A Travellerspoint blog

Slowing the pace on the Coromandel Peninsula

sunny 24 °C

There's not masses to say about this bit as we took a breather from doing too much and basically chilled out. So this blog is more a showcase of pics as much as anything.

We stayed on the Coromandel Peninsula for 8 days, and despite a wet start and cloudy end, in between we enjoyed record-breaking temperatures for the time of year (Autumn temps of 28c!).

Our first stop was Waihi beach and unfortunately a wet day, but we'd committed ourselves to a 3.5 hour coast path walk so we stuck with it! Our host was kind enough to drive us up the coast to the start so we just had to walk back. It was clearly not a well walked trail as one part the path had been completely swept away by a landslide!! We could see the path the other side but had to scramble down and across the slip in order to pick it up again. There were also some scarily steep drops to the rocks and sea beneath.

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And then there was no path...

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A bleak but equally beautiful beach - I imagined it might have been a similar sight which greeted Captain Cook on one of the many untouched beaches he encountered

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Waihi beach

Waihi itself is a very cute old goldrush town, complete with a still functioning gold mine.

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I love the sense you get of a cross-section view of the land

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Further north was Whitianga, our next base. We really liked it here - perhaps because our timing coincided with the amazing spell of weather, but there were tonnes of great beaches to check out and a small ferryboat to take you across the harbour to explore the opposite headland.

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Yup - completely deserted

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Otama beach - our favourite in New Zealand so far

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Flaxmill Bay

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Info about Captain Cook's landing near to Cook's Beach and basically nailed up on someone's garden fence!

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Cathedral Cove

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Pampas grass will be so evocative of New Zealand to me now - it's so common in the North Island

Around here there's a famous spot called Hot Water Beach where water heated from a past volcanic chamber reaches the surface. At low tide it's possible to dig yourself your own hot water spa pool. Cool! I mean errr... hot.

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First dig... nadda

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Then we saw a crowd gathered, who'd found the bubbling water...

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... trouble was despite being close to low tide, the sea kept doing this!

The swells must have been too big as the waves were still rushing in at quite a pace, so it was impossible to dig our own pool. We stuck our feet in the hot bit but that was all.

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Hot Water Beach

Our next stop on the west coast of the peninsula was Coromandel itself. It was much smaller than we were expecting, we'd booked three nights here and it was quickly apparent it might have been three too many... but we did find a few local things to explore, and used our stay as a opportunity to start learning Spanish in readiness for our next continent!

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I appear to have something in my shoe...

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Who knew cows liked pumpkins?!

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Coromandel's historic drinking hole

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Free-range pigs on the side of the road

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Amazing Kauri trees - there's not many left after the loggers destroyed so many in the 19th century

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Tree love, it's official - he's now a travelling hippie

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A spontaneous waterfall dip!

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Castle Rock - an extremely remote spot

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So beautiful and a lot like the Lake District we thought

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Thames is the largest town serving the Coromandel Peninsula, a good-looking 'gold rush' high street and several heritage buildings intact.

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Man's car outside man's club. Smell the testosterone ladies.

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A ubiquitous worn-out sofa outside a youth club

Posted by Galavantie 15.04.2014 22:33 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

200 days on the road

Wednesday 9 April marked our 200 day milestone (or 28.5 weeks, or 6 months and 3 weeks), so it feels about right for another one of those "how are we really doing" blogs.

I read somewhere - I think on another blog on this site - that at three months the journey stops being a trip and becomes a lifestyle, and that certainly strikes a chord.

So beyond the scenic photos and write-ups of places and sights, I thought I'd get down to some nitty gritty details about some of our, often daily, routines.

Baggage - we come with a lot of it!

So we started off light way back in September, but we seem to have been accumulating ever since...

We left the UK with our main backpacks weighing in at very respectable 9kg and 12kg on the scales. Since then we have been adding stuff (souvenirs, some extra clothes), and despite already posting two packages home, at the last weigh-in they were 13kg and 18kg respectively.

We've also gotten super lazy with our packs... because we have a car. We have now split our main pack into two bags - one we permanently leave in the boot which contains a few clothes we're currently not needing, and the other which is full of things we're using all the time. They haven't been used as 'backpacks' since arriving in Christchurch two months ago. Laaaaazy!

Then there's groceries. I am definitely turning into the bag lady. As we're self-catering as much as we can, we are lugging around essentials such as bread, cereals, milk, tea bags, spread, pasta, rice, oil etc... plus a host of other 'essentials' like biscuits, chocolate and alcohol. So every time we rock up somewhere, Ant takes the heavier rucksacks to and from the car whilst I transfer our mobile stock cupboard from boot to kitchen. When we're only staying somewhere for one night it's a bit of a pain.

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Errr... aren't we meant to be travelling light?

