NZ Adventure 2013: Days 15 -30 (Part 1)

Mt Taranaki here we come!

Mt Taranaki here we come!

So, after a few rainy days, the sun returned and it signalled the next quest on the itinerary which was to visit Mount Taranaki and do a couple of walks around the mountain. I wasn’t going to climb to the top – that’s quite an undertaking that I wouldn’t have been happy with doing on my own. However, there were plenty of lower level walks that could be attempted from the Visitor Centre. Getting to the Tahurangi Translator Tower was a reasonably easy affair and got you to where the summit track begins, a fair way up the mountain with stunning panoramic views. It was quite windy though so that’s as far as I went upwards. Descending into the lush, almost sub- tropical forest, the trees were covered in moss giving the place a mystical atmosphere and it was easy to imagine being Frodo Baggins travelling through Fanghorn forest. Spent another day on a similar walk around the Eastern side of the mountain then it was time to move on.

An early start for the big drive down to Wellington which is where I would catch the ferry to the South Island in a few days time. I’m still gobsmacked by how quiet the roads are, even in the towns where you’d expect a reasonable amount of traffic at peak times of the day but… no. I’m travelling down the high street of a small town called Eltham at around 8:30 am in the morning. One would naturally expect it to be a tad busy with the locals going to work, Mums doing the school run, etc. but there was hardly anyone around, it was so quiet. Not that I was complaining. Driving around in NZ seemed almost as stress-free as a stroll in the park. What little traffic you came upon either quickly passed you from behind or let you pass if you came up to it. There seemed to exist this wonderful driver’s etiquette  brought about by just wanting to avoid any stress induced tailgating. As soon as a vehicle came up from behind which was obviously travelling faster than yourself, you’d let it by at the first opportunity and they’d do the same for you. Sometimes it felt like you’d got the whole road to yourself because there just wouldn’t be anything else in sight as far as the eye could see. It was wonderful!

After a brunch stop in Palmerston North, a few more hours on the road saw me me into the windy city of Wellington. I’d booked a campervan site at a motel just outside town. It wasn’t particularly pretty and the facilities were OK but it was the closest one to the ferry terminal which was just a 10 minute drive away. Having to check in there before 7:15 am in the morning, that suited me.

Wellington

Wellington

Thus, I had a few days in Wellington before heading over to the South Island after the weekend. The first thing I always want to do when arriving in a new place is just go for a walk and get my bearings. A modern, busy city centre but with a nice atmosphere, I love strolling around, having a pint and watching the world go by – you can’t beat people watching. One of the best ways to familiarise yourself with a place like this was to book a hop-on hop-off bus city tour. I did this the following day with another good walkaround.

Being the HQ of Mr Peter Jackson (LOTR) and the home of Miramar Studios, it was only right and proper to go and take a look at the Weta Cave where they create all the props and make-up special effects for the films too. Cuba Street was where all the hip young trendies hung out (including me of course!) and it was definitely seemed a central gathering point for island hopping backpackers.

The morning of my ferry trip came all too soon with a three hour sail over to Picton on the South Island. The early cloud dissipated as we got under way and we were treated to a green carpet of gorgeous landscape under a clear blue sky for most of the way.

The Awesome NZ Landscape

The Awesome NZ Landscape

I was going to head to a place called Nelson for my first stay on the South Island en route to the Abel Tasman National Park. It wasn’t too far from Picton so I’d be there around 2 pm, just right for getting settled in at the Holiday Park and finding a nice place to eat.

Advertisements

NZ Adventure 2013 – Days 1 to 14

Auckland

Auckland

I’m hauled up in a place called Stratford. Not the place I and most people I know are familiar with but one that’s 12,000 miles away on the other side of the planet. The weather’s pretty grim at the moment but I can hardly complain. I’ve had almost two full weeks of gloriously hot and sunny weather and the rain has seemed like a refreshing change more than anything else. It’s forecast to clear up again tomorrow so today is a day for getting all those little jobs done like getting a haircut, having a shave, do some shopping and catching up on blogs I promised to write.

Each to their own but I find there is something intensely therapeutic to the mind, body and soul about travelling. I am in my element here and have been since day 1. The place is so well geared up for the traveller and lover of the great outdoors. Campervaning is most definitely the way to go as the holiday parks/campsites are so well equipped you just don’t need anywhere else – they put UK campsites to utter shame. Lounges with wi-fi, fully fitted out kitchens, laundry rooms, large showers with infinite hot water, etc., etc.The added bonuses of course is that everyone speaks English and they drive on the correct side of the road too.

