North Island - Taupo, Waitomo, Bay of Islands and Auckland

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September 3rd 2011
Published: September 4th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

This is my final blog for NZ, so I've got a lot to cram in. I was going to make it 3 blogs for the North Island but there's no time as we fly to Fiji today!

We headed to Taupo after Rotorua stopping to admire the Huka Falls along the way. The stunning falls are the spot where New Zealand's largest river, the Waikato - which has only just been born from Lake Taupo. The river slams into a narrow chasm, making a dramatic 10m drop into the surging pool. As we crossed over the footbridge it was incredible to see how fast the river was flowing - it made me feel a bit dizzy!

Arriving in Taupo I knew I'd love the place after we easily found our first bit of 'proper' freedom camping that Tom and Linsey had told us about (thanks!). It was just a car park but the view of Lake Taupo was amazing. Lake Taupo is a very special lake. It's the largest lake in New Zealand created from a vast water filled crater, the legacy of the volcanic blast that shattered the island and shook up the world more than 26,500 years ago. The area is still active with Tongario National Park right next door (more on that later). We had a little walk around and stumbled upon a jumbo jet sitting on top of McDonalds - who knew Ronald had a plane?? The town was really sweet and nestled in some spectacular scenery. I loved watching the sunset over Lake Taupo from our camper that evening and would have loved to stay longer but there's lots more to see and do.

We headed to Tongario National Park with our main aim to see Mount Ngauruhoe which is famous because of it's starring role as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, it was really cloudy when we arrived so we couldn't see it. We camped at a DOC place nearby to see if our luck would change but unfortunately not. We couldn't see the top or the middle in the morning but I promise we were there!

Named as one of New Zealand's premier attractions we had to visit the Waitomo Caves to see some glow worms and limestone formations. Jucy came through for us once more and we found a two for one voucher to do Black Water Rafting if you had a Jucy Campervan - score! We booked ourselves in for the following day and stayed at the only power site available in the area - the Top Ten Holiday Park. I always swore to myself that we wouldn't stay at one of these places because they are everywhere and really expensive. However, we gave in and the facilities were really nice - there was even a trampoline next to the van that I enjoyed jumping on!

We were very excited the next day when we checked in for adventure. We were given wet suits to put on, white wellington boots and red helmets - nice! Luckily, there was just three in our group - the other was a chap from Brazil called Leo. We got in a mini van and our guide Rodney drove us to the Cave entrance. We had a walk across some fields, I felt a bit silly doing this in a wetsuit, plus mine was really tight I was walking funny. When we reached a forrested area we were given black rubber rings that we would use in the water. Rodney started taking pcitures of us and said we would have a chance to view them at the end and could buy them if we like. I was quite pleased we would have photos about this as this was the only thing that put me off about the tubing. Entering the cave was really creepy and dark. We stopped shortly inside and Rodney told us about the limestone formations and about glow worms and stalagmites. It was really interesting. The caves were actually under the sea 300 million years ago and there are actually over 300 of them in the Waitomo area. We carried on walking for a bit and I was wondering when we'd actually get wet. Rodney showed us a formation that look like a foot and then the top part was like a whistle blowing, but I couldn't really see that bit. The two men that discovered it called it Footwhistle cave after this formation about 100 years ago.

I was pretty petrified when we actually got into the water as Rodney didn't tell us what was coming and he kept asking if we were scared and I said I was and he would say you should be. We all hooked onto to eachother as you can see from the photos and then we glided along the river passage. It was freezing in the water and I'm so pleased we had such thick wet suits on. We turned off our head torches and all above us were millions of glow worms - it was incredible. We were all just silent, no one wanted to speak it was so beautiful. Like a deep cluster of stars, like milky ways and galaxies. I have no idea how long we glided in the water for, it could have been hours. We came up to a small waterfall that Rodney made us jump backwards off and fall onto our ruber ring. I don't like going backwards off things and I had to keep my eyes closed so tight because of my contacts. It was ok in the end, and we then carried on in the water, this time we pulled ourselves along by the ropes looking at more glow worms along the way. It was really special. Our last bit of fun was a hydro slide that had been put in. Andy went down first - wooping and cheering (he told me after that he should have kept his mouth closed). I went down and Rodney told me to be careful of my eyes and hold my nose. I did as he said and went woooooshing down. Along the way I bumped my elbow on the side of the slide and I managed to slice the inside of my nose with my nail. I felt like I'd punched myself in the face so unfortunately, the ride wasn't that great for me. Getting out into the sunlight Andy said I'd grazed all the tip of my nose too. It was really sore for a few days after. Hehe.

Showers were provided after the trip which was lovely and then we were given hot chocolate and were able to watch our photos. We really liked them so thought why not and bought them. The brilliant lady who booked them all for us even gave us a discount off the photos even though we'd already done two for one. I like that I'm able to show them on here too so you can all see them. After Waitomo we headed to the Oparu Road Stop another little gem that Tom and Linsey told us about. The owners have a little shop and take away and they let us stay there for free and with power! Unbelievable generosity. It was great to have power because we could have the electric heater on which was lovely and toasty and the freezing cave. The owners thought the same as us that charging people $30+ a night for power is ridiculous. We chatted to them for a while and signed their guestbook the next morning.

