Working on the most active volcano on earth

Trip Start Sep 21, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Staff Lodge, Ruapehu Alpine Lifts

Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Monday, June 14, 2010

Well I am writing this from a very windy Mt Ruapehu (140 km/h to be precise), an active volcano on the North Island and now our new home. I think what also deserves a mention is the fact that I am typing this on mine and Tim's brand new laptop, which after all of our hard work in Auckland we definitely deserved!

So we waved good bye to the City of Sails in typical New Zealand style, absolutely bucketing down with rain. We said goodbye to our new found Auckland friends and our lovely apartment in which forever Tim and I will be the first people to live in.

After working seven days a week since January I deserved a week off and could not wait to take our van for a drive. We had six days to get to the mountain and the north of New Zealand to explore. We were ready to camp and once again live a more "backpacker" lifestyle.

I being a self confessed guidebook freak had ticks and stars next to quite a few things in the lonely planet. We also had no real plans or commitments and given the windy windy roads to come this was a good thing.

First stop was a tiny village called Puhoi – a village founded by German bohemian peasants in 1860. They had some beautiful old buildings and a rather bizarre pub with lots of wood chopping memorabilia on the walls. We then stooped at the McKinney Kauri, a giant of a tree that is 800 years old. They had a really nice walk there going through rainforest with lots of amazing ferns. Luckily for us the rain had stopped and we were both happy to be in the wilderness and out of the city. Then it was off to Goat Island. A really special place as it was declared a marine reserve in 1978, making the area a haven for fish. I thought it was great but also annoying as there are massive snapper just swimming around teasing you, begging to be caught. We have decided to head back there is summer for some snorkelling as I think you can only appreciate the area from under the water. We left Auckland quite late and now it was dark. We needed somewhere to park the van but weren’t sure where to stay. We decided to press on to Paihia, the gateway to the Bay of Islands.

It was a bit of a hard decision where to spend the night. The whole time we have been in New Zealand there has been a lot of discussion regarding freedom campers, which is their name for people like us who park places and camp for free. We decided that as have a discreet looking van and are quiet, clean people we would not have any problems, and we were right. We parked right on the main street of Paihia and did not have one problem. We awoke to a beautiful, if not misty view and then wandered around and explored the town. The main attraction in the Bay of Islands is not surprisingly the bay. I always imagined myself sailing the bay under full sail and given the mist and the fact it was now winter we decided to wait to part 100 dollars each for a boat trip until the summer time. We wanted to check out where they signed the Treaty of Waitangi but disappointingly it was crazily expensive for travellers (free for kiwis). I was disappointed as I wanted to see the buildings within the grounds but could not justify the price. Instead we went to some waterfalls (Haruru) nearby and then continued on up the coast.  

We stopped in at some beautiful small bays, really relaxing places that would be great in summer. We were looking for somewhere to spend the night heading further and further north when we decided it probably wasn’t stupid to drive the whole distance to Cape Reinga the most northerly point of the country accessible by road. It was a long windy hilly drive but the scenery was something special. Rainforest, then rolling green hills, the scenery here is hard to describe as it changes so much in such a short amount of time. I was actually really surprised as it was very mountainous, for some reason I expected a flat drive and then a lighthouse at the end, however we were actually quite high up. We had the option of driving on 90 mile beach most of the way to the Cape however the van is very precious to me and I did not want to get it stuck in the sand even though the road sign that indicated the speed limit was one hundred at the beginning of the beach was a pretty good sign of how hard the sand actually was. We drove on the beach for a small amount of time before heading back to the road and we arrived at the Cape for the sunset. It was beautiful. Just like Cape Leeuwin in Australia you could see the two oceans meet however these are the Tasman and the Pacific. The cape is very special to the Maori as this is where they believe the dead make their way o the underworld, guided by the roots of an ancient tree that grows amazingly out of the rocks, battered by wind and ocean. It was very mystical.

