Friday, 5 November 2010

3,000km later

Hello again, it's been a LOOOOOOOOOOOONG time since we posted anything so we hope you haven't gotten bored of waiting for us to post and I hope this doesn't turn out to be too long to read.

We've driven over 3,000km across North Island and are just about to get the ferry across the Cook Strait to South Island.

Here's a map of our movements since the last post, as you can see we've gone pretty far...

View Larger Map

The rest of North Island has been quite different from Northland, it seems we've almost always got a snow capped mountain or two in the background whether we're next to a huge lake, in the middle of the countryside or right on the beach, and there are tonnes of volcanic regions and geothermal areas scattered around the areas south of Auckland. I went for a surf the other day and there was New Zealand's biggest volcano, Mount Taranaki (or Mount Egmont, Captain Cook changed it's name when he saw it) towering over the shore, an amazing view and quite distracting.

So far New Zealand has been a very different experience to South America in almost every sense, and in many good ways. We feel as if we are doing less here, but it's so nice to relax and take things slow after 4 months of organised (and disorganised...) chaos in S.America where we seemed to be doing tours every few days and jumping from one place to the next. We've chosen to do New Zealand without the Lonely Planet guide, just exploring the country ourselves and not worrying about trying to do every little thing that the guide tells us to do. I'm sure we're missing the odd place here and there but doing it ourselves is proving very exciting and much more relaxing, and stumbling across little gems like a thermal springs campsite and beautiful secluded white sand beaches off the beaten track is as satisfying as it gets. And unlike BOLIVIA(!) all the people we've met here have been ridiculously friendly and everyone wants to stop and chat. They have some pretty funny road signs here too like the one that i can't get off our memory card at the moment that orders traffic to "merge like a zip", and we're constantly cracking up at the radio stations here for their sense of humour. One thing you'll notice here is they are obsessed with power tools and fishing...

Born to fish!

Anyway, first of all we had a lovely visit from Charlie. We decided to surprise her by picking her up at the airport before camping outside one of charlie's mum's uni friend's house, Jan and Phil, in Auckland. We felt a bit like tramps, especially as we hadn't had a shower for a day or two and looked proper greasey (me more-so than Fia), but they were very friendly and made us feel at home. And they cooked us a New Zealand Lamb roast dinner, YUM. We went up to Mount Eden the next day, a volcano that is right at the end of Jan and Phil's road and looks out over the whole of Auckland. I think it's an extinct volcano, or dormant at least.

Mount Eden crater with Auckland in the background

Charlie had clearly planned her visit (of course!) so we managed to do a surprising amount in the five or six days she was here. From Auckland we drove to Raglan, among the world's premier surf spots. Just seeing it was a mesmerising sight. The point break (Manu Bay) was about double over head height and crowded with locals making surfing look like the easiest thing in the world, and the next day there was a competition on so we surfed the beach. It was a bit messy and Fia and Charlie showed me up so I was left looking forward to my next opportunity to get in the water and redeem myself. Thankfully I found my feet again in Oakura, I'll put it down to not being use to my new board! :oP On the subject of surfing Fia has a nice new wetsuit (a nice Roxy 4/3 to keep her warm) and caught her first unbroken wave the other day making it look easy, in fact she's been standing up on as many waves as I have.

In the van on the way to Raglan
Me, Fia and Charlie on our way to Raglan

Surf rolling in at Manu Bay, Raglan

charlie surf'n
Charlie surf'n

After Raglan we headed to Hobbiton, the Lord of the Rings film set. Unfortunately we can't say anything about it or even upload the photos to the web until the Hobbit has been released or we'll break the confidentiality agreements we had to sign on the way in! I couldn't believe it either, it seems VERY over-the-top. Anyway, it was very cool, much better than I thought it would be, and at some point we'll be able to show you the photos of the hobbit holes and the whole area around there. From Hobbiton in Matamata we continued to Lake Taupo, Australasia's largest fresh water lake and found a nice little free camp at a place called Reid's farm. We drank some New Zealand beer and had a few rum and cokes and got ready for an early start the next day.


The next day we headed to Taupo Bungee where Charlie threw herself off the platform backwards head-first towards the river below. Me and Fia almost followed but we decided to save our cash and do a Skydive in Wanaka instead. I kind of wish we'd have done it anyway but we are working to a very tight budget so I guess we can't have it all, eh. We said goodbye to Charlie after a full English breakfast in Taupo, it was sad to see her go so soon but it was awesome to see her and we had a really nice time.

