North Island: What's the plural of Hermit?


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Oceania » New Zealand » North Island » Auckland
October 3rd 2012
Published: October 4th 2012
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We are at the last evening of our 21 day adventure of touring both of New Zealand's fascinating islands. We are celebrating the end of an era for us with a fine bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, both enjoying its indigenous roots, an era it has been living and breathing each other for 21 solid days, the only break coming when either of us needs the toilet - and even then Ben normally needs to "hold" Lauren's hand as its dark and in the middle of some unknown camp site! But luckily we sit here with mood lighting (we turned out one light), Damien Rice crooning on the iPhone and eating our tit bits of bread, soup, fruit and mixing our fine wine with hot chocolate! We have had no bumps, prangs and scrapes for all the fortune we handed over to the van company (but you know we would have, had we not!) we have only had one falling out much to our surprise and we have calmed the inner daredevils within us with one or five adventurous outings, Ben has been a true man creating his own fire for one and digging a hole for another, yes we have had many an adventure on these two very different isles but also a nostalgic moment or two so all in all it should make for an interesting blog for you to while away some time as Jack Frost starts to nip at your toes and nose.



We return you to Tuesday 25 September, you may recall we got a ferry from the South some 24km North to the capital of NZ- Wellington. Lauren's father had said there was very little to do here so we unjustly gave it a solitary afternoon, much to our disappointment. We found a backpackers we could park the van in for free and set out on a mini adventure. We toured the streets and saw NZ's version of Harrods, Kirkcaldie and Stains, we passed a bridge designed as a boat and spent too little time in the national museum- Te Papa. It was set over six floors and the hour we gave it is an embarrassment! At least it was free, we explored the history of the country going back some 90 million years when the country was attached to both Australia and Africa as well as Antartica. We learnt about the huge volcanic eruptions that occurred as the country split apart along the Pacific Vault Line (Ring of Fire) from then the time fast forwards to some 1000 years ago with the first evidence of the Maori people. In that time NZ had dinosaurs and a lot of birds some 25,000 being indigenous. Apart from that there was a hell of a lot of geothermal activity still evidenced today the last major eruption being 1886, although minor as recent as 2007. We felt the effects of an earthquake in a set up attraction and saw the bone remains of a pygmy blue whale. Unfortunately we saw no more other than to say it is a fascinating museum with an amazing interactive centre for children. The remainder of our time was spent taking the 100 year old cable car to the top of the city to a fantastic lookout from yet another Botanical Garden. We ventured to the observatory but shunned the asking price and instead made our way to the free exhibit of a huge array of spring tulips. At this time Lauren was becoming rather unwell and we spent the rest of our time going to a pharmacy who insisted she needed a doctor at the out of hours centre, out of town! We made it there early evening but for her pain Lauren couldn't hand over the $200 fee to see a doctor (we have travel insurance but the excess was over this amount!) so a kind receptionist who moonlighted as a nurse advised of some over the counter tablets! She is fine now after drinking copious amounts of water but we shall see!



We set out on a long journey on the Wednesday travelling the centre of the country to Lake Taupo, the largest lake the size of Singapore! It took a good five hours and the weather had turned again after sunny days since Friday, Lauren had even taken to wearing a dress, take that UK spring! We drove on though not passing much of anything that we would have wanted to stop at, arriving at the desert road, one of the highest roads in the country surrounded by dormant volcanoes that moonlighted as LOTR mountains including the infamous Mt Doom. It was a very different landscape to that of the south, this, we are sorry to say, wasn't as interesting or as pretty but perhaps it is that we have been spoilt for so long! We did get some volcanic ranges with snow capped tops but due to the weather we couldn't enjoy this, and due to the volcanoes the surrounding land was as the road name suggest- quite like a desert but not sand- it just has no fauna and flora growing on it. The sides of the roads did make for an interesting sight though- the road has almost been carved out leaving steep volcanic rocks jutting out of the surface.



