Saturday, May 2, 2009


Grant and I made it to the North Island with no problems, though the ferry didn't have enough sight-seeing windows. (You can tell a mate wrote that - they compulsively need to see out the window to make sure they don't hit anything. We engineers never get to see out the window so wouldn't know the difference) After our ten days of ultra luxury in a hotel, we couldn't quite manage to move back into our van, so got another hotel in Picton the night before our ferry trip north. Then in Wellington, it was too cold and we wanted to enjoy the city, so we decided on a second night in a hotel. After leaving Wellington and driving to Hawkes Bay, we finally forced ourselves back into the van. It was actually like a mini homecoming with warm beer, dirty dishes and all.

Hawkes Bay is the good wine region of NZ (don't tell that to the other NZ wine regions). Hawkes Bay around Napier is the only region that produces a few good reds, whereas the rest of NZ is so cold they mainly pride their white varietals, with the few reds tasting quite thin. This of course comes from our oh-so-sophisticated beer guzzling wine palate! The fall foliage was pretty, and the weather was fine, but as we were enjoying the local bounty I think we forgot to take pictures. Oh well - it looked good and tasted good even though we consumed the evidence.

From there it was on to my biggest attraction of NZ, one of the things I came here most for, the famed volcanic TONGARIRO CROSSING!!!! The Tongariro crossing is rated as NZ's best day hike and is extremely popular. It consists of hiking through the volcanic region of the North Island with spectacular views and incredible terrain. However, heavy rains and gusts up to 85 kph meant that nobody was going on the mountain for at least several days. So we drove on to Waitomo Caves so as not to waste our time waiting for hope.

                              What did we sign up for again?

We signed up for one of the (expensive) cave tours that Waitomo is famous for. The tour included abseiling, blackwater tubing, and climbing up waterfalls through a maze of caverns. First we were outfitted with extremely tight wetsuits (they always underestimate the beer belly beneath my coat) with fleece underneath, and shorts and a climbing harness on the outside. We then drove to a cave where we learned how to abseil. We were supposed to lower ourselves down a tight, long, dark, hole into the cave. (he said.....) Actually, after ensuring we knew the knots and techniques, the two guides tied and clipped us in, then lowered us down themselves, but hey, we're paying for the training and the safety, not a real death defying adventure. In the cave we put an innertube around our butts, jumped off a cliff into the (cold!) water then pulled ourselves along a rope up the river. (No wonder those wetsuits were so thick!) After that, we all turned off our lights, and the guides took us on a "romantic" float back down the river while looking at the thousands of glow worms.

The glow worms are pretty cool. They live on the roof of the cave and look like a starlit night of galaxies and constellations. They are not actually worms, they are maggots, and they don't glow, their poop does, so what looks like a cave full of stars is actually glowing poop all around us. Romantic indeed.

After needlessly crawling through tight holes, we then needlessly climbed up some short waterfalls, with the guides placing our hands and feet for us with an occasional boost on the bum to get us up. Despite all the help, the trip left me cold and exhausted, and my muscles ached for days. It really pushed me to the edge, and hence made me feel really bad about how weak I am considering my age. I won't even tell you how bad my hips hurt while straddling the waterfall rock faces trying to pull myself up. My excuse is that I'm 5'1", so was proportionally more spread eagled than the rest of the crew. (Incidentally we had a lot more fun in the tropical jungle of Belize caving into the Mayan sacrifice cave.) Right, so on to the thermal center of New Zealand....

Rotorua proved to be nothing like what we remembered when Grant and I really were young 7 years ago and spent a nice evening soaking in the hot tubs away from the training ship. So we drove further out of town to stay at a holiday park with really nice hotsprings. We did plunk down some money to see some thermal wonderland or other, and it was nice, but not thrilling. I would say that if you have never seen geysers, boiling mud, and sulfur hotpools, then definitely go to Rotorua. But, if you have been to Yellowstone National Park and you are short on time in NZ, as one of my best friends advised, you can probably skip Rotorua with a clear conscience. Like I said though, if you've never seen this stuff before, than I highly recommend the area. And really, go check out Yellowstone if you haven't.

After killing about four days with our adventures, we called about Tongariro, and the shuttle companies were canceling for at least a few more days. That meant that even if we decided to be stupid and hike the mountain anyway, there would be nobody to pick us up on the other side, so death by exposure would be a near certainty. I had to give up my goal and move on, but I guess there is always next time.

    There are more bugs on the North Island, though fewer sandflies.

Luckily, we drove North to the Coromandel Peninsula where the weather cleared and we had a few beautiful days of sunshine. The scenery was pretty and the drive was pleasant enough, but nothing too dramatic. It's really something to be spoiled by the grandeur of the South Island! Same on up towards the Bay of Islands. (We actually sort of shot ourselves in the foot in that we our now a little pressed for time to see all we want to see in the North. We have already given up on seeing some stuff, and we are now driving a lot more than we ever did in the South just to get to the spots we do want to see.) We are sitting waiting for the rain to stop in a day or two, then we'll plunk down more money to check out the Islands.


                        Looking out from Cathedral Cove

                      Pretty Cathedral Cove, Coromandel

Probably the highlight, or the most intersting, part of our North Island tour so far was at the locals pub we went to last night where we met a nice Maori concrete contractor who enlightened us on a lot of culture. First, he said he was the youngest of 15 kids!!!! His oldest sibling is in his 70's! And he said that was average for Maori families. Then, he said he dropped out of school around ten or eleven, and got some 12 or 13 year-old girl pregnant!!!! We figured this out because he told us he was 40, then he mentioned his oldest daughter was about to turn 30. We laughed at the math, but he said it's true he fathered his first child around the age of ten. We can't decide if he's kidding or not, but it's sort of one of those things where you can't make that shite up. And you had to have been there to see how serious he was. Crazy, but he was a good mate to have a few rounds with, and gave us more insight into rugby, and actual Maori history and culture besides his family life.

Until the weather clears, we'll see you next time. Our van is for sale, so if you know anybody who wants an awesome van, tell them to check out our ad on the Auckland gumtree site. Keep your fingers crossed we strike a good deal next week!


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