Te Ika-a-Māui - The North Island

Trip Start Aug 21, 2009
Trip End Aug 20, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, November 29, 2009

Simon: Hi!!! So, it's been a while, but we've been up to LOADS! Way too busy to write! We arrived in New Zealand after a nice quick easy flight from Fiji, and got an airport shuttle into the city to our hostel. On the bus, we both wondered whether we'd fallen asleep on the flight and woken up in England! it was a bit wet, green, and everything looked oddly familiar. It is the same size as the UK roughly, and the Queen did totally own it until recently, so it's not surprising. Speaking of the Queen, she's on the currency here, and the notes have got this cool see-through window of plastic, much better than 's!!

The North Island is called 'Te Ika-a-Maui' in Maori, which means 'the Fish of Maui'. Maui was a God who went fishing in his waka (canoe, which is the south island - 'te waka-a-Maui') and caught a mammoth fish. After a big struggle he landed the fish and it became the North Island and his waka became the south island. There's a lot of double naming (mountains/cities/lakes etc) and lots of acknowledgement of Maori culture and traditions in New Zealand, they're treated a lot better than Aborigines in Australia.

Oh, and do you know where Old Zealand is? answers at the end of the post…...

Anyway, we settled into our hostel in Auckland and set out to explore. Having been to many cities before, Auckland kind of doesn't offer very much, and we were pretty bored for the 3 days we were there. We did go up the Sky Tower (our 5000th tall tower with an observation deck) and watched idiots jump from the roof on a big cord, and the views of the 50-odd volcanoes that make up the Auckland area was pretty nice. We also made a trip to the New Zealand War Museum which was interesting, it had lots of Maori stuff, like a giant Maori house and boats, but it only took us a couple of hours to see it all. By far our fave thing to do in Auckland was eat at Giapo's Gelato shop - Delish! We met the owner and had a big fat cone with 3 flavours and he took lots of photos of us (he was a bit weird!) a must try if you go :)

Flo: Hello! :) So we're in another country now! We were waiting in Auckland for 3 days, for our Kiwi Experience bus trip to start. We got on the bus early on a Monday morning, and it was packed! We had to sit separate for the first hour because there were no seats :( Then a nice Spanish guy swapped with Simon so we could sit together

Simon: He told me it's cos you smelt!! hahaha!!!

Flo: Oi!!!!! Anyway we went to Mount Eden which is one of the volcanoes Auckland is built around. It had a great view of the city and it's where our driver Damo introduced himself and told us a bit about the trip. The 48 other people on our bus were all new, and for the first little while we didn't speak to anyone, but that soon changed!

The first day we drove through the New Zealand countryside (very green!) east of Auckland up the Coromandel Peninsula. We were headed to Whitianga (pronounced Fit-E-yung-a). We stopped for lunch in a town called Thames, and we randomly ran into 2 girls we had met in Fiji! They were on a different bus tour to us, but we exchanged details (we didn't do it before!) and left them.

We had to go up and over a few hills to get to Whitianga, and we both started feeling a bit ill, i felt so bad i had to go and sit on the step at the front of the coach and talk to Damo for an hour while we got out of the hills! He was really nice though, and it took my mind off it, and i wasn't sick!

We stopped at Cathedral Cove for a 45min hike down to the beach, it was beautiful and you could walk through a really big cave (it looked like a cathedral) to get to a smaller beach the other side. We sunbathed a bit (Simon tried the water - Freezing!) then walked back up to the coach to get to Whitianga.

We got there and settled in to our lovely little hostel run by a husband and wife, and they cooked us all dinner! Over dinner we chatted to lots of people (2 more who we met in Fiji) and decided to go for a walk with a girl called Becky around the town.

The town is tiny! it has about 3 shops, 3 bars and 2 hostels, thats it!! we walked around the marina and beach and then back to the hostel for bed.

Simon: Next day we stopped over in Matamata, also known as Hobbiton,  because they filmed all the footage of Hobbiton there for Lord of the Rings. All that's left now though is a statue of Gollum and a sign (obvious picture op there!) (Oh, and they say that everyone in NZ either was in, or knows someone who was in LOTR, and everywhere we went, there were tours to filming locations for this scene or that)

We also did a short walk through an abandoned mine at the Karangahake Gorge in the afternoon, walking along the railway track that used to carry the coal, and using the rails to guide us through the pitch black tunnels and mines. It was supposed to be a circular trail, but we got about 2/3 of the way through before our guide ran through behind us and told us that we had to turn back, because there had been a mudslide and the path was inaccessible!

We got to our destination Rotorua about 2pm, but before we got there, we could smell it!! Because NZ is on a tectonic plate border the earths crust is very thin, especially around Rotorua, where the whole place smells of Sulphur (or rotting eggs!) One positive side of the thin crust/ volcanic activity is that they have great a Hot springs Spa that we spent all afternoon in chatting to our new friends.