We freedom camped that evening and endured the pounding rain on the roof, having barely left the van that day. The night had a rather nasty chill attached to it and as we were at a sight that allowed fires (seldom do) Ben took to his manly ways and built a fire - granted it was good and set alight after a while but it went out too quickly due to the rain and wind! Still we got a tad warm, enough to get to sleep with in the van. The next morning it was just as miserable and we set out to a local area that has free mud pools and springs to view. Now you may get excited rolling around throwing mud on each other as we did- no these are in excess of 100 degrees and are merely for observing- no going in alive unless you like singed burnt away skin that is. They were unusual to look at gurgling away with no human interaction and making loud burping noises but the smell of sulphur- rotten eggs to you and I - was enough to make you want to see your breakfast again! Still natural geography that has mesmerised us both for last two weeks was once again doing its best- capturing us and our hands snapping away on our well used camera. We learnt over various geothermal encounters in the next few days that this area is on the ring of fire and volcanic activity however small is present amongst the people here resulting in some fascinating sights. The hot water rising up on the surface unfortunately blending with the clouds today and mud gurgling where the sheer heat pressure has cracked the earths surface.



From here we progressed North to the lake and headed to the biggest attraction- the Huka Falls. These weren't the most impressive falls we have seen on our trip so far, it was more of a long strip of rapids with a small fall at the end but the swirling of bright blue water was pretty enough to keep our attention for a few minutes. The next sight was 'Craters of the Moon' although Ben points out the moon doesn't have many of the qualities this land possesses- namely water, steam and vegetation! This place again is natural and a fine example of what volcanic activity has created in one place. Craters gouge out the earths crust and vegetation has grown in bright greens and unusual ferns that almost seem tropic, probably because of the extreme heat excuding from the holes, steam is seen appearing from every crack and orifice and you are warmed walking along the narrow path. The next attraction was a dam that opened its floodgates at set times and we arrived in time for this, Lauren having never seen a dam before. That too was interesting watching the water gush out and fill the rapids below, although we felt sorry for the fish that seemed to hover the surface just before the siren alerted the onset of water! Lunch called us and we enjoyed burgers of the healthy -ish kind before heading to a working honey bee farm and sampling free honey wine and varying honeys and beauty products and even some honey fudge and ice cream.



We took the road north again for roughly an hour arriving at home for the night, a powered sight for the usual price of $20 per person but this with the added bonus of six different hot water springs. Again it was another natural phenomenon used to its advantage using the boiling water to pump six different pools with the natural minerals and heat. We enjoyed a luxurious soak, our first bathing since the morning before. Our skin turned to that of a ninety year old and we retreated to the van again. Ben enjoyed an evening and early morning soak whilst Lauren did her daily exercise in the narrow aisle of the van! That morning, Friday, we went to another geothermal place, Wai-O-Tapu, claimed to be the most colourful. That was the thing with so many similar arttractions all over the country each place has to find it's unique calling, we heard about this all over through the tourism radio or local brochures, each had a claim to fame, a different way of advertising than we were used to in the UK. To just look at these natural pools etc was over $30 per person so Ben sat this one out as Lauren had garnered much more interest in this and Ben was happy to rely on pictures. She had one hour to get around a one and half hour circuit as their geyser was set to go off at that time. It was extremely colourful as they said although the grey sky again didn't add much to the colour! She saw many a sight, from craters with bubbling mud and excreting lots of smoke, to pools of many colours and even walking over a carefully steel structured bridge over an active area of terraces. The beginning there were quite a few people around but as she came out towards the end, the main area was eerily quiet as they had all retreated to the geyser! The sight was pretty incredible but the price tag to get in this seemed unnecessary as the attraction is natural! All the trees and ground were covered in sulphur and dangerous chemicals so there was upkeep to the walkways but the rest was down to nature! The geyser will go off naturally every 24-48 hours but to guarantee those extra dollars, they add a chemically safe addition to ensure it erupts at a set time each day. Water raised to 20 metres and was incredible making Lauren want to try and visit Yellow Stone in Colorado said to be ten times better than this!



