Freedom of the road (and kitchen)

Trip Start Aug 16, 2005
Trip End Apr 14, 2006

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Where I stayed
Juno Hall Backpackers

Flag of New Zealand  , Auckland,
Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Before we left Auckland we hired a car (after much indecision about whether to buy one - this might seem pretty extravagent but loads of backpackers buy cars and then sell them on to others when they leave), and it was great to finally have our own transport to go with our independence. Another great thing has been cooking our own meals again. You might think that 10 weeks of being catered for would be a luxury (and the no washing up part was!) but after a while it gets boring - lots of restaurants offer the same menu - and expensive, and this combined with a few minging meals, means that having access to a kitchen and supermarket shelves was a very exciting prospect!

Angie was fairly nervous about driving (especially reading about a strange give way to the right when you turn left rule that nobody seemed to be able to explain properly - a bit like the offside rule!), but the roads are generally empty outside of cities, well signposted and the other drivers seem pretty chilled i.e. she hasn't been beeped yet! Also we have a nice new car so we don't have to worry about it breaking down.

Before we left the Auckland region we drove west to visit a forest park that had some large Kauri specimens. Kauris are the tallest rainforest tree on earth and used to cover the north of New Zealand. But - no surprise here - they were logged almost to extinction and now only a few pockets remain. The largest Kauri tree ever known had a girth of 27m! The largest one we saw was 'only' 7m circumference and about 800 years old. We took a few photos but it is almost impossible to capture the sheer scale and majesty of these trees (surrounded by lower growing forest) in a picture, so we're not going to spoil your mental image of them, just help it along a bit... the towering trunks soar straight up and reach above the canopy of the other trees before the limbs branch off, hosting loads of other spiky and dangling plants that make their home there.

The tiny town of Waitomo is famous for its Glow Worm caves and was a convenient stopping off point on our way down the north island. We stayed at a lovley hostel just outside the town. Made even more lovely by the fact that in a field outside they had a pig, a calf and a springy lamb! As well as a deer, a goat, sheep and horses in an adjoining paddock. Never mind them though it was the lamb that we liked best. As soon as Angie went over to say hello to the calf he came skipping over to see what was going on. They were very, very cute. Then we watched the sun set over the rolling hills, and these hills really do roll. It's all rather green and perfect - even the cows seem to graze evenly spaced. It's very much Middle Earth (Hobbiton was filmed just up the road) mixed with a Telly Tubbies set and the farmers put fences right over the the most improbable hillocks. There's barely a flat section of land for them to farm on, it looks like the grass has been laid on top of large marbles of varying sizes. We even saw a perfect pyramid shaped hill!

When it was dark we visited a nearby forest where we had been told you could see glow worms for free. The main caves all cost $$ to go and visit, but obviously they are the best - the glow worms grow much bigger inside damp caves. We got to the area and walked along a track with Angie leading the way, torch strapped to her head. Then we started to see them hanging off the rock undersides and trees - hundreds of tiny bright blue/green lights. It all looked like a magical fairy land and it was made even more special by being surrounded by lush moonlit forest. We saw fireflies in Brazil, but these were much brighter, magical and eerier - now we know what all the fuss is about. Now the science bit - glow worms are the larvae of a gnat and the light attracts insects that they trap and feed off. So, finally some mosquito-like thing that gives something back to us!

The next day we walked through the same area in daylight and took in the tree ferns, caves and underground rivers. It was all very beautiful apart from the large group of school kids that followed us around!

Next up was a visit to a self-drive jet boat track. I (Darren) have been hanging out for some speed thrills, NZ being the action and adventure capital of the world. I decided that the jet boats looked like fun. These are a NZ invention, designed by a farmer. They have a small water inlet under the boat which sucks up water and then propels it out the back at speed. You can only steer the boat when water is being propelled out the back as the exhaust doubles as the rudder, something I should have paid more attention to in the instruction briefing! I set off for a few practice laps on the double figure of 8 track and then gradually got my speed up. It was great fun, except for when I bounced off the edge of the track at top speed trying to get round a particularly tight bend! It was a real blast and luckily no injuries to show for it.

Our last stop, was perhaps the most memorable - to an angora rabbit shearing shed! Yes, really. As you can imagine, we were totally cuted out at the end of it all. They are so fluffy! Look at the photos to get some of the cute action.
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