That evening we were picked up by a crazy Maori dude in a minibus and taken to a Maori cultural evening. We had to nominate a chief of the bus to be challenged by the Maori warriors and then receive a peace gift. (it wasn't me, thank god!) Then when we got there these 5 crazy warrior dudes started shouting and throwing sticks and showing off to the chief dude, and he couldn't laugh or anything! Their eyes were bulging and they were poking their tongues out and stuff, it was SO hard not to laugh!!

After that we were accepted into the Maori village to play games and be taught about the Maori people, then they performed for us; singing, dancing and of course, the Haka. The last part of the evening was the "Hangi" or Earth Oven feast. It's where they dig a hole, fill it with hot rocks, then throw in meat & veg to cook for 5 hours. We had SO much food! and it was absolutely amazing. the chicken and lamb were yummy!!! And the Pavlova for desert (it's the NZ national dish!) was ridiculously nice. We could hardly move on the way home.

After a minibus ride back where each country had to sing songs from their homeland (thank the lord the chief was english and did ours!), we had a few beers at the Lava Bar that was joined to our hostel with the people from our bus. There were some particularly cool people on our bus, namely Becky, Philly, Alice, Hector, Cheryl, Jo, Jeff, Pauline, Madeline and Chief (sorry if i forgot anyone!)

Flo: Just as our noses were getting used to rotten eggs, we left the next day to go to Waitomo, where the only thing to do is the Glowworm caves. On the way out of Rotorua we went to the "Agrodome" for a farming/ sheep show extravaganza!!

It was the weirdest thing ever!!

A farmer man started off introducing 18 kinds of sheep, each looking more stupid than the last. He then sheared one of them and threw the wool in the audience, and then called 3 HUGE NZ sheep dogs on stage to climb on top of the sheep and pose for photos!! Lastly he milked a cow - all over the front row of the audience!! It narrowly missed us!

We got to Waitomo and went to the caves for a 2 hour walk underground seeing the glowworms and cave formations. Some crazy people on the bus did Black Water Rafting, which is putting on a wetsuit and jumping into a freezing underground river in the dark. Not our idea of fun!!

That evening we chatted with 2 more people off of our bus, Cassie & Marc and then joined in with the weirdest game i've ever played, taught to us by some Swedish girls.

Basically, everybody sits in a circle and gets given a playing card. Then when the game starts, one person turns over the cards one by one, and when your suit is called, you move round one seat, even if someone is sat on the chair next to you. Lots of lap-sitting is involved!! The aim is to get back to your own seat! crazy!! at one point 7 people were sat on 1 girls lap!!!

Simon: After strange Scandinavian orgy-games(!) we got on the bus the next day and drove to Taupo. On the way we stopped at Huka Falls. The waterfalls there are super duper powerful! all the water from a big river gets squeezed between two rock walls and blasted our the other end. It was so loud and fast, i would not fancy falling in! We got to Taupo and went Hells Pizza with Marc & Cassie (Marc was having his second of the afternoon!) and then had an early night, because the next day we were hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

We woke up at 5.30 for a 6am pickup to be taken 45 minutes around the lake to the Tongariro National Park for our days hiking. Fortunately we had read up on the hike. People have DIED hiking this route! some idiots turned up in jeans and little pumps!!! We had our hiking boots on, and we needed it!

Mount Ngaruahoe and Mount Tongariro are 2 volcanoes in the middle of the North Island. Between them is the 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the best one day walk in the world. We started at one end around 6.30am, hiking around an hour and a half through scrubland and rivers before coming to the first tough part of the climb, the Devils Staircase. It's a 45 minute, 400m ascent up stairs and rock. Extremely tough on the old calves and quads!! We made that ok, and took a well earned breather at the top. From that point we had some amazing views, we could see Mount Egmont, around 200km away on the Western Coast of New Zealand! 

We cracked on and came to the slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe, better known to nearly everyone as Mount DOOM from Lord of the Rings!! It's an active volcano. It was smoking. It last erupted only 32 years ago! We ignored the signs to turn back and those that warned against dangerous volcanic gasses and continued on past the slopes of Mount Doom through the South Crater. It looked like Mars. It was completely lifeless with rocks and debris strewn across the flat landscape. It was amazing.

The next part in our opinion was definitely the hardest. We had to make an 200m ascent up and over Mt Tongariro and down over the saddle between the 2 volcanoes. yep. sounds easy right?! This is the bit where people had died a couple of years previously because they took one look at the track and decided that it couldn't possibly be the right way, because it was too steep.

Well, it was the right way. (They waited on the mountain in winter for like 12 hours, they both got Hypothermia and 1 died)

We started on up the slopes, and at some points it was so steep we were using our hands to pull ourselves up the rocks. After about an hour of climbing we reached the Red Crater and the views were absolutely amazing. We could see a massive red vent of Mt Tongariro that had erupted lava all over the mountainside, and views out over the South Crater and beyond were awesome.

