossing, with a cinema and all on board the time flies in so it wasn't long before we were docking in the foggy harbour of New Zealands capital city Wellington. You can notice straight away the difference between this city and any of the others we'd been in on the South Island, its of a much bigger scale and alot busier. We arrived at rush hour and nearly got pummelled by the pedestrian traffic (not in the good way either!), we were big targets with all our stuff but thankfully managed to get a taxi in the madness and get to the hostel.
New Zealand Sea Reflection
Wellington is a really young, lively & highly cultured city.. There must be a theatre on nearly every street corner followed closely by an abundance of boho bars & restaurants. On our first day in Wellington we went to the 'must see' Museum called Te Papa & strolled around all the exhibits. You could be forgiven for loosing track of time in this place because the museum is enormous. A couple of hours later & i think we both had our fill of history & dinosaur exhibits but i would definitely recommend a visit.
Halloween night in Wellington was pretty strange.. We saw more than our fair share of middle aged women walking around in dominatrix/pvc outfits.. eeeekkkkk its not an image i wish to recollect However when we did make it to bed that night & just got settled we were abruptly woken by the fire alarm in the hostel. We lay there for 5 minutes waiting for it to be turned off.. afterall it is always a false alarm.. after a couple of minutes later i looked out our door & there were people making their way downstairs. We got dressed & calmly walked to the exits. Everyone was really chilled out & walking out pretty slowly - that was until a middle aged couple stormed through the emergency exit fully dressed with all their luggage. At this stage everyone felt a little uneasy & picked up the pace. There were hundreds of people piled out onto the streets dressed in pyjamas.. boxers.. vampire outfits.. It was as we had guessed a false alarm... but we enjoyed the drama.
Turns out the fire alarm was set off by someone touching one of the sensors on the ceiling of the rooms that had a big sign on it saying "Do Not Touch"! You wouldn't even know there was a sensor there to touch if they didn't put a sign on it!! Fools.
Driving by a daunting looking Tongariro volcanoe on the way to Taupo.
Right so next stop in the North Island was to Lake Taupo about half way up the country were we'd planned to hike over the Tongariro Pass, an 18.5 km trek through a trio of volcanoes used as Mount Doom for the Lord of the Rings films. We checked into our hostel which turned out was a bit of a kip, we got stuck right above the nightclub so had to listen to screaming packs of English girls the whole night, got no sleep and ended up missing our bus the next day for our planned hike over Tongariro. But the day was savage so we went on a crazy golf day. First we started smacking some balls out into the lake trying to get a hole in one on a floating green! Not too much success there so we hit the local crazy golf, then we ended up catching the bug and goin for a full game on the local course - it was golf madness!
Goin for a hole in one on Lake Taupo
Sunset over Lake Taupo
So the following day, despite yet another night sleeping to the vibrations of all the latest rap tunes coming up through the floor all night we got up and ready at 5 in the morning and jumped on a bus to the start of the Tongariro crossing. Unlike the fine weather the previous day there was a heavy fog and we couldnt even see the mountain, it was really eerie with the visability only about a hundred metres or so. We loved the strange weather it made the atmosphere for the climb very unique.
Snow plain with the peak of Tongariro in distance
Now we should warn everybody here, we took alot of photos over the day on that mountain so brace yourselves!
The first stretch of the hike took us across a boardwalk that hovered over the marshes below us for a kilometre or so as we made our way to the base of the mountain. The fog was really thick so we could only see 50 metres ahead. The boardwalk continued to emerge from the mist adding to the suspense of what the first section of the hike would be like....the dreaded devils staircase!
The devils staircase is where the climbing really starts and is one of the steepest sections too where a mixture of concrete and wooden staircases helped us scramble over the scree and sharply up the mountain. We still couldnt see much higher then and after every set of steps we hoped we were getting closer to the easier parts, but alas more steps continued looming out of the clouds above us. It was about half way up when we first started getting some glimpses of snow in patches promising some more interesting conditions higher up! it took a good 40 minutes to get past this section where we took a well deserved rest.
The next section of the climb is from the south crater to the red crater. The south crater was a long flat stretch where the snow got fairly heavy, it was up over our ankles and we still couldnt see where we were to go. We blindly followed the odd marker poles that appeared from the mist to guide us to the start of the ascent up to the red crater. This was the most dangerous part of the climb with steep drops to our left and the scree slipping from under our feet. The mist was still so thick we couldnt even see how far a drop it was.....we just knew it was far! And then we'd made it to the top! Well kind of, there was an option to climb to the next peak but it was sealed off due to the weather....so we had gotten as far as they'd let us!
