In many ways I had the perfect “getting-to-know-NZ” trip last year. Five months on the Te Araroa trail showed me the best of nature New Zealand has to offer, adding a lot of nice meetings with locals of all walks of life into the mix. Even though I thought I had a pretty good view of the country, I am still getting quite a different and more complete view this time. Not only am I seeing different parts of the country (apart from the 3000 km walkway I have seen last year), by mostly staying with friends and airbnb hosts I also get a better idea of the New Zealand way of life.
After two weeks in Wellington, where I was mostly arranging paperwork and buying a car, the first thing I did with my new car was to drive it on the ferry. Two friends (Xavier and Ioana) and their baby came to visit. I stayed at their place in Tallinn in November, and told them they could stay at my place in New Zealand any time. Of course at that time I didn’t expect them to arrive in New Zealand merely one week after I did :-). So, I couldn’t offer them a bed (actually it was almost the other way around: I “camped” in their hotel room in Christchurch), but I could offer them a tour of the South Island. This turned out in quite a wine and dine tour! Not my usual type of holiday, but Xavier did all the research and we got an optimal itineray to taste the best of the Marlborough region! Finishing off with an elaborate tasting session at the Cloudy Bay winery (since the host of our bnb is the wine maker there). Joining us in all the wine tasting was Mari, another BEST connection, and I would later meet her again on the North Island to do some more travelling together.
Thanks guys, and see you next time!
After dropping Xavier, Ioana and Stephanie of at Christchurch I spent two nights at the Ruru’s. I have met them last year on the Te Araroa trail and I really love their approach of life: “Dream, Design, Do” and “The best things in life aren’t things”. You can check their blog on their adventures before dementia here. Even though we didn’t talk in a year and they must have been pretty tired from their Motatapu mountain bike and running event, we had a lot to talk about. Time flies if you are discussing and dreaming aloud with like-minded people.
Two days later I left Christchurch to head west for the mountains. But first a horse riding lesson at Kowhai residential riding school. I picked this place because they also offer cross country lessons on school horses. This time it was more of a get-to-know lesson so I got an experienced thoroughbred for a dressage lesson. The lesson was a bit more purely focussed on the figures and exercises “from the book” than I am used to, but the horse was well-trained and sensitive and I got a lot of useful feedback on my riding.
After a stop in Arthur’s pass and Hokitika, where I found a lot of green stones, but no greenstone, I was off to do a hike on the Croesus track. From Blackball it was five kilometers on a gravel road to the parking lot. By now I am getting used to gravel roads in New Zealand but this must have been the most challenging yet: very uneven and with very large rocks on the road. I think I spent 45 minutes on this 5 km, but even so I was afraid one of the rocks might have damaged the underside of the car: there were some load bangs and it appeared to be leaking when I parked… Tomorrow’s worries. I walked up to the Ces Clarke hut on a gentle slope and easy trail. This track is going to be part of the new Great Walk the New Zealand Department of Conservation is creating. Great Walks in general provide good quality, easy trails and fancy huts. New Zealand fancy that is, because here they haven’t heard yet of getting three course meals and a beer in a hut as you can find in the European Alps ;-). The hut was indeed large, with a suburb view, and… empty! I expected more people on this track and in the hut, but I had the luxury of having the place all to myself. Although I did have to share the space with a very loud weka bird that lived under the floorboard. Weka calls in the morning are more effective than a rooster 🙂
I walked out early the next morning because I was curious about the car and would like to have enough time to walk out if needed. Luckily it was ok and the oil was still topped up (I must have seen condensation the day before). On my way to Karamea I picked up a hitchhiker that looked like an American thru-hiker (=beard, wore down hiking cloths, trail shoes and lightweight backpack), and I was correct. Not only did he indeed (intend to) hike the Te Araroa, he also turned out to be a colleague of Kristen, who I hiked big parts of the TA with last year. The world is small, especially in NZ 🙂
In Karamea, at the end of the highway, I stayed at “The Last Resort”. Not really a resort, but I had the backpacker room all to myself and the surroundings are amazing. I had a fun day hiking in the rainforest and taking pictures of the sunset!
On the way back to the North Island I made a stopover in Nelson, and the hostel I stayed in there had a very interesting concept. At 8pm they were serving chocolate pudding to the whole hostel and you were encouraged to switch off your phone to have a conversation with stranger. Really cool, and it really works!
Back on the North Island I stayed a couple of nights with Thomas and Julie, a couple I have met last year on the trail: they were on a mountain bike and offered me and Erin to stay in their house when we got to Wellington, an offer we happily accepted to rest our injured knees. It was very nice to stay at their place again this year and get to know them better. I also used the opportunity to ask a lot of questions about the New Zealand system (taxes, insurance etc). On Saturday we went to the Cuba Dupa festival, there seems to be a festival every time I am in Wellington. It was really cool with a lot of music, (circus) acts, and the inevitable foodtrucks (they really like those here). Unfortunately also a lot of rain..
