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Published: October 31st 2009
Kia Ora! What a beautiful country this is! Our first week in New Zealand was spent exploring the North Island. When we arrived in Auckland we were very excited to meet up with Hui, our friend from home who is currently studying in NZ. Hui was the first person we've seen from home since we started our journey and it was great to catch up with an old friend! We wandered around the city together and spent the rest of the evening at the pub... Kiwi beer is much better than Aussie beer! In the morning we picked up our rental car and headed up to Northland. Despite the rainy weather, the scenery was beautiful! It was wonderful to see all the green grass and proper cows after all our time in Australia! We drove to the scenic Bay of Islands and spent some time there before finding a camping spot for the night. We had heard that camping areas in NZ are pretty nice and quite abundant (and very good for the budget), and we weren't disappointed. The morning saw us on our way to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point in New Zealand. With lush green hills, deep blue water,
and an historic lighthouse the Cape was quite pretty. From here, we returned south via the western side of the peninsula, making a stop to go sandboarding. The golden dunes were quite a contrast to the greenery surrounding them. It was our first time sandboarding and we had a blast! Things were going well until I decided I wanted to make it all the way to the bottom of the dune. I made it down, but quickly discovered that when the board hits the hard-packed sand at the bottom, it stops dead. I went flying and broke the fall with my head... ouch! After a final (more successful) attempt at sandboarding, we decided it was time to continue our drive. We spent the night camping in a forest before continuing on the winding road to Rotorua the next day.
When we arrived, we were wowed by the steam rising from the city. That, along with the stinky sulphur smell, and we knew we had arrived in New Zealand's geothermal capital. Walking through the town park, it was amazing to see the steam, hot springs, and boiling (yes, boiling!) mud pools. We spent the night soaking our sore muscles in
the mineral hot pool at the campground. Looking for more geothermal wonders, we went to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park the next day. Our first stop at the park was at the Lady Knox Geyser. They added a surfactant to make it erupt "on schedule" for everyone to witness, but it was a real geyser nonetheless; and awesome to watch! After watching this spectacle we continued into the park. It was amazing - steam and bubbles and gurgles coming from the depths of the earth and unimaginable colours - oranges, greens, yellows, and blues in shades we weren't even sure we had seen before. Walking through the park, we felt as though we had been transported to the beginning of time, and that the earth could explode from underneath us at any moment. Rotorua and it's surrounding geothermal area is certainly one of the most interesting places either of us has ever been to. The area is also home to a geothermal power plant supplying 8% of the nation's power. After exploring this area, we drove south to Lake Taupo, which was created by the largest volcanic explosion in the world in the last 5000 years. The blast happened about 2000
years ago and apparently was noticed in Europe and China. Today, the lake is a beautiful area, roughly the size of Singapore, and surrounded by mountains in the south. Here we went to the Aratiatia Rapids where we watched them open and close a huge dam and witnessed the rapids that ensued. After this, we went to the famous Huka Falls. The water here was the same colour as the glacial waters we saw in the Rockies.
Continuing south, the next day we went to see the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. The volcanic mountains were beautiful and the surrounding landscape showed the unique evidence of recent eruptions. We learned that the ski season was still open on Mt. Ruapehu and decided it sounded too good to pass up! We camped the night at the base of the mountain, and at 1000 metres elevation, we froze! In the morning we were eager to head up the mountain, but the lifts had been closed for the day due to inclement weather. We were running out of time on the North Island, but we were pretty pumped for skiing so we decided to chance it and wait another day. The following
night was supposed to be colder, and they were calling for snow so we packed our tent away and checked into the "Skotel" which is NZ's highest hotel. Since it was storming, we opted for a relaxing day in our chalet on the mountain. Our wait paid off and we awoke the next morning to a beautiful day. After hiring our gear (and snowsuits!) we began our day skiing on a volcano. Emergency evacuation plans and volcanic lahar (mud lava) paths were posted everywhere. I was hoping for a refresher on the baby hill but it was closed, so we hopped on the chairlift and headed up the mountain. We both hadn't skied for a while, but it came back pretty quickly. The skiing was great and the views were breathtaking! It was strange to look out from a snow covered ski hill to the green fields below. We were having a great time, and after a bit of practice we braved the Upper Mountain. It was a bit more challenging, but the views were even better! We reached an elevation of about 2300 metres. After our day of skiing on the volcano we made the four hour drive to
Wellington where we would be catching a ferry to the South Island the following morning.
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