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Published: July 13th 2006
Be active or buy activity
After having been running up mountains for five weeks in Tassie we were quite keen to go back to a more relaxing style of sightseeing which means driving to a highlight, jumping out of the car to do the "five minutes return lookout" - option and jumping back in, to drive to the next sight. On the other hand New Zealand is walking country again. With so many kilometers of walking tracks and nine great walks of which at least one is of world reputation, the country offers a lot for walking lovers. What's more, as some fellow travellers put it: "you have to walk. Everything else is just too expensive!" We quickly found out that this was true enough. New Zealand's tourist industry is pretty big and has probably grown in the last years by simply raising their prices. Entry fees can be hefty and like in Asian countries they always try to sell you a tour with everything. (We haven't actually done that, but who would pay fifty bucks for a sheep shearing tour?!) And then there are all the adventure activities: bungee jumping, skydiving, caving, abseiling, kajaking, jet boating... the list is
endless. And if you have the gold, but not the time why not take advantage of the supervalue all inclusive adventure day package which allows you to do five of the above mentioned activities in just one day? Well, with the amount it costs, we could easily add an other month of travelling in Laos. Why not? It is a beautiful place, too. And they at least do not play the dirty trick of giving out free visas only to ask for a departure tax at the airport...
All that's left is walking. But that is not necessarily bad news. The walking opportunities are there and plentiful. Just make sure you bring a raincoat. As greenhorns to New Zealand we were keen to try a couple of the nine great walks and we finally chose the Tongariro Northern Circuit on the North Island and the Routeburn Track on the South Island, both terrific walks we can definitely recommend.
The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 4 days or rather a 3 and 1/2 days walk through the volcanic area of Tongariro Nationalpark. Famous is the second day of the tour known as the "Tongariro Crossing" - a 8 hour daywalk. Every
day hundreds of tourists (that is if the weather is good) get dropped off at one end of the track and picked up again on the other end by a couple of special buses running from every town of the area. Doing the whole cirquit has firstly the advantage that you don't need those buses as you are returning to the same spot, and more importantly that you have got enough time to take in the scenery, especially from top of Mount Ngauruhoe (2287m). The climb is nothing for the unfit, though. It is very steep, indeed! The popularity of the Crossing has even grown in the last years since parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy have been filmed in the national park. Peter Jacksons choice is a good one. the dry and scarse landscape is of a dramatic beauty, very fascinating in good weather, but unmerciful in bad conditions. People have died here, underestimating Mount Doom and the land of Mordor.
While the second day is definitly the highlight, the third day is also spectacular, taking in the sacred Blue Lake and the bizarre landscape of the Oturere Valley where lava spit out by the Red Crater
a long time ago turned into thousands of strangely formed pinnacles. The last day is more montonous, but still very enjoyable, the track leading back to Whakapapa village with two lakes and a waterfall as possible detours. With the fire-spitting mountains in the Tongariro NP Jackson has indeed chosen a great scenery for the LOTR finale, we will never understand though, why we never got to see anything of it in his films...
Having said that walking is the affordable activity in New Zealand it isn't true with the greatest of the nine great walks: the Milford Track. To walk the Milford you not only have to pay about 45 dollars per night for the huts, but transport to the start and back from the end of the track include bus as well as boat rides which makes it a pretty dear walk indeed. The Routeburn Track is a popular and cheaper alternative. It takes only three days - or rather two half days and a long one - and it starts and ends at a car park which makes transport organisation much easier. In fact, the track is that short (32 km) that people run it in under 3
hours! The yearly Routeburn race was held on our third day and we passed the racers on our way out from McKenzie Hut: a whole bunch of crazy fellows happily smiling at us and wishing us good luck! Well, the scenery is definitly a worthy one! Even if you don't see it (running through and staring at your feet and the more than slippery pathway) you can still enjoy it, so said at least a fellow walker who had bad luck with weather. Well, if you have the luck and get the blue sky, the Routeburn is definitly one of the most beautiful tracks you are likely to do.
Find more stories and pictures on our Lovelyplanet-Homepage
. Planet Portrait
* Top 3:
* Our route:
Auckland - Thames - Rotorua - Taupo - Tongariro - Auckland - Northland - Wellington - Nelson - Takaka - Wharariki Beach - Punakaiki - Greymouth - Fox Glacier - Haast - Wanaka - Moeraki - Owaka - Nugget Point - Invercargill - Glenorchy - Mt Aspiring NP - Southwest NP - Milford Sound - Te Anau - Gore - Dunedin
* That was bad:
Too many tours on offer.
* That was good:
Hitchhiking. Many Kiwis are so fond of their country that they even give you a small sightseeing tour.
* Recommended guest house:
Ramsay Lodge, Dunedin
Two months at the border for free. You must have a return ticket prior to arrival and there is a departure fee of 25 dollars.
* We paid for a meal:
Hardly ever ate out. There are some cheap fish and chips places.
* Money-saver tip:
Stay away from the activity-circus. Planet Pictures
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