Small roads: the Marlborough Sound

What we learned: Some roads take longer

The car we had on the north island had a built-in Navigation system. Not that you need a lot of navigation, but it would tell you the estimated time of arrival. That gave us an idea of how the roads are. Not that it really matters. We never make plans for the evening or where we stay overnight, so no need to hurry. But on our first day on the South-island we learned that the distance you can cover on the map is not just a question on how good the road is.

Some roads need a lot longer for a different reason: they are curvy.

And the road down Kenepuru Sound is quite a different one. My goodness it is curvy. Christy couldn’t get her eyes off the road for a second. And she was not the one driving. I was. With the curvy roads and the up and down you’d get carsick in matter a second. There are no straight parts of the roads.

But as we said, no need for a hurry. Just some roads need a little longer, that’s what we learned today.

Stuff we saw:

Stuff we did:

We followed the Kenepuru Road a nice little road that winds through the forest. Deep into the Marlborough sounds. Well, to be honest, we didn’t see a lot of the sounds. First of all because both had to constantly watch the road (one because of driving, and one because of not getting sick). But also because there are trees along the road and only very few spots where stop. And most of these stops you couldn’t actually see anything other than forest. But when we saw something it was stunning. The road is a dead-end. We found some friendly horses at the end of the paved road and a fantastic campsite. But we decided to keep on going instead of pitching the tent.

Wellington and the crossing

Things we learned:

Get two cars for the price of one!

We have rented a standard car. Nothing fancy, not the smallest can you could get, but no camper either. We have a good tent and it is ok pricewise. We picked it up in Auckland (North island) and are drop it in Christchurch (South Island).

What we didn’t know until we picked up the car in Auckland: The Rental-cars don’t change take the ferry to the South Island, only we do. We need to drop the car and the ferry station in Wellington and will pick up a new one in Picton where the ferry arrives on the South Island. “new car” turned up to be the literal what we got: it had 60km on the clock.

It was still a little bit a disappointment, since the other car was a lot fancier. Well, in case we ever think of buy8ing a small SUV: we have tested two now!

Stuff we saw:

Stuff we did:

Wellington is a nice town. We can say that even though we didn’t see much. It was rainy, cold and windy. So we ran around the harbor area, got something to eat and returned to the campsite. We had a cabin again, good because of the rain, but with the high quality we found so far on the campsites in NZ: this one was certainly not the best one, at least not the cabin itself. But it protected us from the rain and so we packed our stuff to do the crossing (we have to change the car, so we had to pack everything in two bags to check it in at the ferry terminal, a little bit like at the airport).

The following day the weather was a lot better (maybe that is because Prince Harry and his wife were in town, who knows). We used the sun to make a nice drive to the peninsula just outside the city. A fantastic drive. Just half an hour out of the heart of downtown you find the most stunning nature. We stopped a lot to take pictures, watched some plane land on the incredible airport there and had a good lunch.

A great day and a city with a great scenery literally just around the corner minutes.

The ferry crossing to the South Island is fantastic. The town of Picston is deep in the Marlboroughs. These are former valleys that have been flooded since the southern island has been pushed up in the last few million years. The ship enters these fjord-like waterways.

A short 1-hour drive brought us to a fantastic hostel where we stayed overnight to avoid the upcoming rain.

 

Beach, full moon and a lot of furry clowns

Things we learned: They call it call&talk for a reason

We love to listen to the radio here. They play good music, have some stations in Maori language and they pronounce the E so lovely.

And they talk a lot. They have a lot of call-in programs where they offer a subject and people can call and express their opinions on the subject. Even though the subject doesn’t really  seem to be of great importance. One day we listened to a show with “rodeo” being the topic. The show master was not really in favor of it as “this is the most terrible thing you can do to an animal” but encouraged listener who liked it to call “we want to hear from the ones who like it” she said, following by a 10minute rambling why it is terrible to do it. No rodeo-lover dared to call of course. But other people called. And they talked. About young people not showing respect to the elders. Problems with finding a job. “now I really want to hear from the people who like rodeo”. A lady who is knitting little patches that she sales was next on the line. Nothing really had to do anything with rodeo, but the show master just kept talking with whatever topic the caller came up with. A bit pointless really, but there were a lot of nice E’s in all the talking. So we loved it.

Stuff we saw:

Stuff we did:

We drove down the east coast of NZ to a little DOC campsite. Directly at the beach. We watched the sunset and returned after dark. The full moon reflecting on the pitch-black sea. The reflections on the little waves turned the sea to silvery lines all the way to the horizon.

