Off to the latest in adventure since my bag’s arrival…
Change of Plans
Before leaving for New Zealand, we had always imagined it to be such a tiny little place and had only “budgeted” 2 weeks time here. Big mistake. It’s tiny compared to the U.S., sure, but it is chock-full of so many things to see that you really can’t tackle it all. I’d recommend at least 2 months to really get the full experience without having to rush. That said and coinciding with budget concerns, we decided to just hit the North Island and save the South for next time (oh yes, there will be more!) But before giving in so easily and in the spirit of Never Say Die, we did try to finagle our way out of our car contract, had airline tickets ready to get us down to Christchurch as well as a super-cheap campervan all lined up that we found on www.standbycars.co.nz. It also came with a free ferry ride which as we found out this week, is expensive just for a ride, but extremely expensive if you’re bringing a car with you.
Maracopa Falls, Maracopa Beach, Glow Worms at Waitomo and a Poached Campsite
After the failed attempt at heading to the South Island, we hit the highway again down to Waitomo Caves, renowned for their blackwater rafting (whitewater rafting in caves) and glowworms. Since the nighttime is the right time for Waitomo in order to see all of it’s splendor, we quickly drove out to Maracopa Falls for a short hike to view the most stunning of waterfalls seen as of yet.
Roughly 150 feet high and equally as wide, it thundered down and left us with a rainbow. We hiked down a bit closer but it got too slippery so we ventured back and hopped on the road again to Maracopa Beach.
Another black sand beach, we walked about a mile to the breakers where fishermen were reeling in more Kauwi as the low-tide was in full effect. Just in time for a breathtaking sunset, we snacked on a picnic dinner complete with avocado, tomatoes, bread, cherries, strawberries and a banana.
Now that it was dark, it was back to Waitomo for the glow worms. In typical backpacker fashion, we didn’t want to pay the $35 entry fee and found the “local” way to view these unique creatures. They shine like the stars in dark caves strewn about this area but before long, both being a bit spooked at being alone in the dark, we scurried back to the car.
Since we are both over budget we employed a helpful tactic for the evening which is to arrive at the campsite after the office is closed and leaving before they reopened. There is nothing like free lodging! 🙂
Short on sleep, the drive to Taupo was a dreadful 2 hours which felt like 20. But we arrived safely, the sun was out and after a long run along the river and a shower, we immediately head to the beach for a nap. Lake Taupo is formed by one of the biggest volcano eruptions in history over 28,000 years ago, leaving a crater the size of a well, lake. It’s beauty is comparable to that of Lake Tahoe, with crystal blue waters and white sand beaches. After our nap, we were off to wine country!
Napier and Hawke’s Bay Wine Country
In order to get a better feel for local living, we both registered for hospitality sites such as www.couchsurfing.com, www.hospitalityclub.com, and www.globalfreeloader.com, which we will be employing more oft than not on this trip. These sites, once you register allow you to stay in other’s home for free as long as you are willing to open your home to traveller’s as well. Hospitality Club answered our call this time and we were invited to stay a night at the home of the Oliver’s in Napier, the heart of Hawke’s Bay, the Sonoma Valley of New Zealand (Marlborough on the northern tip of the South Island, would be considered like Napa since it is more widely known.) Perched far atop a hill set on 20 acres, with 360 degree views of rolling green and wheat-colored hills, the Oliver’s home could be summed up as Organic, 100%.
They are a cute couple probably somewhere in their 50’s, both well travelled, with 2 children who are abroad. As we arrived, they immediately let us make use of their kitchen for our dinner and showed us to our bedroom. With World Music playing in the background, we watched the sunset and talked of adventures, compared our (broken) political systems, and our favorite ways of getting music online. After sleeping in, we made some breakfast and as Melanie was off to work, David helped us plan our day and in all actuality, the rest of our time in New Zealand. A big thanks to the Oliver’s for being amazing host’s. We are sorry we didn’t have more time to spend with them, but will see them when they come to San Francisco. Now, off to the vineyards!