Techie bits and bobs

Pretty much anyone travelling these days has a range of gadgets and techno stuff to assist in planning, capturing moments and to stay connected to friends and family. Between us we have:

- 1 digital SLR camera
- 1 point-and-shoot compact camera
- 1 waterproof camera (not a necessity but seeing as we own one it's been fun to use)
- 2 x smartphones
- 1 x crappy cheapo phone with international sim just for calls
- 2 x e-readers, one of which is a wifi-enabled tablet
- 1 x ipad air
- 2 x ipods
- 1 x mini speakers for ipod

The list isn't to brag, but to highlight that all this stuff needs charging. Every single day. To be fair, Ant took up the mantle early on and I've pretty much left him to it... but it's a daily rigmarole of digging out the right leads/adapters/cables and rotating all the devices so that we can stay connected/take pics/read/plan/blog and so forth. And when some places only seem to have one spare socket it's often a challenge. Ant can regularly be found moving beds, unplugging bedside lamps or kitchen appliances to get our necessary plug-ins!

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Which one do I need??

The restrictions of the budget!

We're moving on to a new place on average every 3 days, and with new towns come new cafes, bars, restaurants... and we pretty much can't justify going into any of them! Ok... we have the odd cuppa and the occasional drink here and there, but our budget is such that we can't go out for the night drinking and eating in all the inviting places we see along the way. It is a cause of frustration but that's just the way it is. We're probably having more quiet nights in than we ever did at home!

We set the same daily budget for the entire trip (£100 per day) and what's clearly apparent is it's not a realistic one for Oz and NZ.

In this part of the world 45-50% of our budget is going on accommodation (compared to just 20% when we were in Asia). Just under a fifth of the budget is on car rental, leaving roughly 30%-35% for food, petrol and anything else. So we're finding that we can live on our budget fine, but it's the extras such as entry fees/excursion costs which are causing us to go over budget. We've passed up on a lot of stuff because of this but at the same time we can't come to all these amazing places and not do some of the things they're famous for... e.g. going to the Bay of Islands and not doing a boat trip to actually see them...

A well-worn traveller's adage before setting off is to 'halve your clothes and double your money'. Whilst we've not had to do either, the sentiment is sound advice.

That all said, we should see a massive difference in South America and the cost of living will plummet again.

Planning

We try to flesh out a rough plan at least 2-3 weeks ahead, we don't always stick to it but we've had endless scribbles such as these!

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Diet

Sometimes our ability to cook is limited and all we have is a kettle, toaster and microwave. We had beans on toast 3 nights out of 4 one week! Conversely in some accommodations we've been able to roast up veggies, cook a nice steak (sounds extravagant but they're about half the price than in the UK) and enjoy a proper home-cooked meal.

Accommodation choices

I've mentioned before that we're not generally doing hostels. It's not really our thing and whilst folks are generally very friendly we're at a stage where we want something a bit more comfortable. There's no doubt airbnb has been a godsend.

I'll give you a good example - all of which we have stayed at...

Option 1 - double room in a busy hostel with shared bathroom and full kitchen facilities

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Nice room, shame about the noise and morning bathroom queue

Option 2 - a bland motel room next to noisy main road, with ensuite bathroom and limited cooking (toaster & microwave)

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Dull, functional, dull, functional

Option 3 - a beautiful self-contained studio apartment via airbnb with good sized bathroom, full kitchen facilities and a sun deck with harbour views to die for (where we currently are!)

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Heaven!

The cheapest? Ok, no prizes for guessing the hostel, but it's probably not as cheap as you might think... they're only dirt cheap if you're doing dorms.

And the dearest? The motel. A travesty, I know. The hostel is £44 a night, the gorgeous studio £47 a night and the motel £57 a night!! Madness eh.

Of course as soon as you have use of a full kitchen you can eat healthily and well, control spends and completely self-cater so the motel loses out on all counts. I guess my point is it pays massively to look around, and the increased availability of homestays (i.e. not registered B&Bs) offers a really enhanced experience and unbeatable value for money.

Losing our momentum?

A week or so back we starting to feel that the shine was wearing off travelling. It hit us both at the same time and we tried to rationalise the cause. We had slowed the pace down because we had so much time left in New Zealand, our days became less purposeful and we perhaps had too much time on our hands. We questioned whether we'd done the right thing by extending our time here.

We also have South America 'looming' over us. We have been feeling anxious about it as we've heard a few too many negative things, we don't speak the language, and it means we'll be back to 'proper travelling' (being in Oz and NZ is really just a home from home and as we've been here since early December we've had it easy for 4 months).

Being a true backpacker again is no bad thing - I think we need it to challenge us again, but it's obviously been preying on our minds.