Out of this world experience. Peaceful and wonderful.

We got up in the morning too. To see the sunrise. We really made most of this amazing beach that we had to us all the time.

ON our way down south, we stopped at another seaside attraction. There is a little lighthouse with 250 stairs up the hill. But that was not the attraction. The attraction are seals. They hang around there. On the rocks, swimming in the sea, on the grass and underneath the bushes.

We spent hours to watch these clowny animals. Watching them with their funny way to climb on rocks and slide on the grass I thought they probably really enjoy humans swim. As clumsy as these animals on land, as gracious, elegant and acrobatic they act under water.

For them, humans are probably the clumsy clowns in the water, and acrobatic on land.

An unknown road and a lot of blue

Things we learned:

The huge carrot and other fantastic sights.

New Zealand is an amazing country. The beautiful landscapes, unusual plants, wonderful animals and the friendly people are the attractions of this country.

A lot of Lord of the Rings fans travel around here too of course, even though there is little to see from the original sets beside Hobbington, which is a zoo apparently.

Even though it has too much to offer every little thing in New Zealand is made into an attraction. Every gurgling river that drops more than 1m is displayed as a waterfall and there are some really bizarre attractions: a fence hung with bras, another one with toothbrushes attached and a huge carrot standing around somewhere.

We stood in front of the bra-fence and thought how this had become an attraction with all the amazing landscape surrounding it.

The toothbrush fence even made it into a really funny New Zealand sitcom: The flight of the Conchords. “It’s amazing: a fence entirely full of toothbrushes. At least 50 or so. Your have to see it to believe it”

You just have to love New Zealanders for this.

Stuff we saw:

Stuff we did:

We wanted to cross to the coast. Napier and Cape Kidnapper caught our attention.

The road there is a thin line on our map. So, we made sure it is not a grave road before we turned into it.

It is 100km and it took us 3 hours. Let’s just say there were plenty of reasons to stop. Stunning views, lots of sheep and cows, some nice birds and an amazing landscape all the way.

We found an ok campsite an took a cabin to escape the pollen.

The next day we took a little spin on a Cessna 172.

I took a Flight Instructor since I didn’t want to do the whole license approval for NZ. It was an amazing feeling to steer the plane to the coast and crossing the shore flying into an all blue: blue sky on the top and a deep blue ocean below.

What an amazing time. “Pinch-me-moment”

We found an outstanding campsite at the beach for the night.

The next day we slept in (something I could write almost every day, but this day it actually had a little consequence: we didn’t make it all the way to cape kidnappers. The incoming tide made it impossible to do the hike along the shore to the amazing cape that we saw from above the day before.

 

A rest day: let’s have the mind catch up with our bodies

In Ohakune we found a very nice campsite. We booked a cabin (Christy got a little allergic reaction so we wanted to be out of the pollen for a while).

A wonderful place with a little stream in front of it. A bench and a table where we had some wine with our French neighbors who live here in NZ since a couple of years.

We had a short drive up the nearby volcano, a mini walk to a waterfall and we met nice people and had nice talks with them.

A lazy and therefore very fulfilling day. Or in other words: vacation from vacation.

The Tongariro Crossing: a walk on volcanoes

Things we learned:

The campsites here are outstanding. They all have a kitchen area with stoves and very often pans, cutleries, plates. An indoor dining area with a couple of tables is standard as well. For us, travelling with a regular car and a tent this is heaven.

Toilets are usually very clean. Even the public ones you find all over the country in little villages are very clean and quite usable. No need to avoid them.

So, in general the facilities for getting food in and out of your body are very well designed and tidy. Thumps up NZ! We very much appreciated this…

Stuff we saw:

Stuff we did:

We knew we wanted to do the Tongariro Crossing. One of the most known hikes in NZ.

The perfect base for this is a little campsite between start and finish of the walk.A short drive brought us there. We stayed in a cabin for 2 nights, so that after returning to the camp we wouldn’t have to drive but could have a lazy evening.

The whole Tongariro Crossing is very well organized: busses pick you up at the campsite drop you off at the starting point and pick bring you back from finish to the campsite.

It is a very popular walk. Hundreds do it every day, during low season. On high season in can be several thousands. As we are not friends of being part of a large heard when hiking we were pretty happy it is early in the year when the number of people is still ok.

