Tramping around Middle Earth

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

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Saturday, December 6, 2003

Since my last update I seem to have been speeding around NZ at a fair old pace trying to cram all the sights and activities into the time available. Us travellers just get so much stress! I hope I have your sympathy.

From Taupo it was a very early start to drive to Tongariro National Park to attempt what is reputedly the best one day hike (or 'tramp' as it is called here) in the country - the 6 hour, 17km Tongariro Crossing. The route passes through alpine scrub between two semi-active volcanoes and up to craters and the bright green 'emerald lakes' (see pics). The landscape is stunning here and was used in filming some of the Lord of the Rings scenes. Unfortunately, it was quite misty when we were walking so there were only occaisional glimpses of the perfectly conical shape of Mount Ngauruhoe. It was also extremely windy and cold at the highest point, so Alison and I were glad to return to National Park village for a big meal with too much wine.

From the park we spent a day driving to the capital, Wellington, via Wanganui and the scenic Wanganui River National Park. Wellington was in the grip of Lord of the Rings fever because the global premiere of the third film in the trilogy was due to take place a few days after my arrival. This meant that accomodation was very difficult to find and tourist office staff had taken to wearing green cloaks and other Middle Earth garb. (I read that some Japanese Tolkien fanatics had placed an order with the New Zealand company that supplied costumes for the film crew. The order was not written in Japanese or English, but elveish!) We found a motel not too far from Cuba Street, one of the restaurant districts. The local radio station breathlessly announced that some unknown actors who played hobbits had been sighted eating at one of the cafes there.

Wellington itself was a very charming place, if a little traffic congested. It is built around a harbour and quite compact. I thought it had more going for it than Auckland, which is several times larger. A big attraction is the new Te Papa Museum at the harbour which celebrates life in New Zealand. It was also good to take the cable car up the hill to get the view over the city and walk back down through the Botanic Gardens.

After three nights of urban therapy to recover from walking around volcanoes and geysers it was time to escape the Lord of the Rings hysteria and take the ferry to Picton on the South Island, where the ratio of sheep to people is much higher and there is more dramatic landscape. After nine days together, Alison headed back north to Auckland. We had had a good few days driving around the north island, discussing which celebrities we would sleep with and her exclaiming every few minutes 'Why have I come? It looks just like Wales here'. (True - it does have a lot of sheep and people who speak English with a funny accent, but I haven't noticed any geysers or volcanoes around Cardiff).

Picton is in the Marlborough Sound region where the flooded river valleys give the coast a Scandanavian look. I drove (yep, hired another car at Picton) to the Marlborough winery region noted for its Sauvignon Blancs, but I was very good and avoided a tasting tour whilst driving. The vines sure looked good with the snow capped mountains in the background, though.

Near Picton there is a good 4 day hike, the Queen Charlotte Trek, around the coast and I decided to walk one day of it with Jan, who I travelled with in the Bay of Islands (see last entry), and two German girls he met on the ferry. A water taxi dropped us off at Punga Cove to start the walk and on the way we saw 5 or 6 dolphins swimming next to and under the boat, jumping playfully through the water. Unfortunately I did not get good pics - they were so quick and it was hard to spot where they would jump up next.

The one day walk was 24km long with a few steep climbs. Unfortunately the boat company only gave us 6.5 hours to walk this before the pick up at Torea Bay, meaning that it was quite a brisk walk. In the last few minutes I had to run very fast to make it to the boat, which was hooting its horn impatiently. Jan and the girls stayed overnight near Torea Bay and continued walking the next day while I drove off to the town of Nelson and then on to Marahau, the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park.

Another day, another National Park, another tramp. I stayed 2 nights in a tepee in Marahau (not sure that many native American tribes came from here, but anyway) and then embarked on a two day tour of the Park, noted for its golden sandy bays and unspoilt coastline. For the first day I joined a group to go sea kayaking from Marahau to Anchorage Bay and by coincidence saw Jan, who was kayaking with another group (and who I had not expected to meet again so soon), at our lunch stop. I stayed overnight on a boat moored in the bay and then yesterday Jan and I walked the coastal path 16km from Anchorage to Onetahuti beach from where I was picked up by water taxi and brought back to Marahau. Last night I drove down to Westport on the west coast via the scenic Buller gorge to spend the night and today I have travelled down south via the unusual 'pancake rocks' to have a look at the glaciers, about which more later.
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