But it didn't last long and we've since been feeling a lot more positive, it was just a lull and a bit of a flat time for us. We're putting our efforts into some (albeit last minute!) Spanish and can now count from 1-100 (just), recite the alphabet and say a few key phrases. Along with a phrasebook we'll be fine, and we'll have a few laughs/frustrations along the way trying.

We always said that South America stands to be the most challenging but also the most rewarding travel of all our destinations. I suspect the continent will have a far greater impact and effect on us than any other. Maybe we're now just ready to leave the easy times behind, say an extremely fond farewell to New Zealand, and hit Latin America running. ¿Es muy bueno, si?

Posted by Galavantie 13.04.2014 23:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Going subterranean in Waitomo

sunny 26 °C

The next stop was highly anticipated - going underground to see the glowworms of the Waitomo caves.

The drive there from New Plymouth was gorgeous... passing coastal scenery, villages with little more than beach shacks looking out to sea, rolling hills and lush green pastures.

Mokau en route...

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In Waitomo, of the half a dozen or so tour options available (it's on everyone's itinerary), we opted for a small group tour with 'Spellbound'. Hoardes of tourists arrive by the bus load and we really didn't fancy being part of a huge impersonal tour. Aside from having small groups, it's a family-run business with local knowledgeable guides, no 1 on Trip Advisor and they claim to have the largest colony of glowworms of all the caves (each tour company basically runs out of different cave systems so they don't get in each other's way.) Another USP for ours was their cave was used by the BBC when filming the glowworms for Sir David Attenborough's Planet Earth and Life in the Underground. Well, if it's good enough for them...

It was just us and another couple on the tour, and the glowworm cave was up first. Oh my... it was so beautiful and other-worldly. We had twenty minutes or so for our eyes to adjust to night vision and the ceiling of the cave sparkled with 1000s of tiny lights - so many, that their white light reflected on the water like moonlight as we floated through. It was as if LED lights had been embedded - a truly wow moment.

Glowworms are actually the larvae of a species of gnat. They hang sticky silk threads, shine a light out of their rear end and bingo - attract and ensnare their crunchy prey. They can hang as many as 70 threads around their nest, to which are attached droplets of mucus. The clever thing is that a hungry larva glows brighter than one which has recently eaten.

I wish I could take credit for the photos but as it was too dark, the tour company emails them to everyone afterwards with no copyright stipulations.

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Just magical

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The walk to cave two - reminded me of the Yorkshire Dales

The second cave - Cave of the Spirit - was to see usual cave formations and included some grizzly extras...

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Cave wetas - a type of ghastly grasshopper horror

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Skeleton of a moa - a huge flightless bird now extinct

I can put it off no longer, we are in New Zealand afterall. I need to talk about sheep!

There is a link here... Te Kuiti, our base when visiting the caves, is the self-proclaimed sheep shearing capital of the world. There's a ruddy great statue in the small town to shout about it.

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So here goes...

- there are 48.1 million sheep in NZ, but this figure peaked in 1982 when there were 70.3 million!
- the most common breed is Romney
- NZ sheep on average produce about 5kg of greasy wool per year
- NZ is the world's largest producer of strong wool which is mainly used in textiles such as carpets, rugs, upholstery, blankets etc
- NZ's wool production currently runs at 213,000 tonnes per year and represents 25% of the world's production
- NZ has just shy of 8,000 sheep farms utilising a total area of 8.3 million hectares
- there are 14 sheep to every New Zealander

Baaaaaaaaaaaaa.

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A kingfisher spotted as we were leaving town

We had a great AirBnB homestay in Te Kuiti, and a first for us as it was staying in a Maori home. The house, which was a beautiful 100+ year old building set on a hill overlooking the quaint town, was being lovingly restored by its owners. They don't live there but her father does - an extremely talented individual who's one of life's high achievers. The sort of person who makes you question what you've done with your own life!

He's pretty big in the Maori music scene as a talented musician and singer - he's done stuff at Abbey Road, owns a TV production company with his son in Auckland, made several documentaries, is a Social Anthropologist who did his PhD in South America, was a university lecturer and still gets invited to lecture in South America about their ancient civilisations... and is a super nice bloke too. Scared the bejesus out of us about South America with some of his stories mind...

From lovely Te Kuiti we had a couple of very quick stop-offs in Raglan and Hamilton.

Raglan is a lazy beach bum sort of place, a bit hippie and attracts tonnes of surfers due to having some of the best left hand breakers in the world. I don't even know what that means. But anyway, it was a cute place and we enjoyed a wander.

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Beautiful Bridal Veil Falls near to Raglan

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Life's a beach

Hamilton is one of NZ's major cities, and more than one Kiwi had said to us not to bother with it. We were passing anyway so had the chance to pick out two things of interest. The first was a statue of Richard O'Brien's character, Riff Raff. Richard was born here and spent the late 50's and 60's working as a hairdresser, presumably daydreaming about all kinds of whack sci-fi fantasy stuff which would, a decade later, lead him to conceive the masterpiece that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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Riff Raff

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Hamilton Gardens were also worth the visit. Numerous entrances within a central courtyard lead you off to individual expertly-executed themed gardens from around the world. Being early Autumn it wasn't the best time to catch most of the blooms, but it was still really worth a walk around.