The first part is a long hike up a valley. The sun shines on the far away Mount Egmont. A picture book Volcano. It is cold in the morning, below freezing. But as soon as the sun gets over the hills it warms up. And the walk warms up too. After one hour the path steepens up.

After a short crossing in a sort of alpine surrounding the real fantastic part of the walk begins. Craters with little lakes in it, the view on other volcanoes, the red crater and finally a long walk down in to the valley. We have the best weather you could imagine. The views are stunning.

It is quite a nice walk.

Would I recommend it to a friend? Well, I would in the future start in the West and walk the same way up and down. If you start early enough you can enjoy the mountain almost by yourself.

Magics of the underworld: more geothermal stuff in Waimangu

What we learned:

R2D2 is not a bird

We did a lot of forest hikes here. There is just a lot of forest here, and we like to walk. So, we end up a lot in forests.

Which is not a bad thing. The forests here are fantastic. With all the wild green chaos of the plants slow fight for the best spot.

There is always a freshness in the air. It smells like humid earth. And there is always an amazing sound. Birds chirp in all variations. One bird song sticks out of all the chirping. It sounds surprisingly like R2D2 have a rattling part hanging off his head.

It took us a while with Christies bird book to find the guy who is responsible for these sounds. I have to say I was a little bit disappointed to have the mystery solved, now knowing there are no R2D2’s hiding in the NZ forests. It is a black, dark blue bird who beeps in the forests: the Tui.

Stuff we saw:

 

Stuff we did:

Geothermal walk and campsite at the Lake Taupo

The whole northern Island of NZ is basically a volcanic island. And so, there is a lot going on under our feet. Many geothermal sites show the majesty of this natural power… well majestic is the view… not the smell of course.

 

The Waimangu Volcanic Valley is just one of many locations. We picked it on no specific reason. Well, let’s see how it is…

A one way 3 hour walk down a little valley is what you do here.

So we put on our hiking boots and took off.

Every corner we took some other detail caught our eye. Hot lakes steam in the sun. A little breeze moves the steam clouds gently over the calm water of the little lake. It is an unbelievable sight. When watching through the binoculars or the cameras you only catch a part of the lake and the view is tricking your mind. It looks like you are looking at a fast-forwarded video of clouds in the sky.

Everywhere are little hot springs, some erupting, some gurgling and some just sending their smelly water down to a little stream.

It is a fantastic walk.

We continued our drive to Lake Taupo on which side we found a nice little campsite.

Maori culture and some geothermal stuff: Te Puia

Things we learned:

We are not the only ones with 12-hour time difference

In many places, including Te Puia you can see Kiwis. They have a little birdhouse with massive doors. There is almost no light inside. In almost pitch black you slowly and quietly enter a room. One side is a big glass wall. Behind its Kiwi paradise: bushes, dry leaves on the ground, moisty earth with lots of worms. All lit in red, a color Kiwis don’t see very well. It is very dark though, so our eyes needed some time to adjust, but then we saw it: the stumpy body with the big feet runs around and hectically pushes his peak deep into the earth. Obviously, no worm here. Maybe here.. no, maybe her… no, maybe her… no…

It looks a bit grotesque this animal. The big clumsy animal on these large feet. You can hear it run around like a toddler who enjoys his new ability of using his feet.

Since the Kiwi is only active at night, they have changed the time schedule of the poor Kiwi, who is running on central European time now, so it is dark night for him when visitors come to see him: during the day.

Stuff we saw:

 

Stuff we did:

Te puia was one of the few things that were on our list to do from the very beginning. It is an area of geothermal activity and an important site for one of the Maoris big tribes.

We got a tour with a lady who was born in the Maori village that is just behind the park. She showed us to some of their gods, the language and the schools that they have here. The park and the entrance fee for it supports these schools, where the Maori art is taught (such as carving and weaving).

Since the Maori did not have a written language, the wood carvings show the history of their ancestors.

On the tour we crossed the workshops on a little walkway, so that we would watch the students and teachers doing their work. It was fantastic. Outside, in a shipping area they had a huge trunk with incredible carvings on it. It is about to be sent to Belgium where the NZ Army fought in WWI.

There are some geysers that we could watch with very few people around. It was fantastic to hear and feel the roaring of the water being pushed through two little blowholes for more than 30 minutes. There are wooden stairways all around so that the tourists don’t get to near the dangerous areas.

Our guide told us how she used to play with the geysers and how they would swim in the hot pools next to the geysers. She was a great guide and we got a good insight on how the Maori live was in the past and about her past in particular.

