It was time for us to say goodbye to the South Island of New Zealand and cross the Cook Strait to the North Island. We planned for one week of our trip to be spent in the north to explore the different landscapes and cities before flying to Los Angeles on March 25th.
On March 17th, Mike and I drove The Hoff north to Picton to catch the interislander ferry to Wellington. Along the way, we drove part of the Queen Charlotte Road; a highway that hugs the coastline of the Queen Charlotte Sound with spectacular views of the inlets. We hung out in a little beach inlet for a picnic lunch and nap before going to Picton to catch our ferry. It was a beautiful day, and the views were amazing!
Upon our arrival in Wellington, we headed straight to the tiny suburb of Plimmerton located on the water. One of our good friends from home had very nicely hooked us up with his high school friend, Heather, and she sweetly invited us to stay at her house. Heather and David, welcomed us into their home like old friends. They had a beautiful house overlooking the water, and we even had our own private bathroom, our first since February 8th! We enjoyed good conversation with the interesting couple, along with Heatherâ€™s excellent Merlot-Cabernet blend that evening!
The next morning, we had a nice, leisurely breakfast with David and Heather. It was so nice to spend time with new friends. Then, it was time to hit the road as we had a packed itinerary for the next few days in New Zealand. Our destination was New Plymouth, which is right outside Taranaki National Park. Taranaki is a volcano that distinctly rises from the surrounding plains into a perfect cone shape, and Mike and I wanted to climb it! It was Sunday, so along the way we stopped at a few town markets and fruit stands. We had an excellent lunch of meat pies in Whanganui with the best raspberry brownie I have ever had! As we got closer to New Plymouth, Mt. Taranaki dominated the skyline but with clouds covering the top. New Plymouth was a dump, and our campground was overly priced, but it was a place to park the Hoff and sleep.
On March 19th, we woke up to rain, not the sound that you want to hear when you plan to climb a mountain that day. We decided to give it a go and head to the trailhead and park rangerâ€™s office for a weather update. It was not goodâ€¦ extremely high winds and heavy rain for the next three days! So we asked her to pull up the weather forecast for the other area that we really wanted to hike, Tongarire Alpine Crossing. Same forecast so there would be no options for hiking until Friday, and we had a flight to catch on Sunday. Total bummer! So Mike and I came up with Plan B to head to the town of Rotorua which was centrally located, so in case the weather improved, we could get back to the Tongarire area. So back in the car for another full dayâ€˜s drive.
The drive was beautiful and in the morning we followed the Tasman Sea coastline and stopped at a black sand beach. The sand is pitch black and very fine. Then we turned east and drove through the green, rolling hills of the countryside.
Rotorua is known as the thermal capital of New Zealand, and as soon as we got into town, we could smell the sulfur. Luckily, Mikeâ€™s allergy to the sulfur was minimal with just a headache. We enjoyed our campsiteâ€™s clean, indoor kitchen and eating area as it was still raining outside. At dinner, we met a nice couple from Germany, Kate and Ulei. They were just starting a seven month long trip around the world and going to many of the countries that we have seen. So it was a fun night sharing stories and tips and comparing campervans with them.
The next day, we woke up to sunshine and enjoyed a nice breakfast with Ulei and Kate. Then Mike and I headed to Te Puia, which is a thermal and Maori culture park in Rotorua. We caught the park tour with our Maori guide. She gave a history of the Maori people and even pronounced the parkâ€™s name for us in their language. What a mouthful at 35 characters but nothing compared to a town south of here with 85 characters which holds the worldâ€™s record!
Our first stop was a geyser which goes off for 20 minutes at a time and two times an hour. The wind was blowing so hard today that the water was blowing mostly sideways and not vertically. Our next stop was the mud pools, which are constantly bubbling and burping. They are fun to watch and something Mike hadnâ€™t seen before.
The next stop was the Kiwi house as the park has a breeding pair of Kiwis in captivity. They keep them in a darkened house to promote activity as they normally sleep 20 hours a day. Mike and I were so excited to see them after hearing so much about them. Pictures were not allowed, but we did see them both as they were scrounging for food with their long, curved beaks. They were really cute!
Our tour ended with a Maori culture show including dance and music. It started with us standing outside the Maori meeting house and the warriors welcoming us into their home. Our â€™chiefâ€™ (a guy selected from the tour) performed the traditional Maori greeting with each of the warriors by pressing foreheads and noses together to symbolize the sharing of one breath. The show continued with several dances and songs. The most interesting dance was the war dance which is used to give courage to the warriors before war. As part of the intimidation, the warriors stick out their tongues and bulge their eyes. Pretty scary looking to me, but interesting as we found this same look in many of their wooden carvings.
We spent the afternoon walking by the lake in town and watching the black swans swim in the white caps on the water. I was glad that we were not hiking with the wind gusts of 100 km/hour!
On March 21st, we drove south in the rain to Taupo to meet our friends Bonnie and Ross from the UK. We had met them on the South island too, and our schedules worked out to spend another day together. When we arrived in Taupo at the visitor center, we found out that almost all the tourist sites were closed due to fallen trees from the high winds! Also, we got another weather forecast as we were still thinking of hiking the alpine crossing, but there was no longer a good weather window. Mike and I were really disappointed as this was one of our highlights, but as Mike said, it will give us a good reason to come back to New Zealand soon!
So since there was nothing to do in Taupo, the four of us headed back to Rotorua. We just couldnâ€™t get out of this town, but at least we were spending time with good friends! The evening was a blast as we chatted and cooked dinner together with beer and wine. It has been so much fun to get to know Ross and Bonnie over the past few months and continue to run into them along the way. This will be goodbye for now as they are headed to the US and then home in May.
The following morning after a yummy breakfast with Ross and Bonnie, Mike and I pointed the Hoff north to the Cormondel Peninsula. We drove through a river gorge and stopped to hike a trail that followed an old mining tramway. The hike was short but super cool because the tramway led us through a series of tunnels in the gorge. The tunnels were pitch black except for the occasional â€œwindowâ€ in the rock to look down on the river below.
On March 23, we explored the Hot Water Beach area starting the morning with a hike to Cathedral Rock, named for a natural rock arch. The coastline was beautiful with small islands and pretty beaches all made better by the wonderful sunshine! But the real highlight of the day was Hot Water Beach. For 2 hours on either side of low tide, you can go out to the beach and dig a hole in the sand to access water from a hot spring (non-sulfurous). Mike and I just had to check this out and we ran into our friend Ulei and Kate in the parking lot.
So the four of us headed out to the beach. Sure enough, when we got close to the spring, the sand got hot under our feet. I stepped in a small puddle, and I almost burned my feet as it was so hot! We chose a location, and Mike and Ulei dug our private hole. Then the four of us relaxed in bath temperature water while looking at the waves crashing on the beach. The place was packed with tourists, but it was peaceful enough with our own private paradise!
Our last full day in New Zealand was spent in Auckland. It was another gloomy, rainy day. Neither Mike nor I felt much like sightseeing in the rain, so while we were drinking coffee and reading the paper we realized that The Hunger Games was playing in town. So we spent the afternoon at the movie theater, which was a real treat, and watched an excellent movie! We did see a few sights before the movie, and we both really enjoyed Albert Park with its plush green grass and colorful flowers.
New Zealand has been an amazing stop in our around the world adventure. Every day, we enjoyed amazing landscapes, and it was nice to spend most of our time outdoors hiking. I also really enjoyed the new friendships that we developed here and also re-connecting with Ross and Bonnie. Now it is time to continue our journey and visit our last continent, but first we have a 28 hour stop in the USA!