Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Other Side of the World (2 of 3): New Zealand - North Island

Whangarei - Bay of Islands - Matakana - Leigh Coastal Walk - Coromandel Peninsula - Mount Maunganui (Pacific beach) - Rotarua and Tamaki Maori Village - Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park - Lake Taupo - Tongariro Alpine Crossing - Napier (Art Deco town) - Gisborne (Cook's First Landing) - Lake Waikoremoana - Cape Kidknappers (Gannets) - Martinborough (wine) - Wellington (Te Papa, Old and New St. Pauls, Botanic Garden via Cable Car - Soames Island trip)

- The Whangerai Falls were the first thing we saw on our first full day, involving a hike through lush, dense bush, walking across a swinging rope bridge, and emerging at the base of the falls.
- A boat tour through the Bay of Islands was the best way to explore this area, including seeing a whale and going through 'the hole in the rock'. The weather started cloudy and grey and brightened to beautiful blue skies with scuds of white cloud, and then ended with a moody storm.
- Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park was full of exciting things like boiling mud, 'champagne' pools, and weirdly coloured water (due to mineral deposits). Plus the Lady Knox Geyser they set off every morning!
- We attempted to do a short hike round the waterfalls which lead to Lake Waikoremoana, but after a few lovely vistas the heavens opened with hail the size of golf balls. Cue hasty retreat to the car.
- Other days had better weather - for example the day I swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time ever!

Town & Country
- What can I say about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing? It was simultaneously one of the best and worst things I've ever done. The Crossing is a 19.4km hike up a volcano (the route taking you up the charmingly named 'Devil's Staircase') and then ACROSS THE CRATER EDGE and down the other side, through ankle-deep volcanic ash and then, further down, woodland (which involved fording a stream - a great way to find out if your boots are waterproof. Or not.). You should get spectacular views across the countryside, and also amazing views of the volcano and its blue lakes. Well. When we did it, it was not so much that it was raining, as that we were INSIDE the clouds. It was foggy and wet and cold and horrible and we basically did the entire thing without stopping, in five hours. I'm quite proud of myself!
- Wellington was windy but so much fun! The Te Papa Museum is enormous, full of interactive bits and pieces and a wealth of information. We did a walking tour of the city, including going up the cable car to the Botanic Gardens, and happened across a memorial service at the 'Beehive' government building.
- Makatana, oh Makatana. You are the most hipster place I have ever seen! I love you and your antiques and crafts market, but I love your food market more. We ate: an excellent pie with cream cheese pastry (ever so flaky), a whitebait fritter (allegedly a great delicacy), a massive caramel brownie (aw yis), and drank fantastic coffee and smoothies (but no craft beer, because the Dutchman was driving, solidarity and all that).
- The wine tasting in Martinborough was a lovely day's activity. There are many vineyards within walking distance of each other, so we had a nice tour of cellar doors. Everyone was friendly, we tasted some excellent Riesling and Sauvingnon Blanc, and a surprisingly amount of red wine. We stayed in a rather nice B&B that evening.
- Napier and Gisborne were the other two towns we visited, when not tramping through bushland. Napier is famous for its Art Deco architecture, having been completely rebuilt in the 1930s following an earthquake. It made for a nice morning's walking. Gisborne was a little disappointing. The town is the site of Cook's first landing, which is commemorated by a few statues, but little else. There was an excellent museum about encounters between Maori and Pakeha (Europeans).

The Unexpected
- We saw our first Kiwi at the Kiwi North sanctuary which was an amazing experience!
- One Gannets at Cape Kidknappers
-I also loved the impromptu trip we took from the Wellington City & Sea Museum, consisting of a guided tour by a curator and then a ferry ride to Soames Island, an amazing island with a sad history of human quarantine - although they called it the 'Ship'n'Chip' tour which is clearly missing a trick; 'Fish'n'Ships, surely!
- Another highlight was the Maori Cultural Evening we attended near Rotaroa. You arrive on a bus, which is your tribe for the evening, and are treated to a welcome ceremony and taken on a tour of the 'village' with various activities - such as learning the Haka, as the Dutchman did! - before dinner is served. They cook the meal in a hungi, a pit, which produces some of the most tender smoky chicken I've ever had, plus kumara (sweet potato) and carrots, all served in enormous portions. It was, as one of our table said, a bit like Christmas!

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