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Japanese

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English

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Chinese

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Indian

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Italian Renaissance

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Tropical

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Anthony Cook - he talks to the animals. Bwok, bwok, bwok, bwokahhhhh!

Posted by Galavantie 08.04.2014 22:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

New Plymouth & The Forgotten World Highway

overcast 17 °C

New Plymouth is located on the west coast, a bit out on a limb, and is dominated by Mount Taranaki.

To get there we took the Forgotten World Highway (forgotten to tarmac it in places as Ant pointed out), which regrettably we had done zero research on before we reached it. Turns out to be quite a famous route - 155kms long, it hugs the contours of the land and is very, very rural.

It gave us the chance to see tiny unchanged communities along the way - the most famous of which is Whangamomoana, population... around 40.

In protest to revised district boundaries when the local government tried to take Whangamomona out of Taranaki, the locals declared themselves an independent republic in 1989 and elected a series of presidents - only some of whom have been human.

Billy Gumboot the Goat was the first elected animal... he won by eating the other challengers ballots. In 2003, Tai the Poodle was elected but retired just one year later after an assassination attempt left him a nervous wreck. Murt "Murtle the Turtle" Kennard (human) is the current president. The local garage owner fought off strong competition from the first president, Ian Kjestrup, and a cross-dresser called "Miriam" to become the 4th President. He was re-elected in 2009 by one vote. He was re-elected again in 2011 by a landslide.

The Republic of Whangamomoana is still recognised today. You can even get your passport stamped in the historic hotel... perhaps a little touristy but we were gutted when we read about this after driving straight through the diddy settlement (which took all of five seconds) without stopping.

Every January they celebrate their Republic Day with a number of activities which attract thousands of visitors. These activities include sheep races, gumboot throwing, gutbuster races, whip cracking, possum skinning, and hold ups and shoot outs. Of course they do.

Bonkers community. Bloody love it.

The Forgotten World Highway was very remote... we'd turn a corner and see a large falcon eating carrion in the middle of the road, then around the next corner was a line of pelts over a wire fence...

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Ewwww

...and around the next, a drift of pigs. You get the idea.

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Actually, I had to google the collective term for pigs and this self-appointed mission uncovered a veritable list of treasures...

A congregation of alligators
A bench of bishops
A mess of iguanas
A shrewdness of apes
An observance of hermits
A gulp of cormorants
A band of gorillas (convenient for Damien Albarn)
A murder of crows
A convocation of eagles
A business of ferrets
An array of hedgehogs
A parliament of owls
A mob of kangaroos
A bloat of hippopotamuses
A company of moles
A superfluity of nuns (whaaaat?)
A bevy of quail
An unkindness of ravens
A gang of turkeys
A knot of toads

This is what happens when you don't have a job.

Aaaanyway, back to the trip...

On arrival, New Plymouth was cloudy and grey and didn't make a great first impression. We had booked a hostel this time, we're both not that enamoured with the hosteling thing but sometimes it's unavoidable when other options are out of our budget. The one we picked (Ducks & Drakes) had great reviews, and as hostels go it was pretty nice...

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...but it was also very busy, too many people for our liking and why do they have to be so bloody noisy?! Doors were opening and closing all night and it started up again early morning so it was a disturbed night. Jeez - I think we're just getting frickin' old!!

We snuck into the kitchen early, snuck out before the dinner rush and retreated to our room early like a right pair of antisocials. But we really couldn't be bothered to interact with anyone, and pretty much everyone else was German so they were all conversing in their native tongue anyway.

New Plymouth turned out to be possibly the most uninspiring part of our entire trip so far. I think a lot of it was down to the weather and we couldn't see the majestic Mt Taranaki due to low cloud cover. We decided not to get out walking which probably frustrated us both and there wasn't much else to do. I'm sure it's entirely different in the summer sunshine, we just got unlucky.

We drove to a small lighthouse no longer in use. It was open, that's about as much as I can say on it. We sat in the car looking out to sea eating our sandwiches like a couple of old people.

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We stumbled across a community stone-carving workshop... what a fab thing to do

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Back in the hostel for night two... we cooked dinner and already there was a very different, more relaxed vibe... less people and those there were a lot quieter. We felt a lot more comfortable so this time we stayed downstairs, spotted that they had Scrabble and settled down to a game with a glass of red.

It was brighter the morning we were leaving and just out of town we found the cool Te Rewa Rewa bridge.

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We also had a short stroll through an English style country garden...