After the sun set the mist set in and it was pitch black. We sat down to a gourmet dinner of bread and mushroom soup before setting into a deep sleep at 7pm. We had heard stories about it being a little unsafe sleeping in vans in the north of New Zealand. Some people have been stabbed and mugged so we were a little wary of the remote location we were staying in. There was another couple sleeping in a van also so we assumed safety in numbers. However when at 1030 a big man with a big dog pulled up in a big four wheel drive next to us something was not quite right. Tim jumped awake and after about 10 anxious minutes we decided it best to leave.  We drove in the mist, along a scary windy road, dodging possums, rabbits and even a sheep to drive to somewhere more settled. It was definitely an adventure but we were glad we followed our first instinct. We arrived in Kaitaia after midnight and slept in the hospital carpark. It was lit up, there was security and we felt safe so although maybe a strange place to camp we went to sleep and slept like babies.

After speaking on a daily basis with probation officers around the country I had gotten to know some of them quite well over the phone. My favourites were all up north and when I told them we were coming up that way they said we should stop into the office. It was really nice to meet the people we had worked together with over the past six months and they were happy we stopped in for a cup of tea.  As they deal with the criminal side of things it was a relief to hear they said we did the right thing in leaving the night before.

That day we drove quite long a time as the roads were super windy. It was very beautiful and very untouched. We stayed in a small place called Rawene which was the third town in New Zealand to be settled by Europeans. It is at the tip of the Hokianga Harbour, which currently is my favourite place in New Zealand. We had to cross on a ferry and the town felt like time stood still there. The old wooden shops were on silts over the water and there wasn’t even an ATM. We stayed in a little motor camp there as it was time for a shower! I think the camps are quite expensive here which is why we try to limit them to 3 – 4 days if possible. It costs around 28 dollars to park our van in an unpowered patch of gravel. Yes we get a shower with hot water and use of a kitchen but some of these places are just a toilet block. If you are paying 30 dollars a day just to sleep that cuts into the budget so the less the better for us. It may be harder on the South Island as they have more tourists and don’t like freedom campers but for now we will do it as long as we can.

The next day we were up early and on the road as we weren’t really sure where we would stay that night. We knew we had to stop in Auckland as we were going to buy our laptop but weren’t really sure if the roads were going to be straighter than the day before, other wise we knew we would not make it to the Auckland. We also had to stop at two tourist attractions along the way. A town right at the harbour mouth really stole my heart it was beautiful. The town is called Opononi. The harbour is so pretty and it looks over to huge sandhills which with more time we could have taken a boat across to and sandboarded down.  After ooohing and aaahing over the view there we stopped at the Waipoua Kauri Forest where we had the opportunity to walk in the forest and see the big old trees. First tree was Tane Mahuta which is named for the Maori god of the forests. It was really impressive and at almost 2000 years old something very special to see. Next we saw the four sisters, which are four tress growing unusually close together, after them our favourite Te Matua Ngahere (the father of the forest) It wasn’t as high as the first but had a massive trunk, it was unbelievable. It was also unbelievable that in the middle of the forest we had to pay a volunteer 2 dollars to mind the carpark as theft is a big problem. How sad.

After the tress next stop we wanted to see were the Kai Iwi Lakes near Dargaville. That was a waste of time as although they looked nice and I am sure its a nice picnic spot and waterskiing area they didn’t really have the wow factor for us. We then pressed on to Auckland and after a quick stop at a Dutch Deli for some dropje we made it to the computer store where we wanted to buy our laptop. In typical Tegan and Tim luck the shop sold the last of the laptop we wanted moments before. We decided then to head back across the Harbour Bridge to the North Shore where another computer centre was that stocked the laptop we wanted. The area was safe for us to find a quiet street to sleep. We used the toilet in the supermarket shopping centre and had a cheap bowl of roast pork soup from a really good Chinese Restaurant and found a spot to park. In the morning back to the bathrooms to brush our teeth and try to look like we didn’t camp the night, a coffee and a magazine read and then we cleaned out the car in the carpark. Then it was off to buy the laptop we  had wanted for so long.

