29.12.2016 - 05.01.2017 20 °C
"...ducks are birds and they can fly!"
I planned this trip only about 4 weeks before travel, in the last week in November. During the year I was making other travel plans with someone but when things didn't work out it was already Nov and I had nothing booked yet. So I frantically started my research in mid-Nov with the aim of being away from Sydney for atleast some part of the holiday.
I had decided I would do some real camping, lots of hikes - so NZ was an easy choice. Then the decision to go North or South was also an easy one - the flights to South Island were over 4 times the normal price. Having set myself a strict budget, Auckland fit right in
After researching some camping tour companies I came across Flying Kiwi. Their 5D-4N North Island itinerary was just perfect and the dates worked out well. So off I went !
I started in Auckland on the 30Dec at 10am. The bus was already packed when I joined the tour. I took the last spot on the bus in the last seat next to a handsome young man. Soon we introduced ourselves and I found out the guy next to me was from Melb, practically a local. And the others around me were - Judy from Netherlands, Morgan from France, Gerd, Philine, Catherina from Germany, Sandrine from Switzerland, a family of 5 from Singapore (they were the cutest family I've ever met), Alex from Canada, a couple from UK, and couple of others. In all we were 23 passengers. Also, I soon found out people were doing different tours, from 5 days (only me) to 28 days for whole of NZ. I immediately thought, it would be nice if I could just extend and continue on.
Here's the map of my travel
Day 1 - 30 Dec
So we started our drive from Auckland and our first destination was Coromandel, Hot water beach. It was about 3 hrs drive from Auckland (with a lunch stop).
On arriving there, we stopped at the camp site and plan was to go to the beach for an hour before starting the hike there. The beach was only 10min walk from our camp site. It was a crowded beach, everyone was digging around and making small pools to sit in. Hot water was bubbling through the sand everywhere. We soon found a good spot and started digging our little pool to relax in. It was a fun activity, like going back to childhood days playing with sand. We had to dig and build a little wall around to ensure water didn't seep out.
After about an hour, we headed back to the camp-site to drive to a point to start our hike to the Cathedral Cove. It was a lovely walk up the hill and down on the other side to the beach. During the walk, I found out Alex was a hiking and bear guide in Canada.
He shared his stories about hikes and types of bears - quite an interesting background. We reached the cove right before the sunset and it was just a magical sight from this point.
We were back in our camps by 6 to put up our tents and prepare dinner. We were given a brief demonstration on how to put up tents, it was a fairly standard tent.
While we were setting up our tents and making our beds, our guides, Holly & Marcel, cooked up a delicious rice noodle dinner.
This was a standard routine everyday - we would all eat together (make/assemble our dinners) and during the dinner our guides would inform us of the plan for the following day. Also, we showered in the night before bed to save time in the morning. It was an early start everyday.
Being summer it was still bright after dinner at 8pm. So Alex, Judy and myself decided to go on a short hike around to the beach. It was a lovely walk in the evening light. We walked till the beach and realised it was a high tide and the access beyond the beach was now cut off. Hence we just sat in there for a while before heading back to camp and calling it a night.
A few of us decided to ditch the tent (which we had setup with so much enthusiasm) and sleep outside under the stars. I am so glad I did it - the night sky was just out of this world! I had never seen a sky so full of stars and a clear milky way! I kept waking up in the middle of the night to just look at the sky and cherish the moment
Day 2 - 31 Dec
Our next day started with a breakfast at 630 and we left the place by 7. Our next destination was (Rail trail hike). It was a ~7k hike through an old gold mining site. Simply spectacular views as we walked through the valleys and streams. It was a 2 hr with lots of photo stops Lot of the sections of this walk reminded me of my weekend getaways from my childhood days in Kotdwara.
After our picnic lunch there we headed out to Rotorua via Matamata (Hobbiton). Few of the passengers left us here to do the Hobbiton tour. The rest of us reached Rotorua by 3pm.
Rotorua is a quaint little town and it was the first tourist destination in NZ. This place is famous for its geysers and sulphur thermal pools. Few of us decided to do a long walk along the lake (~8k). Smell of sulphur was very distinct in the air.
We reached the campsite around 5pm and being NYE we decided to freshen up and head to the town for dinner, drinks and fireworks. There were two fireworks one at 930pm (for the kids) and a bigger one at midnight. We watched the kids fireworks and I must say, for a little town, I was super impressed by the display!
After the fireworks we got a few drinks and then decided to head back to the camp to welcome the NY with the rest of our crew. Everyone was in such a happy mood, we setup a little table, opened some drinks and food and chatted away till midnight. It was the simplest NY party in the wilderness, loved it!
Day 3 - 1 Jan
We had a late start, 9am, given most of us were up late. We packed our things and left the camp-site to drive to the nearest geyser. It was called the Lady Knox geyser. Geysers erupt randomly throughout the day. Everyday here at 10am there was a simulated geyser, to show how it worked. (V)
Following this we went to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal wonderland, which was this vast area of sulphur pools all around. Very interesting landscape, the whole place was steaming, the pools were of different colours and chemicals.