We climbed up and over the saddle without too many problems, although we didn't look down either side of the 2-foot-wide path, because there was around 500m of drop either side!!!! (we heard later that the day before people had to crawl on their stomachs across this part because the wind was so strong, it nearly knocked them over the edge!!!!!! And they often stop people from hiking because that section is too dangerous!!)

The next part was the scariest, Flo will certainly agree!

Flo: yep, terrified!

Simon: We had to walk down the other side of the mountain. Now, it might sound easy, but it wasn't. The side of this mountain was comprised entirely of loose stones and scree, which meant that instead of walking, you kind of slid down the whole way. Bearing in mind the path is still only about 2 feet wide, and either side the drop is massive PLUS ahead of us, with no fences or anything is a massive lake at the end of the track, which it looked like we were going to fall into, it was NOT easy or fun!

Some people RAN down it! We walked very carefully sliding our feet down the mountain and more than a few times nearly ending up on our butts.

That was the hard bit done!! yay!! We walked through the Central Crater where the view back to Mt Doom was awesome, with a massive Lava flow dried onto the mountainside and across the crater floor, it was totally surreal. the final ascent was up and over the rim of the Central crater, and as we reached the top we spied signs of life - tiny yellow flowers and strands of grass!!

We reached the top and the view out was ridiculous. We could see all the way to the lake 1500m below, and the panorama view was unlike anything i've ever seen. Really amazing. The hardest part physically was the next 2 hours of walking downhill. Each step pounding our heels and feet until they blistered. Not nice.

We finally made it to the car park through the last forest section of the hike, where we both played the New Zealand corner game (It MUST be around this corner, wait, it MUST be around this corner!!). It took us around 6.5 hours (average time is around 8 hours) and we were 5th & 6th out of 50 people on our bus to finish. Pretty good going! Best of all, we didn't die!!! 

The bus back to Taupo was tinged with sadness because we left our group on the bus :( but later we were meeting Flo's sister Ele & her husband Ben.

Flo: That evening after a well deserved rest after our hike we meet Eleanor and Ben in the Hostel. It was really good to see them most after about 10months. That evening we had a wander around Taupo and then out for some dinner in an Italian restaurant

The next day Ben was competing in a 160km bike race around Lake Taupo. We had a coffee whilst he was cycling and then cheered him on the last little bit. We then stayed for prize giving hoping ben would win a car or a life time supply of paint!!!  After prize giving finished around 8 we headed to River Valley about 150km south. When we got there we all just went straight to bed. 

In the morning Ben had a kayak meet with other kayakers to paddle for the morning. We woke up and realised how amazing our log cabin was! It had a big fireplace and stunning views of the whole of the valley. Me and Simon played ping pong whilst Eleanor took Ben to the river.

Simon: Flo reckons she won 3 times, I don't remember it at all……. :)

Flo: i DID win 3 times :) Then we packed up and picked up Ben before driving the 250km (with several ice cream stops) to Wellington, where Ele & Ben live :) There apartment has amazing views out over the harbour from the top of Mt Victoria, It's so pretty, their house is even on arty postcards sold all over Wellington! It was so nice to have a double bed and a room to ourselves again, not to mention their fresh home-made bread! yum!

We spent a lot of time just chilling out and catching up with them, mostly because the weather was cold, wet and WINDY! (they don't call it 'Windy Welly' for nothing!)

The few times we ventured out in the week was to go to explore the city. We took the cable car up to the Botanic gardens and got some good pics of the city, we went to watch Ben in a kayak race around the harbour and Ele play netball then had fish and chips (or as the Kiwi's pronounce it - Fush and Chups). We went for a drive around the Miramar peninsula and up Mt. Victoria for some more views of the city, we had takeaway curry (which you could have 'Kiwi Hot' or 'Indian Hot') and we went to 'Te Papa' - the national museum, where they have the worlds largest Colossal Squid - 10m long!

At the weekend we went on an overnight trip with Ele & Ben to the Wairarapa Wine region about 90 minutes north of Wellington. We stayed in a caravan park with little bedrooms, and we cycled around the wineries there for an afternoon, before having an ice cream and falling asleep on the village green! On the drive back to Wellington the next day we stopped at a national park where they filmed the Rivendell scenes in LOTR.

It was really nice to spend lots of time with my sister and have our own room, and was extra good to not have to pack every day! We left Wellington after a week to get the ferry from the North to the South Island, but we were going to see my sister again in about 2 weeks. Between then, we had lots to see and do in the South Island…….

to be continued………….

Simon: P.S. Old Zealand is part of Holland, who knew! the Dutch Explorer Abel Tasman named it after his homeland. FACT!

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