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A reminder of home sweet home!

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Autumn starting to show

Both of us weren't sorry to be moving on from New Plymouth. It's a shame when that happens, but I guess we can't be wowed by everywhere.

Posted by Galavantie 05.04.2014 03:57 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Tongariro Alpine Crossing... NZ's greatest one-day walk

sunny 19 °C

From Taupo, we headed south to Turangi in readiness to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

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Cute church en route

Our motel...

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Hello, is this 1973?

This famous tramp (NZ's word for trekking/hiking/walking) was on our 'must do' list from the start.

It's a famed 19.4km track through the World Heritage Tongariro National Park and is hailed as one of the greatest one-day walks in the world.

Doing the walk is very dependent on the weather. Being an alpine crossing (they later included the word 'alpine' after too many people didn't take it seriously enough), the conditions can change quickly and there's little point doing it on a bad day - in fact often they won't allow it if it comprises safety. The difference between a good day and a bad day? Sometimes about half an hour...

But we had been keeping a close check on the weather and were fortunate to time it with a ridge of high pressure, meaning the whole of the North Island was bathed in autumnal sunshine and blue skies. The outlook was good!

We were up at 6am and in the car park waiting for our shuttle to the start at 7.20am. It was pretty chilly - as five layers and the fetching improvised socks for gloves testify...

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By the time the shuttle came and drove us to the start, we didn't actually get walking until 8.45am. By then it was already warming up and within five minutes we were rapidly peeling the layers off.

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At the start

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An easy boardwalk to kick us off

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Mount Ngauruhoe or 'Mount Doom' in the Lord of the Rings trilogy

The route can be walked in either direction but most people choose to start at Mangatepopo and end at Ketetahi, as you start at a higher elevation so there's less of an initial climb. It wasn't long before it was apparent just how many people also consider this walk a 'must do'. It was also apparent just how ill-equipped some people were to take on a mountain walk... jeans, blouses, bomber jackets and pumps were some of the inappropriate clobber people had chosen to wear. Crazy peeps.

The walk is notoriously windy on one of the crater sections and although we had wall-to-wall sunshine, the forecast was for 60kmph strong winds with a wind chill factor of -4c at the top. Sheesh!

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The first of two significant ascents was the aptly named Devil's Staircase. I needed frequent stops to admire the views and take photos... it had absolutely nothing to do with my red face and pounding heart rate.

After the climb we were rewarded with a pancake flat crater to walk on until ascent number two, which took us to the highest point on the walk - the rim of Red Crater.

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To give some scale, you can see the path we'd taken crossing the picture diagonally with the dots of people still doing it

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The reds of Red Crater were stunning

It was around about here that we started to get an appreciation of why several people had mentioned the wind... and on went the extra layers again. Going up wasn't so bad but on the summit and then descending down a narrow strip of scree and shale, the gusts were sudden and strong. We were sand and grit blasted with regularity and at one point the wind caused Ant to lose his footing. I also managed to fall backwards three times but that was due to the loose surface. It was precarious but we weren't in any real danger and the views were definitely worth the effort, as before us stretched some awe-inspiring scenery.

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Clinging to each other in the gusts!

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The very windy scree bit

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And the very rewarding views of Emerald Lakes

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Looking back at the steep bit we'd just done

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Again, looking back to the route - we'd come all the way down the peak on the right

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A previous lava flow

With the two ascents under our belts and the trickiest part of the walk done, we got a bit complacent commenting that the walk wasn't as challenging as we were psyched up for.

What we didn't take into account was that the last 9.5.km was all downhill - either a sloping track or steps. After a few more kms our joints and muscles were getting a pounding, not to mention general foot fatigue which had set in by this point.

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A healthy reminder that we were walking in an active volcanic area!

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The long winding path to go...

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The final stretch was forested and provided some welcome shade

Seeing the car park at the end sparked inner elation and happy faces! With stops it took us just under 8 hours from start to finish and we both agreed it probably was the best one-day hike we've ever done, if a little bit too popular.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Done.

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Posted by Galavantie 03.04.2014 10:21 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A land which steams, spits, spouts & smells like egg sarnies

sunny 24 °C

[Warning: Bit of a long one this, sorry... lots to write about! You might want to stick the kettle on.]

The centre of New Zealand's North Island is a land which, quite literally, smoulders.

We stayed in Rotorua before heading a bit further south to stay in Taupo (pronounced Toe-paw).

The first thing to hit you is the sulphur eggy smell! Urgh. After four days of breathing it in, we were very happy to leave it behind. But before we did, there was plenty to do in this region... almost too much. There was a mind-boggling array of things to see/do, and a bewildering leaflet display in the information site.

First of all there are a number of geothermal parks to visit, then an array of Maori culture shows, a museum, hot spa baths, plus a few adrenlin activities for good measure.

