A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

Volcanoes and the Great Walk in the North Island

It was hard to imagine that the North Island of New Zealand could be much more scenic than the South Island but we were soon to discover that in parts it was every bit as spectacular. Unfortunately we had only 10 days left in New Zealand so while our time was short on the North Island, it was certainly memorable.

We began our journey by visiting the city of Wellington. It's a really cool city and reminded me of a mini melbourne with its cool cafes, shops and one of the best museums I've ever visited - the Te Papa. I'm not really someone who loves museums but this one is very interactive and after about 3 hours we hadn't even left the ground floor.

Following wellington we headed north to the most famous day trek in New Zealand. The tongarino crossing. It is now more noteably famous as it is home to the lord of the rings 'Mount Doom' or Mount Ngauruhoe. It's not just this mountain that makes it so spectacular but more the region in general. The crossing is a trek that takes you through and up several volcano's, across dried up craters, view over emerald lakes and you can summit both Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongarino although Mount Ngauruhoe is v steep in parts and very tricky. We went to the summit of Mount Tongarino which I'd highly recommend as its not too difficult and it give s a great view of the overall region. We were lucky enough to get a spectacular day and sitting there on Mount Tongarino was something special. The region is still active so unfortunately we couldnt cross the full way as one area had erupted the year previously and was still dangerous. It's also not a trek for you if you want to be alone. There are lots of people doing it. I think its still worth it. Its also tough enough trek (probably about 6/7 hours) but the landscape is very unique. It's definitely one of our highights of New Zealand.

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After the tongarino crossing we drove to the volcanic town of rotarua. We were primarily here to stock up on supplies for the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk but Rotarua is an interesting place in itself. First off, the whole town smells of suplhur. It is really noticable as your driving into it. It makes the most of its volcanic activity and has lots of hot springs, mud baths and geysers you can visit. Unfortunately we didn't avail of these as our time here was spent preparing for the next big trek - The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk located in Te Urewera National Park. This is one of New Zealands great walks but its probably not as popular as some on the south Island. I would imagine because its a little out of the way to get to. The national park is about 3 hours drive from rotarua and most of that is on very windy gravel roads. Once we got near the park, we left the car at a guesthouse and paid for a transfer to the start point.

The trek took us four days to complete but it we loved it. It was difficult with some serious climbs in it especially the first day when it was 700m uphill through forest. Doing it with full backpacks adds considerably to the difficulty. The one thing about these great walks is that you need to bring all your facilities/food with you for the full 4 days. There are huts along the way that you can book into and sleep in but there are no cooking facilites so they must carried with you. The huts themselves are basic but are some of them are really nice and they can be located in the most beautiful areas. We were so lucky and got beautiful weather so when we arrived at the hut, we could relax usually beside a lake and maybe go for a swim.

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If there was one thing I would recommend doing in New Zealand then a great walk would be it. There are nine walks in total located in both the north and south Island. They can be booked easily through the DOC website and you can camp or stay in huts. They can be physically tough going but you can spread out the walking to suit your needs. I think the best thing is that apart from the senery, you can switch off and completely relax.

After the walk, a very tired Ger and Ollie returned to Rotarua for a night and then to Auckland where we sold our camping gear, returned our rental car and got ready for the nect big part of the trip - South America.

Dodging Mosquito Status: Not much sign of them in the North Island or their horrible relative 'the sand fly. I'm guess they are not lord of the ring fans!!!

Posted by ofenelon 06:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Camping and Tramping on the South Island

It took me a little while to settle into our next destination of New Zealand after the excitement of Christmas and adjusting to be back out travelling again with just the two of us. I found it a little strange for a while. However, it isn’t exactly hard to orientate yourself in New Zealand. It is very easy to get around and they provide tourists with endless free maps etc to get you on your way. We picked up our rental car in Christchurch and decided to do an anti-clockwise route of the south Island making Kaikoura on the coast our first stop. Our first impressions of New Zealand were well ‘wow’. This is one seriously beautiful country. In Kaikoura we decided to make the most of the marine life and we went swimming with the fur seals and it was fantastic. The waters were a little colder than Indonesia but we jumped in with our warm wetsuits and soon got use to it. The seals themselves are amazing. Some are shy but others are really curious and they swim right up to you and duck under and around. One of the seals allowed me to swim right beside him for about 30m out to sea and then back again. He just rolled around while I snorkeled beside him.

