North Island wanderings

Trip Start Mar 30, 2003
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Trip End Jan 30, 2004


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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Monday, November 24, 2003

Summary

Here I am in New Zealand, travelling around the North Island by car. Apart from the major city of Auckland, I have been to the Bay of Islands (sailing trip), the Coromandel peninsula (sea kayaking), Rotorua (volcanic hot springs and mud pools) and Waitomo (black water rafting in the caves).

[Have also now attached more pics to the previous entry from Sydney.]

The rest

Driving into Auckland from the airport I was surprised at how large and spread out the city is. Although it's not the capital, over a quarter of the country's population live here and it is well equipped with restaurants and shops. Although summer was kicking in it still seemed a bit cold compared to Sydney, so I invested in an All Blacks fleece to give me instant credibility in this rubgy-mad country.

For the first few days I was travelling with Zoe, who I first met on a coach in Queensland. She lives in Southampton, but calls Trinidad home. It was her 30th birthday the day I arrived so we went to the revolving restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower (tallest structure in the southern hemisphere and similar to Toronto's CN tower) for a blow out meal. We decided to rent a car and head north to the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga in the time she had left before jetting off to Hawaii. We were joined on the trip by Jan, a German guy who I met on the shuttle bus to Sydney airport, and Jasper from Holland who Jan met in his hostel. The car was pretty full with the four of us and our luggage!

First stop was the Waipoua Kauri forest where giant trees up to 5,000 years old are tourist attractions, before arriving at Paihia on the Bay of Islands. The next day was a long 6-7 hour round trip drive up to Cape Reinga at the northern tip of New Zealand. There is a lighthouse there and you can see where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman sea converge. We stopped off at 90 mile beach (actually only 60 miles long) on the way and returned in time to watch England win the rugby semi-final at a nearby bar. The previous night New Zealand had lost to Australia and the country was plunged into national mourning prompting the headline on one newspaper to be 'The end of the world'.

The next day the four of us joined a sailing trip aboard a yacht around the bay of islands on 'She's a Lady'(see www.bay-of-islands.com). Unlike my sailing trip in Queensland this was a small yacht which used just wind power and so was more like 'proper' sailing. We stopped at an island to climb a hill for a great view of some of the 140 islands in the bay and I went 'tubing' - holding on to the top of an inner tube while it was pulled around the bay by a dinghy at speed.

After this we returned to Auckland for a night and after dropping Zoe at the airport next day I carried on alone in the car to the Coromandel peninsula which has some beautiful coastal scenery. I paused in Thames and Coromandel town, but ended up staying a couple of nights in Whitianga on Mercury Bay. I found that like most places on the east and south coasts of Oz and the Bay of Islands Captain Cook had been here before me. Whitianga had a good marina and some nice walks and I went sea kayaking at nearby Cathedral cove. One fellow kayaker, Ali, decided it would be good to make use of my car and travel with me. I have still yet to shake her off!

After kayaking I bumped into Jan and Jasper at nearby Hot Water Beach, where at low tide people dig holes in the sand which then fill with hot thermal water for a bath. I arrived too late for that, alas. Ali and I drove directly to Rotorua, 'Sulphur City', which has plenty of volcanic thermal activity - hot springs, mud pools and geysers. Before arriving at the city you catch the 'bad egg' smell of the sulphur, but you get used to it after a while. We did a tour of the Te Whakarewarewa thermal village, still a Maori settlement but very touristy, where we saw the Pohutu geyser and then dove out to the Hell's Gate thermal area where I had a volcanic mud path and we made use of the spa. Our clothes were smelling of sulphur a lot by this point.

I bumped into Jan and Jaspar again at an internet cafe and then also next day at the Wai-o-Tapu thermal area - an amazing coincidence. Wai-o-Tapu was the best thermal area we saw with huge gurgling mud pools, a lurid bright green lake and steam coming out of every hole. We were too late to see the daily eruption of Lady Knox geyser, however, so now Jan and Jaspar must think I arrive late for everything. After that we were pretty sick of thermal activity so Ali and I drove a couple of hours west to Waitomo glowworm caves where, in the dark, the glowworms clinging to the cave roof appear to be like stars in the milky way.

Of course this being New Zealand, the land of adrenaline-rush adventure sports, I didn't just walk through the caves, but took a black water rafting trip (see www.blackwaterrafting.co.nz). This involves getting geared up with a wet suit and floating on a tube through some of the caves. It was great fun, especially in those places where we had to jump backwards from the top of a low waterfall, landing with out tube on the water. The only light in the caves came from our helmets which we switched off to get a good view of the glow worms as we floated/ paddled along. After emerging from the caves we floated down a river for a way to get back to the van. The water was very cold, however, and I was glad to get back for a hot shower and some soup.

Yesterday we visited a kiwi sanctuary at Otorohanga, where I was surprised to see that these cute flightless birds are as large as turkeys. Then we drove to Lake Taupo in the middle of the North Island where we went to see Huka Falls and walk alongside the Waikato River. Taupo area has a number of adventure activities - shall I have a go at jet boating, bungee jumping or tandem sky-diving?
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