Thanks to all the folks who took the time to answer our questions on this freat forum. Have a JBR but it's kinda large, so will try and break up into several parts.
Maoris and Kauris, vines and wines, rolling green hills and roads with thrills, roundabouts causing doubts, landscape that's hilly and names that are silly, narrow roads littered with dead possum and people with an advanced degree in awesome. Welcome to New Zealand!
Yup, we have once again set out to escape a frigid February in Canada.
After our long flight into Auckland, we pick our rental car and head for Tauranga to start our holidays. Driving is a bit of a challenge as here we are not only driving on the opposite side of the road, but everything in the car also reversed.
Damn, every time I signal to turn a corner the windshield wipers start flailing back and forth! After several heart- thumping moments and parts of me that have clenched tight enough to break walnuts, we get safely to the highway and our on our way.
We take a rest break to hike into the Karangahake Gorge, and I'm bummed that I don't have a fishing rod to try for the big trout I can see swimming about in the crystal clear river.
The NZ countryside is very green and clean, and the steep slopes of the countryside are adorned with gazillions of sheep. We stop in the small gold town of Waihi for a wander, and then stop again at Bowentown beach to pick up some fresh fruit and have look about.
Our first overnight stop is the town of Tauranga famous for it's beaches and the boutique neighborhood known as 'The Mount'.
We are staying at a delightful B & B called the Dellway Hideaway which has lovely gardens and a hot tub, plus the bonus of having our own separate fully furnished cottage.
The owner Rolf is one entertaining dude, who has the energy of a Jack Russell terrier overdosed on speed! There is a stream in the back yard that has some very large eels, and one day while we were talking, a big rat scurries by. Rolf bends over, grabs a big avocado that has fallen on the ground. Perfect throw, as he nails the rat … death by avocado … who knew!!
We are sharing our geography here with a family of peacocks having a handsome attack, several chickens with the ringleader being known as Psycho, and a resident possum!
We gaze out our windows into bamboo on one side and a humongous variegated elm on the other… like being up in a tree fort. Outside we have the shrill insectile buzz of cicadas which are the loudest insect in the world, and make a deafening screech akin to the sound of a boiling steam kettle.
Our first night I hear a shriek, and the missus comes flying out of the bathroom, as she has discovered yet another form of wildlife ….' La Cucaracha'! Me to the rescue with a sandal splat, and now off to bed for some much needed rest. During the night apparently we had 2 earthquakes – followed by 2 more today! Yup, seems to be a whole lot of shakin' going on in these parts!
Today, I'm up early and out for a run around an estuary. As I get down to the water I stop several Maoris to ask for directions. One of them has a shovel, and I ask them what they are digging for. He tells me that they are preparing for a burial out on the island. I see no boat, but one of the tatted up fellas waggles his tongue at me and says "now you going to see miracle, man".
And with that, the three of them just walk out into the water, and keep going and going. I'm surprised as Hell, as they appear to be walking on water, but in fact, apparently there is some kind of built up path just water's surface that let's them get out to the burial island at low tide. Most interesting start to the day.
This afternoon we are exploring around McLaren Falls Park, with it's lakes with black swans, and the fabulous Jurassic-like tree fern (pongas) forests – absolutely ferntastic! Back at the B&B there is thunder and monsoonal rain that I'm sure has the animals starting to pair up!
I chat to Rolf about this and he performs his anti-rain dance in the driveway. Just back from pouring cement, he is a sight, covered in cement and hopping around in his gumboots. I shan't soon forget his dance – which actually looked more like a frog in a blender! However, that afternoon the weather did clear!
We've enjoyed four days wandering the sandy shell strewn beaches, the Mount, Papamoa, and Mt Manganui town and now are moving on to the town of Rotorua, one of the largest thermal areas in the country. Again, lots of green countryside with plenty of sheep and cattle. We immediately notice the foul hydrogen sulphide smell, and don't care for the town at all. Again it is raining, and one night here is more than enough.
On to the town of Taupo, which turns out to be one of our favorite spots. We have a magnificent B & B, called the Rangimarie Guest House, where we have the whole upstairs of a house, along with a swimming pool and lovely hot tub, set in private gardens. Our host 'Taupo Joe', is a transplanted Scotsman with a great sense of humor, and we have great fun harassing each other over our several day stay.
One of the main reasons for Taupo is that it's a good base to try the Tongariro Crossing Challenge. This is a 19.4 km hike that is billed as the best one day hike/tramp in New Zealand, and one of the top ten in the world. The climbs are steep and the weather unpredictable, and should only be attempted if the weather is good. Suggested time is eight hours to complete, so you really have to be well prepared for all conditions.
But what the heck, I reckon there's worse ways to spend a day, that a robust workout on top of New Zealand's finest 'tramp' !
What a great tramp it turned out to be, especially up the Devil's Staircase to the top, where we could enjoy the sights of the Emerald lakes and the spectacular Red Crater. However, it's freezing cold, so after a quick bit of food and a few pics, we happily start the descent.
Completing the downhill portion was just tough as the climb up, and has turned our leg muscles into tapioca, we just have to focus hard on the difficult task of getting each foot to follow the other. During the hike we had sun, rain, thermal volcano, clouds, cold, and wind. The advice about being well properly prepared is certainly right on!
On the way down we noticed the distinct vegetation changes from the total barrenness of the top, to grass, to bushes, to small trees, and finally into the jungle like forest at the base. For some strange reason as we enter the forest part, we keep getting bombarded by some deranged Kama Kazi Cicadas bugs. Note sure if they were looking for a mate – but their clumsy advances are not welcomed by us weary hikers!
Just when we think the trail is never going to end – it does. Hooray, we have finished. We are pleased that we have completed the challenge in a respectable time of five and a half hours. We flop out on the ground at the car park , awaiting a transport bus to return us to our car at the base camp in the National park.
Back at Rangimarie, we open some wine and drag our weary arses into the hot tub for a well earned soak. We are watching the vino evaporate whilst we soak, with a melodious chorus of birds and insects providing the entertainment. We are lost in thought, reflecting on what was a truly spectacular day!
Today start the day with a hike along side the crystal clear emerald coloured Waikato River, through the pine forests to Huka Falls. At this point the river which is normally 100m wide, is squeezed through a 20m wide gorge. Every second up to 220,000 litres of water gushes through the gorge creating quite a show. Click, click, click, and then back to drive 50 km to visit out to the largest area of thermal activity called Waiotapu, which dates back about 160,000 years ago.
A prehistoric and eerie looking place, with steam spewing out of the grounds and boiling mud pools. They say it's just raw beauty, but to me more reminiscent of raw sewage … my smeller is aghast at the fart-like, rotten eggs on steroids odor of the place! With nostrils pinched, we wander by craters called Devil's home, Devil's Ink Spots, Devil's bath, etc. Sounds like there is a 'hole' lot of evil in this place!
Eager for some fresh air, we decide that it's time to put a whole lot of gone between us and Rotorua!