We decided to start in Rotorua's museum which was a helpful introduction to the town's history and heritage. The impressive building started life as a bath house where the wealthy (and later, returning servicemen) would come and 'take the cure'. It involved a series of treatments, including harmless mud baths to positively alarming baths with electric currents, to alleviate a number of ailments and aches and pains.

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A nearby lake

Although we were keen to see and learn more of Maori culture, and we had heard the cultural shows were very good, we decided that the various offerings were just too pricey and too touristy for us. Ant also had a severe allergic reaction whilst we were here, which I'll come onto, but it meant he wasn't in a fit state to go to one either.

We checked out the small village of Ohinemutu, which is the original Maori settlement of Rotorua, complete with marae (meeting place). We were amazed by the number of hot steaming pools which were located around the village - even in people's back gardens!

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Paving over it doesn't contain it!

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We'd found an ultra cheap homestay with a young couple in their mid-20s. It was a Saturday night so they were having a bbq with a couple of friends which they invited us to.

Our hosts, Michelle & Dan, were great, as was the guy of the other couple (Mike - from Fleet in the UK). His girlfriend (Deeta - a Czech who moved to NZ when she was little) was, however, quite possibly the most self-absorbed, vacuous person I have ever met! I had to spend most of the evening biting my tongue and we were continually staggered by the stuff she was spouting. I think it was just ignorance as much as anything.

A good ice-breaker was the fact that Dan was getting his hair shaved off for charity. Michelle and Deeta did the honours - it was pretty funny watching them make patterns in the poor guy's head before it all came off...

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They suggested a bar in town for the rest of the evening - the familiar sounding Pig & Whistle (it used to be a police station), so all of us headed out bar Michelle who was working the next day. The pub had a live band which were ok, but it was a bit like being at a evening wedding reception. A really mixed crowd, a fair bit of 'mum and dad' dancing and more groping than I've seen in public since 1988. It wasn't any of our group's scene - least of all freshly shawn Dan's, who repeatedly apologised saying it wasn't normally like this. Ah well, an entertaining evening nonetheless!

The next morning it was immediately obvious that Ant had a severe allergic reaction to their pets. They had a dog and two cats, and after spotting lots of car hair on the bed Ant had already used a roller on the bed covers. We are both allergic to cats and some dogs but are generally ok if we're not in the same room as the cats. Unfortunately because these moggies clearly liked our bed as a nap spot, Ant was badly affected. His face was puffy and swollen, his breathing difficult and he was very congested.

He felt pretty rubbish and spent the next few days extremely bunged up as if he had a bad head cold - and that was with antihistamines.

From the previous evening, Mike had kindly offered to get us in for free at the attraction where he worked - Rainbow Springs. It was a wildlife park aimed more at families and it wasn't that great, but seeing as it was a freebie we couldn't really knock it. The highlight was seeing a kiwi in a 'nocturnal' enclosure, so it was worth it just for that.

We couldn't stay another night with the guys else Ant would have required medical attention, so we checked ourselves into a faceless motel.

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Self-catering in a motel meant breakfast out of the previous night's takeaway containers... the realities of travelling

Top of the list for us was seeing the natural wonders, and Wai-O-Tapu was one of the highly recommended geothermal areas. The park is a self-guided 75 minute walk through a truly amazing landscape... gorgeous almost surreal colours, bubbling pools, steam everywhere - it was a really fascinating place.

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Peckham Spring water... found!

Then we heard a deep rumbling... wtf?! In this dynamic and unpredictable environment we both had a genuine panicked look at each other, accompanied by a release of adrenalin. Turned out to be a thunderstorm... phewy!

A geyser in the park errupts at 10.15am each morning but as we'd missed it, we decided to go back the following morning. Whilst getting ready we had the morning news on in the background, when we heard the reporter say the time - which was an hour earlier than we thought. Bugger... the clocks had gone back for daylight saving and we'd not realised!

So we dawdled a bit before heading out. Then it dawned on us the geyser wouldn't know the clocks had gone back... so we probably missed it again. Pah! We got to the location at 9.50am and were surprised to find the geyser blowing. After talking to another couple we discovered the clocks hadn't gone back and it was in fact 10.50am. The geyser had been going for about half an hour and we continued to watch it for at least another 30 minutes.

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Turns out we were lucky - the day before it only lasted 3 minutes. And it also turned out we had been watching an Aussie news channel... hence the time confusion. Muppets!

Ant had found us some brilliant spanking-new accommodation just outside of Taupo. We'd booked a studio but when we arrived they upgraded us to a suite - effectively our own little self-contained home. It was great to enjoy a bit of normality with some TV and home-cooking.

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Our little house on the prairie for £37 a night! There be a storm brewing though...