We then drove to the Huka falls on the Waikato river, near the Lake Taupo (largest lake in NZ). The river water was crystal clear, it looked like a glass sheet was placed on the top ! Beautiful walk along the river and to the falls.
Today was the day I learnt ducks are birds and that they can fly ! Thanks to Alex & Morgan for this enlightenment
We stayed the night around Lake Taupo, it was an early night as we had a big hike on the following day.
Day 4 - 2 Jan
This was my last day on this trip, and it was the truly highlight of my travel - hiking up the Mt xx to the Tama Lakes
We were meant to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing walk (19km) but due to bad weather, the crossing was closed for the day. And the back plan was to the hike the Tama Lakes (17km, 1430m elevation).
We were picked up from the campsite at 7am and taken to the Whakapapa village in the Tongariro National park for the start of our hike. The weather was simply brutal - it was pouring right from the start and the winds were slowly picking up. We did a steady climb and due to bad weather, the visibility was very low, hence we didn't really stop for pictures or to admire the view. I did take few shots whatever I managed to capture.
The hike was a fairly gradual climb, easy walk for most parts. After walking about 2hrs we came upon a river crossing. I managed to hop on rocks and cross the river without getting my shoes wet, was quite pleased about it. However, I soon realised it was really not helpful as soon my shoes
started collecting water from the rain and my pants. By 3hrs I had little pools in both my shoes! The final bit of the summit was a steep climb with lots of slippery rocks. Also the winds had picked up by now and was pushing us in the opposite direction. I lost my grounding couple of times but managed to stay up. I found the last bit challenging due to the bad weather but I wasn't willing to give up. Thanks to Alex (who kept guiding and encouraging me) I slowly and steadily climbed up the summit. Most of the others had turned back at the river crossing. It was only a handful of us that continued on. And only 4 of us finally reached the summit.
At the summit the visibility was extremely poor - we couldn't see a thing, not even where the track had stopped. It was the toughest thing I had ever done and for me it was truly a feeling of being on top of the world! I was soaking wet head to toe, atleast 2kgs heavier with water in boots and bagpack but none of that mattered. At this moment I made a promise I would climb a bigger summit this year (potentially Kilimanjaro).
On our way back down, I did a brisk walk as I had started to feel very cold and I wanted to avoid any chances of hyperthermia. It was still another 2hrs back to the end so I had to keep myself warm. Infact I started to jog in some sections to get back faster. We took a different route on the way down, walking through the waterfall and rainforest section. Another, spectacular nature walk !
In the last 45min of the walk the weather had improved and the sun was starting to peek through the clouds. Back in the village we headed to the info centre briefly and then sat in a cafe to dry ourselves up as we waited for our bus.
Everyone was exhausted, actually more frustrated with the bad weather and getting soaking wet. But for me, it was a different, completely new experience and I thought, the bad weather actually made it more memorable! I kept telling myself it was just water, so I didn't want to ruin my experience complaining about the weather. We will all definitely remember this for many years
We finished the day driving 4hrs to the beach town of Paekakariki, near Wellington. We camped under the Christmas trees (they the most colourful trees I have seen, called Puhutakawa in native Maouri).
Day 5 - 3 Jan
We drove to Wellington this morning and I left my travel group to spend the day with Carmen, my lovely Insead friend my Romania. The rest of people on the bus also left the bus to take an evening ferry to the South Island and continue their tour.
We dropped our bags at a backpackers and had breakfast together as a little farewell to me I saw sad to leave them, really wished I had continued on, but I was also very excited to catch up with Carmen.
The weather was bad again, I understood why it was called Windy Wellington. So after breakfast Carmen and I decided to head to the Te Papa museum and spend the day indoors. It was a great museum, learnt a lot about the Maouri history, one of the oldest tribes in the world, found about the political history of NZ (incl. the Treaty of Waitangi) and the general fauna and flora of this beautiful country.
Later in the evening as the weather cleared up, we took a cable cart up to the botanic gardens and walked down through the park. It was a lovely relaxing day with an old friend and a great way to end my journey there.
I said goodbye to her in the evening as I took my overnight bus back to Auckland.
Day 6 & 7 - 4-5 Jan
Lakshmi, my wingie from BITS, hosted me in Auckland for my last two days of travel. It was lovely meeting an old friend after 10yrs, like nothing had really changed. That is the magical thing about good friends, they feel like home everytime you meet them
Lakshmi (and her partner Raghvan) were very kind to take the day off on 4th to show me around Auckland ! We packed our picnic lunch (lemon rice with aloo curry) for a day out. We started at the Arataki centre (Waitangere ranges national park), then Piha beach, and then walked around the Muruwai beach area. In the afternoon, we visited the Missions Bay and then finished the day at Cornwall park (botanic gardens). Day well spent
My travel ended on 5th with my flight back to Sydney.
I am really glad to have started the new year with this travel - I made a resolve to definitely explore the South Island later this year, on my own.
Signing off now, until my next journey