Mount Maunganui to Wellington
Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
163Trip End May 02, 2013
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David and Sally Guest picked us up in the night rain at Tauranga airport and drove us to their place in Mount Maunganui, a beautiful beach town in the northern North Island. We were extremely lucky to be the guests of such well-connected local friends. They helped us out with our itinerary, some camping equipment, referral to a car auction, mechanic and car rental company, not to mention the most comfortable bed we'd slept in for months.
Car hunting was more difficult than expected so we came up empty on day one
Resuming our quest to purchase four wheels for resale later we couldn't find a vehicle that pleased both ourselves and the mechanic so we ended up renting a Toyota Opa, named after Jason's German grandfather? We hit the road, driving on the left side, going against all the instincts of home.
Our first stop was Rotorua, also known as mountain biking mecca. We checked in at Spa Lodge Backpackers, a cool spot with friendly and helpful staff. We grocery shopped and cooked for ourselves (pasta with meat sauce) for the first time on the trip.
The next morning we rented mountain bikes and headed for the hills. On the way we passed a few thermal areas spewing hot gas near the lake and a boiling mud pool beside a steaming river. Entering the forest we climbed a long steep road to the Genesis trail, the one that started the area's mountain biking craze
On the way to Turangi the road wrapped around Great Lake Taupo and the sun set with perfect timing. On the section with the tightest turns, Jason spotted a black Lamborghini (a la 'Cannonball Run’) in the rear-view mirror, but when the road opened up it was gone in a flash. We found a room at the third place we tried, A-Plus Backpackers, and prepared ourselves for the long hike we had planned for the next day. An Englishman named James asked if he could join us so we agreed to give him a lift to the track.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is 19.4 km long and rated one of the best one day hikes in the world. With diverse landscapes that included scrub bush, streams, steep staircase ascents, volcanic cones, old lava flows, craters, emerald lakes, a blue lake and finally a lush forest with waterfalls, it lived up to all the hype. With so much to see and photograph it was easy to fall behind the six hour pace we had set for ourselves. Since the track is one-way, it is necessary to either catch a shuttle or hitchhike back to the car
With the sun dropping fast we found a campsite, set up the tent and headed out for a burger and fries dinner across from the Chateau Tongariro. There were billions of stars in the sky but none were recognizable from our southern hemisphere vantage point. We kept warm overnight with many layers on, including the New Zealand merino wool we'd purchased in Ottawa on Jason's friend Mike's recommendation.
As our alarms went off before sunrise our hopes of seeing a few Lord of the Rings sights on the way to Wellington were dashed due to time constraints. We snoozed as daylight gave shape to the world around us, then packed up and hit the road again.
New Zealand is not a land of broad multi-lane highways. As the main ones wind through the countryside, they have only one lane in each direction and passing lanes at regular intervals. The highway widened a little as we approached the capital city of Wellington in the southern North Island where we had a ferry to catch.
It being a beautiful day and thinking we had enough time for lunch and a visit to the Mount Victoria lookout, we secured Subway subs and drove to the summit. Wonderful views of the city, harbour and surrounding sea awaited us, but we had no time to eat. Then we got lost trying to find the ferry terminal and the stress got the better of both of us. We eventually righted the ship and made it to the car queue in time.