From Wellington I drove North to Napier, and then all the way around the East Cape. Of course I had to climb the East Cape hill to see the lighthouse: I have now visited the Northern-, Southern-, and Easternmost lighthouse of the NZ mainland. Funnily enough this lighthouse is next to the town of Te Araroa :-). I drove on the eastcoast all the way up to Coromandel. First I met Sue there (the daughter of my parents neighbours in New Zealand, who last saw me when I was a little baby), it was really nice to get to know her and her family. Then I met up with Mari again, and Louise, an Irish friend of Mari that she met on the South Island. It was pretty busy (for New Zealand standards) in Coromandel during the Easter weekend; half of Auckland seemed to be there. Then we also chose to do nice touristy stuff, like going to hot water beach: if you dig at the right spot you will have your own thermal water pool. As you can see from the picture, it got pretty busy at the hot spot. And frankly when we found hot water, it was so hot that we went for a cold dive in the sea instead.
From Coromandel we drove to Rotorua, to meet Tarvi, Inga, and their daughter Mia. I knew them from long ago in BEST and it was great to meet up with them again and exchange stories. They have created an Escape Room “Rotofobia” and we had a lot of fun escaping from it, and then afterwards discussing all the tricks! We actually stayed tow more nights there because I chipped my front tyre and it was impossible to find a tyre shop open on Easter Monday (believe me, we tried!).
When we were finally on our way to Tongariro national park (two days later than planned because of the tyre), the car troubles were unfortunately not over. When approaching Taupo the slight noise the rear wheel was making (of which the garage that changed my front tyre said it was nothing to worry about) started to get worse and Mari in the passenger seat could feel the vibration in the bottom of the car. I called AA (the roadside assistance) and they had good and bad news. The bad news was that a bearing was worn out completely. The good news is that he could replace it first thing the next morning, so we could still make it to our booked hut in time. I had already had to re-book it because of the tyres so I was glad I didn’t have to do that again. Unfortunately I did have to cancel the lodge in National Park for the second time in two days with my car troubles as an excuse. Luckily they were very cool about it and very helpful to still our luggage during the hike.
We did a five day hike around Mt Ruapehu on the round the mountain trail. It is a highly recommended trail that is less crowded than the Northern Circuit (that includes the famous Tongariro crossing). On it’s way around the volcano it passes though very diverse terrain: from a moon-like desert crater landscape to climbing down waterfall cascades on the wet side of the mountain. On the third day we met all 600 runners of the inaugural Ring of Fire run that do the whole 70 km in the opposite direction in one day. It was very impressive to see especially the leading participants race up the steep gorge and hop down the rocky slopes. For a while I was tempted to start training for the event next year, but then we got to several kilometers of boardwalk. Easy for hiking, but a nightmare to run on with so many people I think. I guess Iwill look for another challenge (plenty about here!).
There was very bad weather expected for Monday and Tuesday. Our original plan was to hike to Mangaturuturu hut on Sunday, and then have a long day on Monday walking to Whakapapaiti hut (on the hardest part of the trail) and on to Whakapapa.
By this time Mari’s legs felt not very good (inflamation in the calves) so we decided it was best that she would hitch out on Ohakune mountain road, because she was not sure if she could push trough on Monday with the weather closing in. I decided to continue the trail and make it a very long day on Sunday: 11 hours. I now fully understand why they call this section “the goat”, although “the pig” was also approriate sometimes :-). I really enjoyed to push myself again on the trail (for the first time since the October 80 km in Wales). As always, I am so much more impressed by mountain beauty when I am properly tired…
On Monday I was early at Whakapapa and met up with Mari again. We had a relaxing afternoon in the spa pool while it started to rain outside. The weather deteriorated quite a bit overnight and we left National Park for New Plymouth in bad weather. It was not a very relaxing drive but when we safely arrived to New Plymouth we found out that we narrowly escaped a tornado hitting National Park 15 minutes after we left! Fortunately there were no serious personal injuries, but a couple of houses were destroyed or lost their roof.
We had a quite relaxed week in New Plymouth. The weather didn’t really clear up all week so we never saw the top of Mt Taranaki, but we did get to play in the snow 🙂
After the weekend I said goodbye to Mari – she was off to Wellington and then Australia. I spent almost a week in Auckland. Last year I didn’t get a very good impression of Auckland: crowded and unpersonal. This year that changed. By staying in the suburbs and travelling around the different villages that are part of the big city I have a lot better image of Auckland now, I guess you should also not judge Amsterdam by it’s main shopping street… My favourite until now is Mt Eden.
From Auckland I drove to Otakiri in the Bay of Plenty where I am now housesitting on a horsefarm with 20 Apaloosa’s and Quarter horses. It is really autumn now, with 100mm rain already today… The benefit is that I finally sat down and wrote this story. And start to get serious about my job hunt. More on that in a next post!