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One stop off on the way to our accommodation, Ant was bitten by a mouse! We couldn't believe it... it came scampering out of the bushes, over the gravel and straight up to his foot before taking a bite! Thankfully no blood drawn.

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The rodenty offender about to go in for the kill

Orakei Korako was another thermal 'wonderland' which is only accessible by a boat ride across a lake. It offered some different formations to Wai-O-Tapu and was worth the trip.

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Taupo is a ‘supervolcano’ and its huge caldera has been partly filled by Lake Taupo. The lake is the size of Singapore, so it's little surprise it's NZ's largest lake.

Although Taupo Volcano has much more violent eruptions than cone volcanoes, thankfully they are less frequent. It's been erupting for the last 300,000 years but when it blew around 1,800 years ago, it was the most violent eruption known in the world in the last 5000 years. The eruption plume reached 50km into the air and all of New Zealand received at least 1cm of ash. It erupted with a force 10 times greater than Krakatoa and Mount St Helens combined! This had global effects with both the Romans and Chinese recording red skies after the eruption.

Today, the town is the adrenlin capital of the North Island, as Queenstown is to the South Island. Ant was going to do a skydive here but a recent tradegy in Australia, where a skydive plane had crashed killing all 6 passengers, understandably had taken the shine off for him. That and the cost to do it.

Rather more sedately, we visited Huka Falls where NZ's longest river - the Waikoto - passes through a narrow gap from Lake Taupo and drops at a rate of 200,000 litres per second.

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We also caught the opening of Aratiatia Dam which forms part of the Waikoto Power Station. The dam 'gates' are opened three times a day - and along with the other seven power stations along the river - help to create the energy to generate 15% of NZ's power.

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So, as you can see (if you're still with me!), there's an awful lot to do in this region - but the cream of the crop has to be the dynamic geothermal parks... captivating, incredible and very special. It's certainly humbling to come so close to the unfathomable amount of energy, heat and power just bubbling away beneath the surface. Tick tock, tick tock...

Posted by Galavantie 02.04.2014 01:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A fraught journey, a force feed and happy times

sunny 25 °C

From Havelock North we decided to head to the Bay of Plenty region... so named by James Cook because he and his men found the area to be plentiful in food and resources when they first encountered the area. Conversely, there's a Poverty Bay elsewhere in NZ, named after the crew of Endeavour were met with hostility from a different Maori iwi (tribe)... and they had to make a hasty retreat to their ship empty handed!

We had four road options... which one did we take? The most life-threatening one. I shall explain!

Back at the lovely airbnb, we were discussing our route with jolly, chuckly Mark. He said... "well you could take this road"... pointing to the map. "Part of it is unsealed and it's a wiggly-woggly wiggly-woggly wiggly-woggly road. But it is good fun, and a bit of adventure." Fun... adventure? It had appeal.

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Happy, enjoying the ride...

Nearly 7 hours after setting off... 2 and 3/4 of which were on unsealed twisty gravel roads... we arrived at our destination. Ant's nerves were shot!!

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You could say this is the 'after' shot...

There were steep drops, hairpin bends and freshly fallen rocks everywhere. It was a pretty hazardous road! At one stage Ant pulled over as he thought we had a flat. Lordy! Thankfully we didn't but the threat was very real driving on 125km of unsealed road.

It seemed to go on forever. It wasn't all bad of course. The road hugged a beautiful lake and there were some fine views along the way although, it has to be said, not many opportunities to stop and admire them as the winding mountain road was too narrow.

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As we approached the end, and our nerves were becoming less frayed, we were passed by a rally of sorts... a cross between the Cannonball Run and Wacky Races. Decorated cars, 4x4s and trucks waving at us driving the other way, ready to tackle the stretch of road for charity.

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A bit of lighthearted relief after the journey!

We had a bit of an odd experience the next morning. Our b&b host, a woman in her 60's living alone, had been quite chatty but also seemed a bit on edge as we were her first guests. We'd had breakfast, teeth were brushed and we were all ready to leave when we had a call from up the stairs that she'd tasted the blueberries we'd had, and as they were horrible (they weren't), she'd done us poached eggs on toast... and they were on the table. Whaaat? Weird.

So as not to offend, rather obligingly we trudged downstairs to force-feed on breakfast number two whilst we endured further prolonged chatter. She was obviously trying too hard, but we couldn't wait to escape!

We didn't much like the town of Whakatane other than a pleasant walk around the river mouth. Depending on where you're from in NZ it can be pronounced Fokka-tar-nee, Wokka-tar-nee or Hokka-tar-nee i.e we didn't stand a chance. The first waka (canoe) landed here from Polynesia, so many consider Whakatane to be the birthplace of Aotearoa (New Zealand). It still has a strong Maori presence, who make up 40% of the population here.

