From Wellington to Auckland

Trip Start Jan 29, 2008
Trip End Apr 30, 2008

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

We spent our first day on the North Island investigating Wellington. We went straight to the Te Papa museum which I loved. The ground floor looked at New Zealand natural history - the extinct Moa bird, the extremely gross insects they have and of course the kiwi, along with the cause and effect of the volcanic activity on the island. They had two floors about the Maori - one about the culture and relationship with the land and one on the relationship with non-maori people. Sarah went on to a Lord of the Rings tour while myself and Lois wandered round the south west quarter of the city, which was full of trendy little boutiques and eccentric individuals.
The next day we headed for the Tongariro National Park which reminded me more of the south island scenery. Up to the national park was a lot less spectacular than the south island drives that we had done. That afternoon we headed up to the top of Mt Ruaphu on the ski lifts. The actual crater top was another two hour hike from where we were dropped but we didn't have the gear to go hiking and it was getting late. The mountain was exactly what you'd expect of a volcanic mountain top - lots and lots of rocks and not a living creature in sight. It was very cold up there too. I think I'd have enjoyed it more if I'd actually got to look into a crater perhaps and imagine it as a living thing - everything was just too earily quiet and dead for my liking.
The next day we started heading up to Taupo. We should have maybe taken into account it being Easter Saturday, but it wouldn't really have bothered us much at home. Over here however, everyone seems to go away for the long weekend and everyone stays in hostels! Before we realised this we went first to the airport. They have the cheapest skydives in New Zealand at Taupo and the view over the lake from up there must be pretty good. They managed to book Lois straight in that afternoon and she was up and out (literally) before she knew what she was doing - probably better that way.
Taupo looked like a lovely town, but our first priority at that stage was to find somewhere to stay that night. No look in Taupo so we chanced a drive to Rotorua, another 70km up the road. We tried everything from hostels to motels to full on hotels - there wasn't a room anywhere to be had. So we ended up sleeping in the car fully clothed, as gross as that sounds. Anyone who knows me knows that this is not my style. Hostels and the campervan was about as low as I thought I'd go but this was something else. Needless to say we didn't exactly sleep well.
Easter Sunday we woke up and went for coffee and some internet time to make up the time till our hostel was ready. We got in and showers were an obvious priority. They had a market down by the lakeside so we had a wander around that but it was (obviously) very quiet in town so we had a quiet day.
Easter Monday we were up early and heading out in the car to get down to a geyser about 30 km back towards Taupo. Unfortunately we hadn't realised that you have to pay a full price ticket to get into the nearby thermal park to get to see the geyser and that wasn't on our plan so we missed that. We had also planned to visit the only hot spring that is available free which was near the geyser but our hostel manager, Sonny advised us that it's too hot during the day to swim in it so it was turning into a bit of a disaster all round! We went back to Taupo instead and had a wander round the town, which was a bit busier and livlier than Rotorua was. That night we'd booked ourselves into the Tamaki Tours Maori Hangi (meal/festival type thing). It was quite intimidating to start with - we had to force a volunteer on the bus to come forward as our chief - it was a necessary tradition for each bus to have a chief. The chiefs had to stand their ground while having Maori warriors dance aggressively in front of them - there was plenty of tongue showing, shouts, grunts and stabbing actions with spears etc. Our chief said it was quite intimidating to be faced with and I could well imagine it was. We were brought in to show how the maori tribes would have lived - the huts, the foods, the jobs etc. The tattooing process was certainly not for the fainthearted. We got treated to displays of haka's and other traditional songs inside the meeting house and then enjoyed an amazing meal which had been cooked underground on hot stones in a traditional way. The meat was unbelieveably tender. We thought it was a great night until the Maori driver advised us on the way home that it was traditional for the visiting tribe (us) to entertain the Maori after the evening provided. He'd taken a note of each nationality on the bus and each one had to go up to the front and sing a song into the microphone. Luckily chief Johnny left Ireland to last but I was forced to the front, knowing I'd only the two girls for backup (much good they'd be!) and so I started "it's a long way to Tipperary" in the hope that people would know most of it. Luckily they did. An awful experience though, for the entire bus, not just me.
Our next day was spent making our way up towards the Bay of Plenty. Firstly Sarah was not going to be outdone by Lois's recent Skydiving activities. She's been there and done that before so this time she decided to try Zorbing. It was quite amusing to watch. We then headed to Hells Gate. It's a thermal park where GEORGE BERNARD SHAW went to visit with friends and a local maori tribe. He was an atheist but believed that if there was a god that this would be the gate into hell and he believed that his friends had brought him here to try and prove the existence of a higher power. The maori's were so impressed with the Irish author that they allowed the region to be named in English, along with a number of the pools within the region. It smells, obviously - rotten eggs, although we were used to that after staying in Rotorua, but it was pretty fascinating to see boiling pools of water and mud and to think what was just under the surface to cause that. We stayed up at the Bay of Plenty that night and took the ocean road to Auckland the next day.
We had a quick wander round Auckland the following day, although Sarah slept through most of the day. I found a local park (I'm good at finding those) and had a wander round behind the Auckland Sky Tower. People actually voluntarily jump off that and freefall down on some kind of contraption. Scary stuff.
That evening we met up with our cousin Gemma Stephenson who's in Auckland short term waiting for her 5 year Australian visa. We haven't seen much of her as she lives on the East coast of England, but we used to visit each other as kids. She says that we're to blame for getting her and her sisters into horses when they came over to plod around on our ponies during the summer! We met her boyfriend, Sinj who's a really sound guy and we spent the evening reminiscing and doing a table quiz in one of the local bars. The questions were really hard, so we didn't win anything, not even close but it was fun anyway. The poor guys had to get up for work the next morning so we didn't leave it too late. The next day we were moving out to a hostel closer to the airport ready for our flight so unfortunately we couldn't meet up with them again the next night. Fingers crossed they'll get the city they want in Australia (Sydney) and we'll have a great excuse to get over there again!
The next day Lois wasn't feeling so good. She'd been having tummy problems for a good while and went to the chemist that day to get something for it but she decided to stay back while me and Sarah, on Gemma and Sinj's recommendation drove out to the Coromandel Peninsula. It was a very long drive, but scenic so that wasn't too bad. We were aiming to get to the hot water beach for about six pm, low tide to see what was there. It was very strange. There's two large beaches either side, which were deserted and then a big group of people all squished into the tiny corridor between the beaches. When we got there we could see why. The earths crust at that point - about five foot wide, was so thin that the sand was hot. Not warm, hot. If you dug your feet down far enough they started to burn with the heat until the next wave came in to cool you down again. Very strange. By the time we headed back to the hostel I think all three of us were ready for a five day break from travelling and looking forward to doing very little in Fiji.
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