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After the seal swim we also done a whale watch which was cool as we got to see a sperm whale however, the boat was quite big and full and I felt like it was a bit of a money making operation but it was really cool to see a whale none the less.
From Kaikoura we made our way to the Abel Tasman National Park on the north east. After a night in Nelson, we headed to a campsite located just outside the park. The one thing I should mention is that New Zealand has an amazing Department of Conservation that maintains parks, trails, camping grounds all over the country. They are really well maintained and so well signed . As a result, one of the major activities here is ‘Tramping’ (what we call trekking). They have fantastic website outlining all the walks (long and short) that you can do including many that are in the Abel Tasman Park. We decided to do a two day coastal trek in the park. Cars are not allowed into the park so we got a water taxi to the top of the park and walked back over two days. It was beautiful except for the first day it rained all day. Trying to put the tent in the rain was amusing to say the least. We got a bit of sleep and we didn’t get wet in the tent but the next morning most of our clothes were a little damp which explains why I’m wearing a strange outfit below (my only dryish clothes). The trek was about 45km in total so we got to see a lot of the coastline in the park and the scenery was breathtaking . The beaches along that area are pure golden sand, almost deserted except for some ‘trampers’.

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From the Abel Tasman we headed to the west coast to a little town called Hector. The weather wasn’t the best so decided not to camp and we stayed in a wonderful place called The Old Slaughterhouse which overlooks the wild west coastline. Its located up on a hill so you have to park the car at the bottom and head up the hill (they collected our bags thankfully!). The house itself was like a little hideaway with two beautiful cozy lounge areas, no telly/internet and two lovely old dogs and a cat called Jefferson. As the weather was wet, we decided to stay two nights and relax with our kindles and a glass of wine.

From the quietness of hector, it was time go further south to the less quiet town of Queenstown. This was quite a far journey so we made a stop over in hokitita one night stopping on route to see the Fox Glacier. There is a walk right up to the glacier and while we didn’t pay to do a glacier trek we still got and impressive view of it and the surrounding valley.
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The next two night were spent in Wanaka. Wanaka was a lovely spot, located on Lake Wanaka. We stayed in a really nice campsite and went on some lovely walks in the area. The scenery around Wanaka and Queenstown is really spectacular with views of the Remarkables mountain range (a ski area in the winter). Aside from skiing, Queenstown itself is famous for its adventure activities – it was the birthplace of the bungee jump. You can do any amount of activities here and there are some really great walks in the area too. We done some beautiful walks but we didn’t really get a chance to do any of the more exciting activities because they are a little pricey if your on a budget so we decided to save our activity spending for a few days later when we would go swimming with dolphins in Akaroa. We did manage to sneak in a trip to the ice bar - see below.

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Akaroa is on the east coast, another long journey so we took a look at the map and we thought we might camp up at Mount Cook to break up the journey. The DOC had a campsite there that looked like it could be nice and we were interested in seeing the famous Mount Cook. It was only as we got closer to the region did we realise what we nearly missed. The scenery in this area is spectacular. The area is wild, the mountains imposing and the campsite is located just beside Mount Cook. We were sad to have only spent one night here except but if I was to go again, I would probably try stay down the road in the backpacker inn or else bring a warmer sleeping bag!!! It was very cold in the middle of the night but still I guess it will probably be the most scenic camp I’ll ever do so I wont complain.

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Ger’s birthday was arriving as we left Mount Cook and we decided to spend it in akaroa and to do something he had always wanted to do – swim with dolphins. We organised it through a really nice farm hostel who do trips to swim with hector dolphins. Hector dolphins are the smallest and rarest dolphin in the world. They are only about 1m in length and there are 7,000 of them in New Zealand and big groups of them hang out in and around the harbour of akoroa. The one thing about them is that you never know where exactly they are so as we headed out in the boat we had to locate them first. Luckily a we spotted them a while later and we were able to get in. They are really beautiful creatures and at first, they didn’t seem to bothered with us but after a little while, they approached and began to play. They swam towards us, zooming around and past us much to our delight and a few even done little jumps out of the water. When Ger first got in about 4 dolphins went and circled him, I reckon they were wishing him happy birthday. He was delighted needless to say!!! They don’t hang around you the way the seals do but rather they swim past you and then come back again. It was a memorable birthday for Ger.

Our stay in the South Island was nearly over but we spent a night Christchurch before heading to the ferry as we didn’t see Christchurch on our arrival. We booked in a hostel that’s a converted jailhouse. It’s very cool and was a bit of a novelty.
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Christchurch itself is and interesting place at the moment. The CBD was devastated by the earthquake in Feb, 2011 and the city is under major reconstruction. At the moment, it s bit disjointed as you would expect but there are some really interesting bars/cafes popping up are many are housed in containers. It’s a bit mad looking at it but its functional, very quirky and of course it means businesses can continue to operate. Even the token Irish Bar has its own container!!!! We walked around the city for a few hours and while its very sad to see the devastation it caused –especially the lives that were lost – there are definite signs that Christchurch recover from this into a great city.

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Well that’s it from New Zealand so far. I’ll update in a while on what the North Island has to offer. We are beginning our adventure in the city of Wellington.

Dodging Mosquito Status: It turns out that New Zealand has an evil cousin that resides on the west coast mostly. He is called ‘The sand fly’. While its not quite as smart as the mossie, it is definitely as destructive and leaves a nasty little bite!!! Fortunately our encounters were sparse so we escaped with relatively few injuries.

Posted by ofenelon 12:39 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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