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Plaque marking the first waka landing

Maori culture is much more prevalent in the North Island. We've tried to get a sense of how the two co-exist - Maori and Pakeha (European settlers) - and we hear mixed stories. It's clear to us that there's much more integration between the two cultures than we saw in Australia. Maori are very adaptable people and many have embraced European introductions, but so far we know very little and have been given mixed views.

Some Maori iwi are apparently friendlier than others. Some are gracious, warm, generous and friendly, and then there's another, more troubled side, where Maori - as a warrior race - are prone to aggression, drug/alcohol abuse and domestic violence. But as there's good and bad in any culture it's dangerous to generalise (you only have to look at any major UK town on a Saturday night and it ain't pretty). We are really fascinated by Maori traditions and art, and look forward to finding out more.

We drove west to Tauranga, checking out some more beaches in the Bay of Plenty.

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This part of NZ is also the kiwi fruit capital of the world, here's a gert big one just to prove it

By 5pm we still hadn't sorted our accommodation in Tauranga, so we were holed up in the town's library using their free wifi. Soon after we were just about to rock up at guesthouse we'd found, when we received an airbnb approval email to a late request. So we quickly changed our plans to head over to the pad in Mt Mauganui. Wow - so glad we did!

Mandy and Wayne were truly amazing hosts, we had the warmest of welcomes - even a note by the front door as we arrived...

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Cute!

Their home was close to the beach and only a short drive to 'the Mount' - a prominant mountain on the end of the peninsula which we walked up...

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Mount Maunganui is waaaay nicer than Tauranga. We had an extremely comfortable stay... we could barely drag ourselves out of our pit! We loved their company, home and locality. We definitely left as friends and it would be fab if our paths crossed again. Thanks a million guys!

One thing which stands out already from campervanning is the incredible friendly Kiwi hospitality and the lovely folks we're meeting along the way... well, apart from the strange double breakfast lady...

Oh, and as an aside... when we told Mandy and Wayne about driving that road, Mandy said her brother lives close to one end of it and is nervous driving it in his 4x4. Oh lordy...

Posted by Galavantie 29.03.2014 23:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Hawke's Bay - Art Deco central

sunny 28 °C

It was only a couple of hours drive to our next base - Havelock North located in Hawke's Bay (another famed wine region). Fancy that.

Our B&B was fabulous, probably second only to the amazing place we stayed at Christmas on Australia's Sunny coast.

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Praying mantis-in-the-kitchen alert!

Our 50-something hosts, Julie & Mark, were very middle class (she was also a Francophile so there were Parisian touches everywhere). They had an immaculate home, but were super lovely and made us feel at home. He was particularly jolly and had a really endearing chuckle which we heard often.

Not long after we arrived, the forecast edges of a cyclone hit the area (that halo around the sun was a sign!), so it was miserable for the whole afternoon and night. It was probably the worst day weather wise in our 5 months away (ok... I don't expect any sympathy from the UK!). But, as it was such a comfortable base, it wasn't any hardship and we took the opportunity to chill and take a day off from 'doing'.

Suprisingly the next day was bright, hot and sunny so we headed for a walk in the hills. Te Mata Peak looms over the village and made a great half-day walk. The trail took us through redwoods and on the locally loved goat track - a steeper route along the ridges which gave us fab views.

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Shells spotted high in hills indicating just how much change this land has undergone

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We saw our first tui, a native bird to NZ, and fantails which, as the name suggests, are small birds with an impressive fantail. Tuis are pretty special as they have two voiceboxes - one of their calls is too high to be audible to the human ear. The one we can hear is probably the most beautiful birdsong of all NZ's feathered friends.

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The neighbouring towns of Hastings and Napier are famous for their Art Deco style. Napier in particular has stunning examples - some of the best in the world. In 1931 an earthquake and subsequent fires virtually flattened the town so they rebuilt it to reflect the fashion of the time.

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A poignant photo from the time showing the city devastated

For me, Art Deco is really evocative of a time of glamour, elegance and chic, and as I get older it's an architectural style I appreciate more and more. I'm not usually a fan of candy colours but it seems to suit the period perfectly. That and the archetypal black and white.

Hastings...

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Even the street lights are Art Deco

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One of several Maori statues outside Hastings Art Gallery

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A corrugated iron cock... effective eh?

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I'm not usually in the habit of taking photos in supermarkets, but we both thought the townsfolk of Hastings are lucky to have the most impressive supermarket we've ever seen. Waitrose doesn't even come close!!

Napier...

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LA? Nooooo....

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A stay in this region wouldn't be complete without (yet another) winery tour... but this time it was a bit more low key and we visited just four. ;)

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Black globules of goodness ready to harvest

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The Mission - a gorgeous cellar door and New Zealand's oldest winery

This wine tasting is becoming such a regular activity, I think we can call it a hobby now...

Posted by Galavantie 27.03.2014 00:38 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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