Fia and I stayed around the Lake for almost a week, the weather was so nice and the scenery was quite different to anything we'd seen previously, it was just a ridiculously pleasant place to chill. I spent about 5 days trying to catch Trout which appeared so easy to do in the lake, after 5 days and a load of lost tackle I finally caught one. But for some reason we threw it back instead of eating it... I'm not quite sure why, it all seems like a lot of time and effort for nothing now! It was a nice relaxing experience and gave Fia lots of time to do crochet, we're like the retired old couple - Fia does crochet (or reads her Patricia Cornwell novels) while I fish! We saw a couple of 70 year olds next to the lake, the man fishing for trout and the lady with her crochet, THAT IS US IN 40 years time... hang on it's actually us NOW.

Tony fishing for trout at Lake Taupo
Fish'n at sunset on Lake Taupo

Five days of hard work, a very edible Rainbow Trout

After Taupo we set off towards Rotorua to meet a Kiwi friend we met in La Paz - Jason. On the way we passed through a geothermal area where we saw plumes of steam coming out from the hills off the main highway. We decided to go get a closer look and stumbled over the most amazing camp site with about 7 different thermal pools next to it. Perfect after a long day of driving, and one of the great things about having the van.

Fia relaxing in the geothermal pools

We weren't that excited by Rotorua, it seems to be just another tourist money suction pump and wasn't as pretty as the Taupo region. Still we had a good time with Jason and it was nice to catch up. Next we headed back to Taupo and down to the Tongariro national park where we planned to do our own hike up to the snow capped volcanoes in the area, namely Mount Ngauruhoe, which is Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. It took us just 2 and a half hours to hike to the red crater, the midway point on the trail where you can pretty much see everything. We decided not to go to the summit of Ngauruhoe and aim for red crater instead as the views looked better, and they really were.

Me on a big rock to the left, Mount Doom on the right

Me and Fia with the Emerald Lakes behind us

Fia at Red Crater

The hike was awesome and we couldn't believe how easy it was without a guide, the beauty of exploring the country by ourselves. Straight after the hike we refuelled ourselves and the van and headed to Taranaki on the West Coast. We could see Mount Taranaki from Red Crater, a feint shape on the horizon, but surprisingly clear considering how far away it is from Tongariro National Park. We drove along "The Forgotten World Highway" passing signs that said no fuel for 150km, with no radio signal or any mobile phone reception. We stumbled across a little camp near a river where we stopped for the night - some more fishing, some dinner and an episode of The Wire! I saw a hare which was pretty cool.

Our riverside camp spot, lovely

We arrived in Taranaki the day after and made Oakura our base for the week. The plan was to chill in the sun, find some surf, and more fishing / crochet and Patricia Cornwell novels... we succeeded in all three. We bought Fia a nice new wetsuit and she hired a board for the week. On a few of the days the surf was a bit on the large side but we managed to get in the water and have fun every day and Fia caught quite a few waves. We have some really nice photos from Taranaki but one of our memory cards has decided to stop working with Windows so until we find somebody with a Mac or using Unix we won't be able to post them. Perhaps we'll do a short post on Taranki when we do as it was very beautiful.

We spent my birthday in Wellington, had the afternoon in Te Papa museum and then met up with Roland and Helene (friends who travelled Bolivia at the same time as us) for many drinks. Wellington was surprisingly nice, much more cultural than Auckland and reminded us of Bristol with tonnes of cool independent shops lining Cuba Street and lots of coulorful decorations / artwork around the city. I had my first kebab of the trip - BEEF donor and Chicken (with extra meat)... amazing.

Maori carvings at Te Papa museum

We're just about to hop on the ferry to Picton in South Island and look forward to seeing the difference between the two islands. One thing will be obvious, of the 4 million people living in New Zealand (hardly any!) 3 million of them live on North Island so we expect the South to be even more empty. And the New Zealand surf guide, our trusty steed when it comes to beaches has kindly pointed out the abundance of Great Whites down there, every other beach map has a comment like "spooky spot with cold murky water, caution: Great Whites and Orcas". I won't be going in for a surf if there aren't locals in that's for sure!

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