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.

P1240868

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.

 

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.

 

 

Black Sand: Piha Beach

Things we learned:

Kiwis and the E

When arriving in NZ you will immediately learn something about their local language. And yes, they speak English of course. But they do have their little local accent going on. And they seem to have a special relationship with the letter E.

It is pronounced as if it came in a very thin glass bubble. You can’t just say it the way the British say it. It may break. So, you have to handle it with great care. It has to have its own little space, cannot be too close to any other letter. Transport it very carefully over your tongue through your mouth into the air, so that it can float to someone else’s ear.

You say yEs and sEvEn, sEptEmbEr and wEt.

We loved it and enjoyed hearing it.

You get used to the accent after a while. And after one month you start to change yourself… Oh yEs!

Stuff we saw:

 

 

Stuff we did:

We wanted to go to the Coromandel Peninsula directly, but a closed main road and rush hour traffic in Auckland convinced us that a short visit in Piha would be a nice alternative.

A curvy road leads down to a picture book beach. Long breaking waves attract surfers from all over the country. But mainly this is a mere hour drive from Auckland, so this is a resort for people from the city. There are many small little huts on the huge coastal descent. They all have a fantastic view. In between huge villas for the rich people.

 

We chose a nice little campsite and got some dinner in the campsite kitchen.

This is a very New Zealand kind of thing: the campsites. I have never in the world seen campsites like this. Even the simplest ones have a commune area with a usually fully equipped kitchen. Some even offer cutleries, pans and plates. All have some gas stoves, fridges and a weather protected area to sit and eat.

They are not exactly cheap (with averaging at 20 – 25 Euros) in general, but really very nice. Some have stunning locations and one of these extraordinary locations was Piha.

The sand of the beach is of volcanic origin and is completely black. A huge rock offers a fantastic view. We climbed it as far as it was safe and enjoyed the view before we continued to our next destination: The Hot Water Beach.

 

Where mighty seas clash: the Northern Tip of New Zealand

Things we learned:

Driving on the left is easy. Using the correct lever for the turn signal is hard.

As the driver is sitting on the right side everything is inversed in the car (except gas and brake pedals). So the attempt to use the turn signal resulted in the wipers going crazy on the windshields adding confusion to turning maneuvers and inner-city navigation. Oh well, we had a very clean windscreen the first couple of days.

Stuff we saw:

 

Stuff we did:

There is a very pretty lighthouse at the (almost) most northern tip of New Zealand. We were warned of how many people are going there. But we were lucky. It rained pretty hard the next day, so we thought maybe we can get around the majority of the crowd.

And Tawhirimatea (the Maori God of Weather and Storms) was very supportive.

He sent strong winds and a lot of rain. It washed off most tourists and we were given a chance to use our super head-to-toe Gore-Tex clothes. With strong winds, the rain changed quite a bit. We set off on the walk to the cape just when the rain stopped, looking a bit nerdy with our full rain gear between the carpark full of people dressed in jeans and t-shirts.

But soon enough the rain started again and we were the only ones on the pathway. A short walk winds down the hill to the cape with the lighthouse. The clouds covered everything and so we walked in the middle of the thick clouds. Once in a while a little hole opened the view down to the shore or to the lighthouse. It was a fantastic atmosphere. The wind gusting the sea and the clouds. Not many other people there.

Then the clouds opened and the open sea became visible.

What you really see are two seas. The Tasmanian Sea and the Pacific meeting here at the tip of New Zealand. Mighty currents are visible and there is even a visible difference in color.

It is a mighty and impressive view.

Slowly more and more people arrived, since the weather had cleared up and so we decided to go back to find more beautiful places.

We did not have to drive very far. On the way up, we have already seen a sign for a turn off to the “Dunes.” Well, we like dunes so let’s have a look.

I have seen dunes in all variations, small ones in Tunisia, big ones in Morocco, really big ones in Peru, ones next to the sea in Chile, short curvy dunes in the Sahara and long straight ones in Australia.

But these rise in between a green and fresh jungle. They rise right out of the green and end in the blue waters of the Tasmanian Sea.

We walked around and enjoyed the fantastic views and later continued to a nice campsite at the Doubtless Bay.

I love how some of the names originated: Cook passed this place without looking at it in more detail, but wrote in his description that this was “doubtlessly a bay.”

On a short sunrise walk we enjoyed the calm and peaceful atmosphere before we continued to Piha.

Going North

Things we learned:

Hedgehogs are adorable little creatures. Everybody knows that.

They walk funny and they breath really heavy when they sniff around in your garden.

They curl up real nicely when they are afraid. Isn’t that what we all want to do… In spite of the pointy needles they look so cuddly.

They are really cute…

Not so much in New Zealand. Here they are seen as fierce predators. A plague that is hunted down by the government. An introduced enemy of the number one New Zealand symbol: the Kiwi.

Hedgehogs really kill Kiwis (not the full-grown ones of course, it is the eggs or the very young ones they are after). Hard to believe with the middle-European image we have of the little animal that it is a pest here in New Zealand. But along with other introduced animals such as cats and possums, they are the main reason for Kiwis to be on the endangered list.