From here we made our way slightly north to a main town of Rotorua. Queenstown's sister of the north known as the adventure capital here with many an activity repeated as down south. We took the opportunity to white water raft on grade V rapids, the highest you can raft which included a 7 metre waterfall- this is in fact the largest waterfall you can commercially raft down in the world, again, when in Rome eh? Lauren was bricking it as we set out in our wet suits but on a very decent day now the grey sky had cleared up. The first few down hill drops whetted our appetite for the big drop, and the other guys in the raft with us, three large men, were apparently our best friends as their size should mean we wouldn't capsize. Lauren was getting really scared as you had a one in ten chance of going under and the rush of the rapids could keep us down and there was a lot of safety to go over! The photographer of another company caught us but stopped snapping as he genuinely thought we were gonners! We were sucked right under bobbing up off the seats but we came back up all six of us still grasping the ropes, Lauren even got cuts from squeezing that tight! We handled the other rapids well, culminating in over 30 metres of drops in total, some with our paddles held above our heads as we were hard core now! We had fun in the last rapids with each of us going in turn at the front on our knees to be taken into the rapid and water gushing in our face! A lot went overboard on other rafts but we all maintained composure! We had a lot off fun and definitely want to add rafting to a sport we would encounter more in future!



As the sun had popped out we decided to visit the areas tallest peak for a decent view of the lake, another town based on a lake, and then went to the gondola area. We hadn't partaken in the luge in Queenstown knowing this one to house three tracks, we parted with more cash as we took to the cable car and headed North, Ben doing well with his fear of heights. At the top we visited a huge Jelly Belly store with portraits of Mona Lisa and Harry Potter made out of thousands of jelly beans! From here we headed to the luge which is like go karting but only one front wheel, no engine and gravity is your best friend. Ben had a lot of confidence but Lauren not so! We took to the beginners track which was long and scenic and Lauren met Ben at the bottom what seemed like an age later! We took the ski lift up to the top before trying the intermediate. Lauren got better only half an age behind Ben this time. The final time was the advanced route which Lauren was not ready for but here went nothing! She actually kept up quite well until, the end but that was mainly due to the cuts reappearing in her palms from squeezing the handle bar too tight! Unfortunately the weather turned and the light rain started as we made our way back down the gondola in the hunt for food. We were no longer in the mood for cooking in the van, cup a soup and pasta gets boring so we treated ourselves to, yep pasta! We threw in some pizza for good measure too! We headed to a slightly out of town, but cheaper campsite for the night again with no power or shower!



The next morning it was beautiful and sunny and after a slight argument we decided we should seize the day and try one last adventure - zorbing. You may recall the description from the last blog, if not, in a nutshell, large inflatable ball filled with water rolling down a hill! We chose the zig zag lane rather than a straight lane as its more "wild". Lauren had done this before harnessed in with no water and felt that as she went over and over it turned her stomach but the water one looked like you just sloshed rather than going upside down over and over. Ben commented the track didn't seem that big but Lauren assured him it would be long enough! As we suited down we went in one by one, Lauren first! Hot water was added and as I started down it felt ok but then it picked up momentum and my god I was wrong you do go upside down, over and over and over again! I felt physically sick screaming and the thought of drowning as the water came up over your face, I actually screamed "get me out of here" at the end, but luckily it was the end! A couple of photos later I had returned to normal and then it was Ben's go from the top of the hill! He had similar experiences but just screamed inside! We uploaded a free picture to Facebook before drying off and making our way up the coast to the picturesque Coromandel Peninsular.



