Auckland, Coromandel, Hahei, Hamilton, etc
Trip Start Apr 01, 2001
89Trip End Ongoing
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Before they would let us into New Zealand we had to clean the mud off our walking boots and unpack our tent to prove that it didn't have any mud, seeds or insects caught up in it. By the time we got to our accommodation in Auckland we felt as if we had been raped and pillaged.
Our first priority was to rent a car for a month. ABC Rentals offered us a Honda Civic for NZ$30 per day. At less than US$10 we wondered what kind of wreck we would get. It had done 160,000 miles, but was mechanically sound, and got us all the way around New Zealand. The rental agreement had a diagram of the car upon which they mark any dents and scratches. We couldn't actually see the diagram under all the scribbles, but at least we didn't have to worry about adding to the damage... no one was going to notice the odd extra dent!
Driving in New Zealand is an experience we won't forget in a hurry. Aside from the odd sheep, there is very little on the roads, which is a good thing because New Zealanders drive like complete idiots. We thought that Kiwis were laid back folk, but this changes the moment they get behind the wheel. Even on straight roads they come up behind you and sit there, right on your bumper, without even trying to overtake. Its like they've never heard of the two-second rule. They drive old bangers that made our Honda look as if it had just left the showroom, and you wonder if their breaks work at all in the wet New Zealand weather.
Before we could drive anywhere in New Zealand we had to spend some time figuring out the place names.
We didn't want to be asking for directions to Whangapoua when we meant Whangapararaoa, or confusing Whangamumu with Whangamomona. As for the place near Hawkes Bay called "Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikmaungahoro nukupokaiwhenuaktanatahu" Well, we didn't even bother trying to ask for directions to that place!
In Auckland we spent most of our time at the National Maritime Museum. New Zealand is obsessed with sailing, and it was only a couple of days after Sir Peter Blake (two-time America's Cup winner from Auckland) had been murdered, so the entire maritime village was full of flowers and red socks!
Driving along the Coromandel Peninsula Tonya spotted a cyclist at the roadside bent over, working on their bicycle. "I think that's Jeanne from Bermuda," she said, so we pulled over to take a closer look. Paul was unable to identify the backside... he was more used to seeing Jeanne's top half poking out from behind a computer desk. It was indeed Jeanne, at the start of her 4-month cycle trip around New Zealand. (Not something we would consider doing... they have some bloody big hills here!) We made arrangements to meet up at a campsite in Thames and spent the evening catching up on each other's travels. Since leaving Bermuda, Jeanne has been traveling all around Canada and the US, and has just done a Grand Canyon Colorado River Rafting Trip. Talking about this brought back some great memories of a similar trip we did a few years ago.
Thames was a typical small town. The supermarket had less choice than those in Bermuda. The vegetables were shriveled and brown, and the meat was so badly freezer burned it must have been sitting there for years. We gave up trying to find food to cook, and opted for a high cholesterol meal of fish and chips.
HAHEI AND HOT WATER BEACH
This beach is meant to have hot thermal waters just below the sand. People rent large shovels from a shop nearby and dig themselves their own little spa baths. We walked along the beach and spoke to several people all frantically digging. Not one person had found any hot water or even any lukewarm water. The general consensus was that it was "one big con". It was only weeks later that we spoke to one bloke who had badly burnt his feet by wriggling them into the sand and striking hot water!
We spent all our time in Hamilton catching up with Megan, her mum and Alan - Kiwis we had met on the Trans Siberian Railway. They continued their journey through China and along the Silk Route then eventually into Turkey. It sounded wonderful... so now we have yet another trip to add to our "want to do list".
We arrived in Rotorua in the late afternoon. It was pouring with rain and we were starving. We found the perfect solution "food and indoor entertainment" at the New Zealand Maori Arts And Crafts Institute. Here we watched a bunch of half naked men do the "Hakka". Basically they pull ugly faces, stick their tongues out and make as much noise as possible whilst showing off their tattooed butt-cheeks! After this we heard a long "Welcome Speech" which was all in Maori, so we didn't understand a word, and were entertained by traditional singing, dancing and pom-pom twirling. The best was yet to come... the Hangi...a traditional Maori meal cooked in the ground. This was part of a huge buffet where we helped ourselves to copious quantities of oysters, green tipped mussels, roast lamb, and more chocolate cake and Pavlova than our waistlines would forgive us for.
Follow the stench of rotten eggs and you will arrive at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. We saw craters, colorful mineral terraces, boiling mud pools and the Lady Knox Geyser. This spouts at 10.15 am every day, helped along by the fact that the staff pour a box of soapsuds into it at 10 am. It then erupts and, depending on the wind direction, soaks everyone within a 100-meter radius!
This is New Zealand's largest lake, and is a beautiful area. We didn't "do" much here, just chilled-out by the lake and watched the sheep grazing on the hillsides.
Mawley Park Motor Camp in Masterton is our favorite campsite of the entire trip. It is immaculately maintained, and the owners are extremely friendly. We spent three days here, mostly relaxing in the sun at the campsite. We also visited the Mt. Bruce National Wildlife Center where we saw a Kiwi and Takahe, a bird that was thought to be extinct until one cam strolling along in 1940. We also did some easy hikes in Tararua Forest Park.
The capital of New Zealand only has a population of about half a million, and is in a beautiful location with a magnificent harbor and steep hills. There are also some wonderful Indian restaurants ("Saffron" and "Great India") and lots of decent cafés... so it gets a high ranking in our opinion!
The Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand) www.tepapa.govt.nz is definitely worth a visit for its extensive Maori collection as well as its virtual bungee jump. Entry to the museum is free and the café inside serves excellent lattés and decadent cakes.
We took the cable car from Lambton Quay up to the Botanic Gardens for great views over the city and to check out the "human interactive sundial".
In Wellington we stayed at a Backpackers called Wildlife House. The location (58 Tory St.) is central and you can always find your way home... even after a really heavy night on the town... The building is five stories high and painted in black and white zebra strips.
FERRY FROM WELLINGTON TO PICTON
It's worth knowing that you can get up to 40% off the full fare by making a telephone reservation about a week before you travel (free-phone from within NZ 0800 802 802). Also, it is cheaper to do the overnight crossing. We did both the day and night crossings. You don't miss much by traveling at night, there's not much to see anyway.
Where I stayed