Stuff we saw:

 

Stuff we did:

Christy was brave enough to do the first driving in our brand new rental car. We crossed the city going north. As usual we didn’t really plan where to go. We ended up in Kaihu in Northland. We found a fantastic campsite and rented a cabin for two days. It was cold at night and Christy’s birthday was coming up.

We got a couple of things from the hardware store (camping chairs, a cooler, etc.) and got some food. So now everything was set up for our travel.

We enjoyed the drive. What a landscape. Green hills, with wild forests and grasslands with cattle and sheep. The forests are quite something here: very thick, you couldn’t walk through the wild growing vegetation. In between the huge kauri trees: giants of immense size. There is a whole little world of little plants living on these mighty branches of the trees. In between the leaves of all the big and small trees the fern trees add a palm tree optic to the green jungle.

As the kauri trees are heavily endangered there are very strict shoe-cleaning procedures enforced in order to limit the spread of a fungus which attacks the trees’ roots and kills these giants of the forest.

We had a birthday drive to the Kai-iwi Lakes. The area is very hilly partly green grassland and partly covered in thick forest. A little hike offered a fantastic view on two of the lakes with the open sea in the background. The lakes are of such dark blue and turquoise and the surrounding hills offer such an intense green that the contrasts are stunning.

In New Zealand they have a very radical tactic for gaining wood from the forest. Unlike central Europe where single trees are being taken out of the forest, they take down entire forests and leave a devastating area of destruction behind. Brown hillsides with branches and single trunks chaotically scattered on entire mountain. It looks terrible and remind me of pictures I have seen on WWI pictures in Verdun in northern France.

On the way back we had our first encounter with the mighty kauri trees. Some short hikes through the forest surprised with a lot of birds and a very thick vegetation. It was walking through the fantasy of a Hollywood production. It looked unreal, and we came to understand how a The Lord of the Ringsstarts to look very natural to this wonderland of plants covering this country.

The day ended with a highlight of this vacation, we can say that even though it has just started: we saw a kiwi bird. They are really shy, most New Zealanders haven’t seen one in the wild. We took a guided tour and the guide was fantastic: in his broad Kiwi-English he explained what our tactic would be (red lamp, no talking, listen for sneezing noise when Kiwi is getting the dirt out of its nostrils or a sound like “a fat guy walking on cornflakes.” The kiwis are not exactly quiet when they stumble through the forest.

After following the guide for one hour we finally found one: very close. Very cute. Christy was in heaven.

PS:

Christy got a little book about the different birds in New Zealand and we started to look out for them.

Arriving in the Kiwi-Land: Auckland

Things we learned:

If you want to see some culture: go to the War Museum.

Auckland has a fantastic museum. Most of it shows the culture of the Maoris, the indigenous people of New Zealand. And yes, the Maoris were very aggressive warriors. So much of their history is quite violent.

But still we found it very disturbing to go to a War Museum to see Maori culture. There is a little bit History about WWI and WWII. Just enough to justify the name maybe.

Stuff we saw:

 

Stuff we did:

We had a very pleasant flight. And I do not say that very often about a long flight (this one took 8+15 hours in the plane plus a layover in Dubai). But the Emirates flight made it possible. The A380 has nice seats, and I was even able to sort of nap through part of the time and ruin my eyesight by watching some movies.

We haven’t looked up a nice place to stay in a guide book and instead just booked one online. A new item on our improve-on-next-travel-list.

Our place happened to be to the busiest party street in Auckland (busy K-street as the locals call it). Three strip clubs within 200m, the “calendar-girls” just opposite our window, a band playing with speakers full-volume, people screaming, singing, and a four-lane intersection couldn’t keep us from sleeping the first night after the long travel. We fell into our beds in the evening and slept a sedated-like sleep. But the second night was a Friday, we were not near-to-coma-tired and that opened our eyes. Literally. Through the whole night. No sleep was possible. At 4:00 am the music stopped and we got a different room the next day, one that was not facing the busy road.

The long night offered us the chance to watch a local movie; very recommendable: “The Hunt for the Wilder-People” is a very funny Kiwi movie.

Auckland turned out to be a nice city, not downtown though which is too busy and not very enjoyable, but all the parks that are spread around the city, a fantastic museum of war and Maori tradition and some volcanoes which you can climb to get a nice view over the city.

The layout with hills and water surrounding the city is fantastic. The traffic is not though. Most streets are four lanes, making it very loud in the city.

We enjoyed staying at a very vivid hostel with people from all over the world. Everybody is having a good time, some are living in the hostel, working in bars in Auckland with their work & travel visa.

We walked our feet off all over the city. Down Queens Road, the busy main shopping road, to the harbor which is not very remarkable.

We were not very convinced on the first day. That changed by walking the parks of Auckland. There are several parks all around the city. And they show the typical attitude of the Kiwi folks: live your life.

Everywhere dads show their little kids how to throw a cricket ball, friends gather to do some sports together, others prepare a barbeque. There are people strolling in the park, some run, others sit in the fantastic trees or walk their dogs. They all enjoy their time. It is very peaceful. Very laid back.

We loved the parks.

The trees with their wild roots and strangely shaped branches look like they just don’t like straight lines. They all grow in crazy curves in all directions forming wonderful creatures.

Arriving at Thursday we took our time to adjust to the new time zone and relaxed before we got our rental at the airport on Monday.