We had wanted to come here but with the planned glow worm trip up here and day less we hadn't thought it possible so we very happy as we travelled along the coastal route passing beach towns with an annual population of 700, then in summer up to 40,000! We drove over a ford and attempted a walk to a waterfall but as it went through streams and Lauren's tendency to injure herself we gave it up as a lost cause and found a powered site for the night near the coast. The next morning, Sunday, we headed right out to the coast to Cathedral Cove, a stunning natural rocky area with a perfectly formed arch and coves created from erosion and a golden sandy beach. A waterfall flowed onto the sand and it was the postcard picture view. We took in a walk over the shire, amazed to see such country overlooking the jutting coast line. From here we went to the infamous Hot Water Beach. A hot spring runs underneath the beach so for two hours either side of low tide you can dig your own hot spring! The only problem, you share this small area with hundreds of others, even in low season! Ben got to work digging an impressive hole but where we were the hot spring wasn't! We had chosen somewhere away from the crowds unknowing that there was a reason for this! At the crowd there wasn't space to dig our own so we dipped our legs in others and enjoyed the warmth before another retreat to the van.



We took a lovely afternoon sunny drive across more coastal views eventually landing in Auckland, the largest city in the country. We drove through quite easily despite it holding a quarter of the population in this one place and with no arguments! We made it to a camp site around five minutes north of the city and checked in. It was a beautiful evening and as the clocks had sprung forward (despite it being the opposite in the UK) we decided to make the most of the hour we lost in bed that morning. We headed back to the city, parked up for free, as it's Sunday, and went to the imposing Skytower that decorates the pretty skyscraper skyline. At over 220 metres tall on the top viewing deck it is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere and being a trip that seemed to encompass world records we gave it a go, Ben putting on a brave smile. We thought we would have a $28 entry fee each but we opted for a buffet at the top that was discounted to $55 and included going up so we get one hell of a deal. The buffet was gorgeous with loads of salads and interesting food catering for the large Asian community. Ben tried sushi but it didn't get the vote! A hundred mini desserts later and a cocktail and beer we let the camera do its job photographing the impressive skyline as the sun set and the moon started to shine brightly. Lauren ventured up to the very top but Ben politely declined. He had begun to feel sick when he noticed Lauren was standing on a see through glass panel on the lift going up, and when the lift opened and you saw the city disappearing (a nice touch!) and then again on the level as Lauren jumped around on the glass panels to show there was no danger! Ben attempted to walk on it but got too scared! Lauren even tried to entice him with a two for one of the sky walk, a 1.2 metre wide walk around the perimeter 192 metres high in the air with no railings only a harness above you! Again he politely declined, Lauren was gutted bit it was too expensive, as was the free fall jump and the bungy off the bridge.



The next day brings us to today, we headed into the city again finding somewhere to park after an hour! It was tricky to find somewhere that wasn't with a height barrier due to the van, we found somewhere that worked and at $18 for the day nearly paid until we spotted side road parking at $4! We took in the sights of an unusually designed city, building planning was very lax resulting in many an odd building! We took a good walk to the museum housed in a Greek style building and over to Parnell a quaint shopping and cafe district just outside the city area. A walk back and we felt we had seen a fair bit, enough when we still consider this a countryside country rather than the city. We proceeded to the campsite we sit at now, within a working farm, cows, lambs and an array of birds squawking besides us, quite a fitting end to our trip really, as we said we wanted it to be about the countryside!



All that remains is dropping off the van tomorrow and checking into an airport hotel before an early Wednesday flight to Fiji. We have had a blast over here and would never discount a return trip, but perhaps three weeks in a camper was too long, it did take its toll when you eat, sleep and breathe in here and you almost feel like its just you and the road on and on, we both also relished in just being alone in here not having to communicate with anyone, often not even having music on! We definitely became a bit recluse and luckily we snapped out of it being back in the city!



Things of note-

Not too much different from the South here, we found petrol as cheap as 1.929 though Brucey!



There is a horrific smell in Rotorua from the geothermal activity but you get used to it very quickly.



Auckland is a slight copy of Sydney from the harbour bridge to the tall tower, but different in many other ways, promise!



What would we do differently-



We felt we had sufficient time on both islands, with more time we could have partaken in walks etc but when you have rented a van you want to spend your time in it!



Thefts: 0



Near Misses: surprisingly 0



Fallouts: 1 it was a biggy, probably the first major but we are all good now, too much living in each others pockets, literally!


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