It was not even 10 by the time we had bought it and then it was off south to the famous glow-worm caves at Waitomo. We had breakfast along the banks of the Waikato River, the longest in NZ. The town near Waitomo Caves was a bit of a backward place and Tim got grumpy at the simple kiwi that served us in the tourist centre. The caves were worth it though, they were more amazing that we both expected. You walked down into the cave with a guide and then took a boat ride along the river in the pitch black with a roof full of the brightest lights you can imagine. They have sort of spider webs hanging under them to catch their food and when you looked through these webs it looked like the whole roof was these moving lights. A surreal sight. Like always there were plenty activities that could have kept us in the area but unless you have an endless supply of money you have to be careful and pick only the things you want to do. We then decided to head to the nearest city which was also close the mountain which is called Taupo. It is quite a pretty place on the biggest lake in NZ called amazingly enough Lake Taupo. We slept at the Marina that night and had a really cozy sleep as it rained and rained. The rain was not so cozy the next day when it rained and rained and we could not do or see anything!. We quickly went to the Huka Falls which were amazing.  We ended up spending the morning in an old style cafe and then decided to go to the mountain a few hours earlier as there was nothing else we could do. Disappointingly we arrived in Whakapapa Village without even getting a glimpse of mountain as the weather really had turned.

It is now Wednesday and we have been officially “Staffies” for 3 days. First impressions of the staff lodge.....Tims are it was alright but Kiwi. What he means by that is it is really rundown, quite old and I think Kiwis will live somewhere until the place falls down around them. Although its old it has its charms and now its home. Moe importantly we don’t have to cook or clean for ourselves for the next 4 months. We get a cooked breakfast and dinner everyday and so far the food has been surprisingly good. We were inducted into work on Tuesday and I started work that day. Tim started work today and he did his mountain driving training. We learnt how to deal with avalanche and volcanic eruptions. Being a supervisor I have to be a fire warden so walked around today in a vest and looked at fire alarms, all the fun stuff.

Well that’s enough for now. More to come on work here on the mountain and our life in the staff lodge. We are still happy and healthy and miss you all xxxxx
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Henny on

Lieve Tim en Tegan,
Heb jullie reisverslag vorige week met veel belangstelling gelezen, wat een gave bus hebben jullie die ziet er top uit, wel spannend die verhalen over de slaapplek met de bus daar midden in de verlaten natuur.
Wat ik begrijp is dat jullie volop aan het werk zijn inde sneeuw, ik kan me dat niet voorstellen nu hier gisteren de zomer is angebroken.
Het zal wel fijn zijn om weer eens iets anders van het land te zien en andere mensen te ontmoeten.
Hopelijk gaat alles goed met jullie, hier gaat alles zijn gangetje.Ik heb afgelopen zondag geprobeerd te bellen, contact is toen helaas niet gelukt, ik probeer het deze week weer.
Heeeeel veel liefs en kussen van Henny en Kees natuurlijk. xx

Noor on

Lieve Tim en Tegan,
Waar blijft het volgende verhaal van jullie ervaringen in de sneeuw??
Jullie hebben echt heel veel mooie dingen gezien in die week met jullie van!!
Zo zien jullie meer en meer van Nieuw Zeeland. En nu zitten jullie ook op een prachtige plek!
Ik ga jullie morgen eindelijk weer eens bellen!! Hoop zooooo dat het lukt want ik mis jullie héééél erg!
Dikke kus

José on

Lieve Tim en Tegan.
Wat heerlijk om te zien en te lezen dat jullie zo genieten van deze volgende stap tijdens jullie reis. Het was ook wel tijd voor weer iets nieuws toch.
Met z'n allen de mooie foto's en die van de mooie auto bekeken. Jullie zien er goed uit ! Wij zijn blij als we jullie weer in het echt zien. Het is maar raar zo zonder jullie en Noortje in de Helmondselaan. Hier is alles prima met ons vieren (vijven) Heel veel liefs en een dikke kus van ons allemaal !

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