Arriving in the land of the Kiwis

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March 2nd 2014
Published: March 7th 2014
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We've been a bit of a lazy bloggers recently, mostly because we are currently camping around the North Island of New Zealand, and thus have very limited wifi access, but also because we have just been quite busy taking in the wonders of this place. Arriving in Auckland almost two weeks ago truly felt like a return to civilization; after all the Spanish and French speaking countries it was so nice to have English spoken all around us, and being able to easily communicate whatever we need to. And after nearly four weeks of island hopping in French Polynesia, it was a nice change to be in a big city again.

We stayed in Auckland three full days, rented a room in the house of a nice and fun Maori lady, Ruth, in a peaceful suburb area (and most importantly, the room came with a luxuriously comfortable bed). We enjoyed Auckland, as it had nice areas with interesting shops (I increased my growing collection of souvenir earrings), lots and lots of Asian restaurants (we had already missed all the Vietnamese noodles and Korean kimchi we got used to in Canada and the US), and a volcanic island just off the shore with pretty landscapes, where we took a day trip for hiking. Already in Auckland we sensed the friendly atmosphere of New Zealand; it was apparent in small things, like they way people greet you in shops or caf├ęs, or they way the local bus drivers never seemed too busy to stop and guide passengers to the correct buses, even asking if they know where to get off etc. And this image of friendliness has only strengthened the more people we have met along our way.

From Auckland we drove to Wellington to meet my cousin Anna, who is an exchange student there, and to get our tent, which she has been kind enough to store for all these months since we left the US. We stopped for a night at a roadside motel on our way, and woke up that night in a shaking bed to an earthquake..a funny feeling indeed, even if it was supposedly a very mild one. It lasted only a few seconds, and not everyone even felt it, but I thought it felt quite strong. Not sure if I would like to experience a stronger one! The owner of the motel was just like, so an Earthquake..yawn..boring..what else is new..

Wellington is surrounded by beautiful landscapes of mountains and the sea, but otherwise we don't have much to say about the city, as apart from going to the movies, and taking a Sunday walk in the center, we didn't do much. The most memorable thing about the city itself must be our hosts, Stan and Carol - a lovely couple who treated us like family members. Stan thought that as Scandinavians we must like picking berries, so he brought home some branches of a blackberry bush one afternoon, attached it in their garden using clipses, and had us pick blackberries :D We also got a lot of good tips for our New Zealand tour, so all in all a good stay.

Now equipped with camping supplies, we finally headed towards the spectacular natural sights of New Zealand we had heard so much about. The countryside of the North Island is a sight in itself, with its grassy rolling hills, sheep and small winding roads. Even though, they say the South Island should be even more beautiful, well, remains to be seen.. So far we have visited three actual sights: first we visited the sacred mountain of the Maoris at the Egmont National Park, but settled just to a short 15 minute walk in the woods around it, and taking pics at a scenic lookout. It was good to save our energies a bit, because the next day we did a strenuous 20 km hike at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It meant climbing up to 1900 meters across a volcanic landscape to reach the amazing Red Crater, and three turquoise volcanic lakes. It's hard not to compare the volcanic and thermal features here to the ones we have seen earlier on the trip in Iceland and Yellowstone. Often it seems that we have seen specific features as more impressive elsewhere, such as the calm lava landscape around Tongariro compared to the more rough, still steaming black lava field we saw in Northern Iceland. Or the colorful, acidic pools of Yellowstone were perhaps prettier than the ones at Waimangu. But still, considering the scenery as a whole, the laidback mood, and the nice weather (at least this time of year), I would almost be willing to state New Zealand as my favorite country of our trip so far.

From Tongariro we headed towards Rotorua, which is home to the most important thermal sights. We spent some time driving around taking a look at three different lakes, and found a great natural hot pool at Kerosene Creek. It was a stream of bath warm (or hot) water with a small waterfall running into a waist deep pool. All this in a forest setting made a very relaxing soak, even if we were feeling more like sitting in a sauna, and got tired quite fast. Our campground hostess told us of a supposedly even better hot pool also nearby, so we planned on starting our next day with an early morning swim there. Our nights in the tent have proven to be rather chilly, and we thought it would be great to get into a hot bath to warm our bones first thing in the morning. Sure enough, we arrived early enough to be the only bathers (when we were getting ready to leave, a bus load of school kids arrived), and the water was great; it was a spot where a hot and a cold stream meet, so you could easily adjust the temperature of your bath, and the foresty surroundings weren't bad here either.

Freshened up by the bath, we drove to Waimangu thermal area, and took the few hour walk passing all the cool thermal features, like the Frying Pan Lake, and various bubbling and steaming pools and fumaroles. This was also the first time we have ever seen black swans in the wild, and here they were in their dozens. Also the first time we have seen trees growing in a layer of pink algae (or whatever pink growth it was).

All in all, so far New Zealand has been great, the camping has been nice, apart from the fact that we must wear all our warm clothes at night to manage in our sleeping bags, and still get chilly in the early morning hours. On the other hand, it's nice to have our car, our tent, and the portable "kitchen" we bought, as a base, and not having to pack and unpack all the time, or to eat in restaurants. We cook everyday using our portable stove and the two pots we have bought, often in some beautiful lakeside picnic spot - things could indeed be worse 😊 Keeping our blog up-to-date while camping is a minor challenge, though, but we do our best, and hopefully will post something again soon. 'Till then!

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