Four days in Auckland to begin with in a nice hotel, ideally situated with a stunning view of the city having a room on the top floor. The city had a great holiday atmosphere to it with a mix of locals and tourists soaking up the sunshine. I love just walking around places like this but I did book myself on a number of tours to make sure I saw as much as I could.

Picked “Jucy Lucy” (my Campervan) up on the the 4th day and headed to a place called “Hot Water Beach” at the bottom of the Coromandel Peninsula”. Overnight there then up to the northern most tip of the Coromandel to do a coastal walk called the Coromandel Walkway. The trip up to Stony Bay campsite was an adventure in itself with a one hour drive along a roller coaster gravel track that was definitely more suited to a Land Rover than a Toyota Campervan but the reward was a beautifully located campsite perched right next to a blue sea in a secluded bay. The few neighbours I did have were very friendly and invited me over for a chat and a glass or two of wine. The walk was a 14 mile stroll (there and back) along some of the most spectacular coastline I’ve seen. It was hot and sunny and I just felt very privileged to be able to enjoy nature at its most beautiful. However, I was informed by some Kiwis a little later on that it would not have been as enjoyable in bad weather.

Jucy Lucy & The Crew

Jucy Lucy & The Crew

From Stony Bay, a good half a day’s driving right down to Rotorua with a lunch stop at Tauranga. Rotorua was a nice place but one did get a sense that the main holiday season was over as it seemed like a ghost town in the evening with just a sprinkling of locals, tourists and backpackers gathering at a few choice bars/restaurants near the lakeside. Spent the next day visiting one of the most popular Thermal sites and took a look at the Green and Blue lakes. Had a very nice Balti at a multi-award winning Indian restaurant.

Onward the next day to another lakeside town called Taupo. Did a nice walk to some rapids called the Huka Falls and enjoyed a steak washed down with a couple of pints down by the lakeside. I planned to do my first multi-day hike at the next place which would be the Tongariro National Park. This was a 3/4 day hike up and over what is called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Landed at Whakapapa Village Holiday Park to spend the rest of the day preparing for my hike. It’s a totally different ball game when you have to be self-sufficient for a few days and carry everything you need on your back (except a tent and stove this time as I was staying in huts). There’s a very definite art in selecting what to take and what not to and keeping the rucksack to a reasonable weight, especially as the second day would be a fairly gruelling ascent. Weather forecast wasn’t looking too good either for the second day onwards. Anyway, set off reasonably early for the 3 hour, 10 km hike to the first hut the next day. It has been a long time since I’ve backpacked and carried a rucksack this heavy. Muscles you never knew you had begin to feel the strain. The second day’s ascent was not going to be easy, that was for sure. Landed at the hut at about 2 pm and soon after, my companions turned up who we’re to be a young German couple, a young Kiwi lady and three younger Kiwis who looked like they were a brother and two sisters fresh out of college and the warden. Everyone seemed friendly enough and we wiled away the evening hours chatting and playing cards.

Whakapapa Hut

Whakapapa Hut

An update on the forecast wasn’t good. Rain and, more serious, high winds. We would see what tomorrow morning brought. The forecast was accurate and a discussion with the warden took place. The Alpine Crossing over to the next hut was not advised. High winds can be positively dangerous on top. There didn’t seem much point in leaving the sack and doing a quick ascent either as it was all in cloud. Reluctantly, I made the decision to head back and get my refund on the other two huts. By the time I got back, the heavens started to open and it was pretty grim. I pitied the poor people I met on their way to the hut on my return. At least I’d had one decent day walking in.

I now just wanted to get to a place where I could rest up for the night and that ended up being a town called Taumarunui. The place was pretty dead but all I wanted was a decent meal and a good night’s sleep. Booked a cabin at the Holiday Park (run by a Yorkshireman) and went off in search of the only recommended restaurant in town. Spent ages looking for it and almost gave up. One last drive down the main drag and I finally spotted it – Jasmin’s Thai Restaurant, I must have been tired.

Felt more refreshed the next day for a drive down, what’s called, the “Forgotten World Highway”. A scenic route winding its way through the heart of rural New Zealand. Even though the weather wasn’t great, the scenery was awesome and I thoroughly enjoyed the drive. Ended up in Stratford about 3 pm-ish and booked myself into the Holiday Park, amusingly enough run by a Yorkshirewoman. Had a nice hot shower, did the laundry and decided to wait the bad weather out so I can grab some views and a couple of nice day walks around Mount Taranaki. That brings me to here and now writing this blog with a nice cup of tea by my side.

The Forgotten World Highway

The Forgotten World Highway