We had a big drive the next day, passed Hamilton and through Auckland up towards the Bay of Islands. There was no need to linger in Auckland as we would be spending a few days there at the end of our trip. We stayed at DOC campsite at Uretiti Beach for the night which was an absolute rip off. They charged $18 just to park, no shower, no power and the toilets were just long drops. It was a far cry from the free night we had before. It wasn't like you had sea views, couldn't even see the beach from where we were. We carried on the next day to a town called Whangaeri where we visited the spectacular 26m drop waterfalls. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of people there. The falls were formed by the Haeta River crossing a basalt lava flow, estimated to be about 2.5 million years old. The river continually erodes the edge of the falls and slowly cuts a gorge as the falls move upstream. The falls have moved 400m since the river started crossing the flow and are about halfway across. From all the waterfalls we have seen I really liked this one. The setting and the height of the drop was spectacular.

We also visited the Abbey Caves - kind of. We parked up and put our walking boots on and took flashlights and headed in the direction of the arrows. The Lonely Planet call the caves the backpackers answer to Waitomo as they are free to get into as there are no guides. We walked around for ages, it was so hot. We found the 3 openings for the caves but it was a really steep climb down to the bottom and neither of us fancied it in the end so we just enjoyed the walk instead. Plus we'd only just done Waitomo so it wasn't the end of the world. We carried onto Paihia for the night and stayed near the Haruru falls which were in a sweet horseshoe shape. Paihia was a sweet town too with some lovely sea views. We didn't stay too long as we had a big journey to complete. We drove all the way to Cape Reigna, the northernmost point in NZ. We stopped for lunch in Kawakawa an ordinary kiwi town except for some peculiar public toilets. They are called NZ most photographed toilets - but who takes photos of loos anyway? They were designed by Austrian born artist and ecoarchitect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. They were quite strange - lots of wavy lines, colourful mosaic tiles and brightly coloured bottles.

We reached Cape Reigna in the afternoon but the weather had taken a turn and it was really cloudy. We couldn't even see the lighthouse so we decided to head to the campsite early and have a walk along the Tapotupota Beach. The next day the clouds were still really low but we made the 1km walk from the car park. Visibility was poor - we could only see 50m in front of us. We could hear the sea but couldn't see it. Different signs indicated islands and trees to look at but we couldn't see any of it. It was a bit weird when the lighthouse just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. We waited there for ages to see if it would clear. I really wanted to see where the Abel Tasman sea meets the Pacific because apparently the waves can be 10m high. It is also a very spiritual place for Maori people as this is where they believe souls go after death. The weather did clear a bit and we managed to get a picture of the sea. A bit disappointing but we can't have all the good weather.

On our long way back we stopped off at the Te Paki reserve to see the sand dunes there. They were quite impressive and we had fun running up and down them. Another stop was 90 mile beach. Like on Fraser Island you could drive your 4x4 on it but rental vehicles are prohibited which I could undertstand so we just had a peek. We stopped at a nice campervan park for our last night in the camper just outside of Auckland. It was so weird to see the bags again and pack up after 39 nights. We had steak for tea too, wanted something nice for the last night.

The next day we cleaned out the van and I sorted through the hundreds of leaflets I'd picked up along the way and we drove to our hostel to drop off our bags and then went to find the Jucy compound to drop off Mr. Chaser. I was really sad to leave it, it's been really good to us and we've had such a brilliant time in it. The freedom to go where you want and see things when you want has been better than anything. I even had a little cry and I'm not ashamed to admit it. :-( As we walked into the city centre we realised we forgot to check the mileage on it, so we ran back and asked them to check it for us. Over 39 days we travelled 6,290 km !!!

The passed few days in Auckland have been busy as I've been writing blogs and organising America as we don't think we'll get internet in Fiji. We had a walk around Auckland yesterday having a look at the sky tower but not going up it and buying sun cream for Fiji. We visited St Patricks Cathedral which was beautiful outisde and in. When we were in the pharmacy we heard the radio announcing that the All Blacks would be arriving in the sqaure for a pre-World Cup appearance so we headed on down. There were thousands of people there all waving flags and they had set up a band to perform. When the players arrived in their coach some maori people did a welcome performance similar to what we saw in Rotorua. It was really impressive. I'm glad we went there, there's huge buzz from the world cup but I don't regret not staying longer as transport, accommadation and other things have quadroupled in price. I do have some photos of the players but this coin operated computer won't let me put them up.

So, we are heading to Fiji later today, very excited. Hopefully I'll be able to put up a new blog in a couple of weeks time. Hope you enjoyed the read.

Miss you all. Not long now.


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5th September 2011

wicked blog dude. Love the jumping pics especially the frog jump andy. Caves look cool and some gd pics of the van. Great amount of miles done. Keep having fun. Xxxx

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