We packed our bags and made our way to the 1st of 2 wineries (I could’ve gone all day, but someone had to drive, y’know?), the first being Mission Estate Winery. The Estate was gorgeous and wine was delicious and surprisingly free! My favorite was the Gewurztraminer, which wasn’t as sweet as you often find. After completing the tasting and pretending that we were actually going to buy a bottle, we escaped out the back door and made our way to Trinity Hill Winery a few miles away. This tasting menu was also free and much to our delight was two pages long! The Sauvignon Blanc, a New Zealand giant, was amazing and the the Pinot Noir was delicious as well. They also offered snacks and we made full use of this free picnic. On our way out we noticed a pump that offered free sunscreen so we refilled. Thank you New Zealand Cancer Prevention Society for saving us $10! Picking up some cheese, cracker’s and fruit at a local market, we picnicked in the car en route to Wellington, the nation’s capital.
Wellington and Te Papa Museum
We booked a hostel at a payphone on the way and arrived just in time for their free sausage dinner. We were both famished with the wine-munchies and I pigged out on another free meal. The tenting area was barely big enough for my tent alone but there were three crammed in there. After setting up, we made off to see the town. Wellington is set into the hills just like San Francisco and is nestled on a bay. The city is relatively small and they even have cable cars! The Cuba District was nearest to our hostel and had all the flavor we needed. If we weren’t on such a tight budget we could’ve spent a lot of time here, hooting and hollering at the bars, restaurants and shops galore. We made our way downtown to view the financial district and then back to the hostel for some sleep. The tent area was outside of the hostel right next to the road so we didn’t sleep so well and after a slow breakfast the next morning, we went to the Te Papa Museum.
We only had a few hours before leaving and truly could have spent days here. The museum was free (sweet!) and was filled with the natural sciences and cultural diversity that make New Zealand amazing. The first display was on the countries placement between the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, which explains further it’s volcanic, thermic, and earthquake tendencies as well as it’s majestic mountain and rock formations. The next exhibit was on the culture of the native Maori people and the transformation of the lands due to human contact. The country has 4.5 Million people and 4 times as many sheep. Also, similar to the Redwood exploitation of the West, the Kaori tree here was used extensively until the species was almost wiped out. Over 50% of the land is covered with grass, mostly used as feed for it’s stock. Maori’s had their land taken from them, similar to the North American Indians, once European Settler’s arrived. Again, in similar fashion, land has been given back as reparations and New Zealand’s name is widely seen on signs as Aotearoa New Zealand. Back to the car for a 2 hour jaunt north to Volcanoes!
The Tongariro Crossing
After camping in a $4 campsite, we arose early to catch the bus to the trailhead. Being a one-way hike, we would need to have the bus pick us up at the other end as well and they charge a hefty $30 fee for this service. The hike is 12 miles long and starts as rolling hills until you reach the base of the volcano in which you climb roughly 2000 feet in a mile. It’s steep and the volcanic rock remnants are slippery but once at the top, the view is breathtaking. You can still see steam billowing from different areas around the volcano as the site is still active and it’s only a matter of time before another big blast trembles through this countryside. After reaching the summit, you descend down onto to Emerald Pools. Unfortunately, these aren’t the kind of pools you can swim in due to their high levels of mineral content. As you walk along the trail you can feel the tiny micro-climates due to the thermic activity; a shot of warm air followed by a cool breeze which repeats itself depending on your location. We finished in about five-and-a-half hours in what was expected to be a 7 hour hike. After a short nap, we caught an earlier bus and went to the local pub for some much needed celebratory brews before catching our actual bus back to the campsite, where we packed and made our way back to Taupo for the evening.
Taupo has Free Camping
We camped at a free campsite along the river and are on our way to the beach for what will be our last day in NZ. Amanda, our friend from Coromandel is having her birthday party tonight in Hamilton and that will be our last hurrah before we are off to Sydney, Australia tomorrow morning.
It’s been an amazing, adventure-packed experience. I love the landscapes here and the people are so friendly. It’s a bit more expensive than I had imagined, so Erin and I continously look forward to the cheaper places where the dollar will take us farther. Budget wise, I came in right on target at $45/day for food, transportation and lodging. I only wish I could stay here longer and have twice as much money to spend. More pictures are uploaded so enjoy and I’ll update again as soon as I can…from Australia! Oh yeah, be sure to check out Erin’s blog for a different perspective at www.thegreat08.com.