New Zealand is not Real!
Well, physically it exists, but at times it takes a bit of convincing to believe that what you are looking at is indeed a tangible place. Since all things Peter Jackson and LOTR, a lot of attention has been played to this formally little visited island nation 2000 kms east of Australia; and the tourists have indeed come.
For us, it all started in Auckland, where we were able to meet up with some former guests of ours, Will and Soph. Pretty much straight off the plane, they took us to this beautiful lake, down a stream path, surround by lush forest and sand dunes; an amazing introduction. That night had an amazing microbrew (a daily tradition) and fish burger at the food mecca known as Ponsby. Auckland was a sort of mix between Austin TX and SF; strangely cosmopolitan yet unpretentious- not sure if Austin is still unpretentious but… The next day, we hit an island off the coast of Auckland, Waiheke, where we hiked, visited a winery and had a good good swim on a beautiful beach. I’m going to throw the word beautiful around a lot here, that is because 1) too lazy to really hit the thesaurus as much as I should 2) NZ is just such a beautiful place.
Picking up our rental car, we headed north the next day to meet some of the most influential people in Nori’s life- Paul, Carol and Maddie in Whangarei. When Nori was on her year working holiday trip in New Zealand, some years back, she nannied for this lovely family for 3 months. After some amazing food, a couple days swimming on beaches, tramping in caves and playing a random round of tennis, we headed north with Paul to the elusive 90 mile beach. An 80 kilometer “sandbar” spit jutting out from the northern most tip of the North Island, the 90 mile beach is about as otherworldly as you can imagine. We had a great camping spot with Paul’s other daughter and a bunch of their friends, who were all very interesting and very hospitable. At night, the sky was filled with stars- the days, with crazy drives, sand boarding and swimming on, yes, beautiful beaches.
Continuing on our adventure, we headed south, visiting some amazing kauri trees, a cool car ferry and did a private tour through a cave with glow worms. The cave itself was quite impressive; huge rooms, massive stalactites/stalagmites, some crawling and wading required, but the truly remarkable aspect about the cave were those glow worms. Once you turned off your head lamps, the walls and ceilings of the cave became alive with this ominous green glow. At one point on the journey there were so many glow worms that we were able to navigate the cave using just the glow from the worms.
That night, we ended our day at the beginning of our first “real” hike in New Zealand; the Tongariro crossing. We thought that the campsite that we booked was next to the parking lot at the trail head, so arriving there at 7:30 pm with steak and wine in hand we were shocked to find that it was a full 3 kilometers away. Of course, everything worked out fine, but we had to hike in (and out the next morning) all of our junk. The campsite itself was spectacularly located in sort of a high alpine, desert landscape and that night had one of the most beautiful sunsets of the trip.
The Tongariro crossing is (according to some random website):
New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage Site. The Tongariro National Park is rich in both cultural identity and dramatic, awe-inspiring natural scenery. Unique landforms, including the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe -of LOTR Fame, Tongariro and Ruapehu ensure the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered a world-renowned trek.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (20km) is heralded as the best one-day trek available in New Zealand, while others say it ranks among the top ten single-day treks in the world.
It was amazing, and hardcore, being that we added an extra 3 km in the morning, then decided to summit Mt. Tongariro, an extra 6km. That night, we treated ourselves to a guesthouse in Turangi, after camping 4 nights is a row and we made some SICK mussel pasta- all washed down with some delicious NZ Pinot gris- could write a full blog just about the lovely wine we drank (but won’t).
Next morning, we dragged our sore selves out of bed, had an amazing swim in Lake Taupo, and headed for Napier, another important place in Nori’s 1 year stint in New Zealand. The Art Deco capital of New Zealand, Napier is a sleepy, well preserved city surround by some of the best wineries in the North Island- Hawkes Bay. Like any self respecting wine drinker, we spent a full day hitting some of those said wineries, eating delicious food, and just sort of strolling around the quaint little town of Napier- plus, we stayed 2 nights in the youth hostel that Noriko worked at and got an amazing room overlooking the beach!
We pretty much spent the next day driving from Napier down to Wellington, well right north of it to a holiday park, one of many that we stayed at during our trip. Wellington was an unexpected surprise. Really cool cafes, good selection of micro brew, great public art, the best museum that we visited in New Zealand and a really interesting wharf area. We met up with a couple that recently moved back to Wellington from Matsuyama; so was great to meet up with them. Unfortunately, the guesthouse we stayed in Wellington was not as cool as the city. The next morning, bright and early we bussed down to the ferry terminal to grab a (you guessed it) a ferry to the South Island.