We stayed overnight at a nice camping at the blue lake where we met Jim, a 74-year-old guy whose wife has passed away 4 years ago. So, he is up to some new adventures and made his first attempt of camping. He had a very warm and hearty character. When it got nighttime, he crawled up in the back of his Ford Focus to sleep (“there is not much of me” he said, meaning he was small enough for the little car to sleep in). I the morning when we got up he was already gone. We hope he made it alright through the night. He was is really trying hard to get a good time out of his life without his wife that he lived with for over 40 years.

What a pleasure to have met him. We hope he is doing alright.

One of the nice things with Top10 membership is, that you get some goodies sometimes. At this site we got a free Hot Tub. So, we took a hot bath in the bubbling water before going into our tent.

 

Drive to Papamoa Beach

Things we learned:

The warning signes at the sea are there for a reason.

The afternoon that day showed the dark side of the wonderful beaches here. There are warning signs everywhere that warn people of the dangerous drifts that occur at many NZ beaches. While we had a late lunch at the beachside restaurant a 50-year-old man watched two little kids dragged away by the sea. They screamed for help and he and some others jumped into the water to safe them. He pushed them to the other helping people and they got the kids out alright. When they turned around the man was dragged under water.

First aiders and doctors tried to get him back to life for almost one hour, but the gentlemen died on the beach.

We only saw the ambulances and helicopter arrive and didn’t know what was going on at the time. We read the details on the news.

It made us very sad, but also very aware of the dangers of such a peaceful looking location. The sea looked perfectly calm that day.

Stuff we saw:

 

Stuff we did:

We wanted to continue south…

Not looking at anything special on the way we did what we always said so far would be an amazing thing to do in NZ just drive around the countryside.

There is really no need to stop anywhere. The whole country is so beautiful, that just driving around would already make this place a fantastic travel destination.

All the other stuff is just another extra on top of it…

 

The area we crossed is part of the Bay Of Plenty. And there is plenty…. Plenty of fruits, farms, seaside, beaches, rivers, hills, cattle, grass and a lot of blue sky.

We visited an old mine  and walked into long tunnels that were dug into the walls of a canyon.

Other than that it was a fantastic drive without any sights to see, just nice landscape to enjoy and a nice campsite at the beach.

 

Sunrise Spa: The Hot Water Beach

Things we learned: Lets get sedated

It has been a cold night. so we decided to stay at one of the little cabins provided at most campsites in NZ. The one at Hot Water Beach had a special goody: a heated bed! And with the cold outside this was quite something. It had such a sedating effect that our eyes just slum shat when we turned it on. Like morphia the warmth swept through your body. So we overdosed a bit I guess and had a comatose sleep.

 

What we saw:

Stuff we did:

When we read about the place we knew it must be special. We arrived at the Top10 Campsite (a connection of Campsites with general good facilities, we became members which offered discounts and some nice goodies, was fully worth it).

After two rainy days in the tent with less than 5 degrees during the night we wanted to have a dry and warm spot. So we took one of the cabins they offer on most NZ campsites.

At 5am our alarms kicked us out of our sweet dreams. We put our bathing suits/speedos on and put warmest clothes on, including our long-johns and thermal underwear. Speedos with long-johns: that combination was a first timer for us….

It was bitterly cold as we walked to the beach, a little spate from the campsite in our hand.

We found the beach and dug a little hole close to the water shore.

After a few shovels the water filled the holes and started steaming. A geothermal site right under the beach heats up the water in the little dip we dug. We jumped in an enjoyed the warm natural bath.

I fact we had to keep digging, because the little hole we dig was filled very quickly with sand that collapsed from the side and in no time the hole was a shallow puddle. Some spots in our little dug hole were so hot you couldn’t sit on it. Slowly the pitch black of the night lightened up and on the horizon the blight blue showed the first signs of the new day. The blue turned into a firing orange and red when the sun rose above the Pacific Ocean and started shine on us on the beach. Steam was all over the waves that slowly brought the high tide back into the beach.

As the geothermal spots are only above the water level at low tide, there is only some small timeframes of 2x 4 hours per day where this phenomenon is approachable.

With the upcoming tide we started to get the first waves of cold water into our bathtub and so after 3 hours sitting in the hot water we finally gave up and left the beach to get back to our cabin.

What a wonderful start into the day. And with the early hour we had this wonderful beach moment almost all for ourselves.

We enjoyed a little walk to another nice beach (Cathedral caves) later that day.

What a wonderful time we had on the great peninsula Coromandel.