Just on schedule the weather started to clear as we sat and had our lunch enthralled by the magnificent views over the surrounding countryside and the steaming emerald lakes below us.
The ascent had taken us 3 hours and we had another 3 hours ahead of us to get back down again on the other side. On the climb down we passed through 3 totally different types of terrain. From the heavy snow and icy lakes at the top to the grassy tussock plains on the middle of the mountain and finally a thick jungle like forest at the base! As we passed the craters of the volcano and made our way to the start of the descent we crossed over steaming streams of the thermal springs that flow down the mountain. A thick steam was even spewing off the boulders we passed!
I found the climb down to be harder then the climb up (especially after my knee popped), and we were both thrilled when we finally reached the car park on the far end and collapsed on the grass to wait for our bus to take us to bed.....we were gonna feel this climb for a few days but it was without doubt one of if not the best things we did in New Zealand - if not the whole trip.
Tongariro was awesome, no doubt about it...but man where we tired the next day! We really didnt fancy another night in Taupo so at the last minute as usual we stiffly packed our bags and legged it for the bus laden down with bags. It was a relatively short jaunt then to our second last stop in NZ, the town of Rotorua.
Rotorua is most famously known for its geothermal activity and its surrounded by active geysers and bubbling mud pools...and the whole place smells of eggs! I famously (or not so famously?) have little to no sense of smell, so I was kind of enjoying the enveloping sulphur aroma of the town as it got my senses back working again the smell is so strong! It is a very strange cool sort of town as the steam gushes in clouds up from the middle of the main street, out of sewer drains, up out of the path in front of you! Alot of the town is heated/powered by the thermal activity which we found really interesting. We stayed in an excellent hostel, next door to a patch of land where a house 'used' to be before a geyser erupted there out of the blue! Around the corner there was a park the centrepiece of which was a large geyser that we took a stroll over on the bridges that criss-crossed it and the whole place was unlike any where we'd ever been before.
But - apart from the randomness of the steaming roads and buildings there wasnt anything else that interesting here that we took advantage of. It is a real centre for the Maori culture and there are plenty of shows and museums about we were just seriously low on funds at this stage! We spent the first day mostly trying to recover from the hike the previous day, and browsing through the hundreds of souvenir shops in Rotorua picking up bits for the peeps at home, we were only 4 weeks away from our triumphant return after all! But probably the highlight of our short stay here was watching the US election results with all the other backpackers in the hostel...YES WE CAN!
Our final destination in New Zealand was Auckland "The city of sails". We arrived in style on the Intercity bus as normal and trudged up some monster hills to get to our hostel. We both loved Auckland, we spent the first day as normal exploring and taking in the main sights in the city centre walking the backstreets and finding some excellent cafes and book stores that we browsed for hours. We walked to the harbour and took in the stunning sight of the hundreds of yachts, and back to the Sky Tower that dominates the Auckland skyline. It is a great city with a great buzz about it and we enjoyed being back in a "big smoke"!
Auckland Sky Tower
Conveniently enough Lorraines friend Leah just 'happened' to be in Auckland, same as she had just happened to be in Sydney as well when we met her there?! So we met her for a pleasant evenings tipple and some tomfoolery as well!
But the swansong of our New Zealand adventure was not to be by a Maori fire, or jumping off a bridge, or hiking to the top of a stunning mountain, but a west end musical! We strolled by the Civic theatre during our wanderings and chanced to see if any tickets were left for the Phantom of the Opera that was playing that night, and luckily there were some good cheap last minute seats left. So we rushed to the hostel to change and made it back in time for the show, it was brilliant and something that both myself and Lorraine had been wanting to see for a long time.
So not the most traditional of endings to our time in New Zealand, but a brilliant night all the same. It was off to sun, sand and tropical paradise in Fiji the next day but we both knew that our time in New Zealand was going to leave an ever lasting impression on both of us. It is one of the most breathtaking places we have ever had the privilege to see, the people are incredible and the craic is mighty as well. There is such a variety of landscapes from snow capped mountains to tropical forests and beaches. It is a place that can only be experienced really, and we are going to ensure that we do return to experience it all again and more as soon as we possibly can.
And so should YOU!
Whoever you might be. Mom and Dad probably. Hi Mom!