New Zealand, Part 1
Hello all! We finally have a little time to put together a trip report to share with you. I can't believe we've been gone for almost 2 weeks. We've only just started, it seems.
An overview for those that may not know, Geoff and I are on a 10-week trip through New Zealand — we left on February 5 and spent 3 days in Fiji on the way over for a little bit of decompressing before heading on to Auckland. We are spending about 2 weeks now on the North Island and will be heading to the South Island for about 5 weeks before finishing up for our final 2 weeks in the Northland. We've been having a fabulous time and we wanted to give you a little taste of what we've been up to.
Fiji was wonderful — really, how could it not!? We spent our time on a little resort island off the western coast of the main island. (http://www.beachcomberfiji.com) the place is known for being accessible for backpackers — food is included in the price of lodging (it was good food too!) and one can stay in a wide variety of accommodations — from bunk beds to a luxurious honeymoon suite. We had our own little hut or bure — somewhere in the middle price-wise — right on the beach. It was wonderful having 3 days away from computers, TVs, phones and general life to just hang out and enjoy ourselves. We spent most of our time snorkeling in the amazing reef around the island. The waters of the South Pacific are so warm — at times almost too warm... Like bath water! We were thrilled with the diversity of the marine life and corals around the island. So many things to see and explore! with the warm waters, we were in for hours at a time. It was fabulous way for us to start our travels.
We left Fiji on Sunday morning (with a 4:30 am boat ride in the dark to the airport) and flew into Auckland. We stayed in the little Auckland neighborhood of Parnell, where we were in close wandering distance to numerous yummy restaurants and yet only a short bus ride to the center of downtown. Our main purposes in Auckland were to buy a car, and to get ourselves ready to start our road trip. Many backpackers buy cars at the beginning of their trips and sell them off at the end, hoping it will be cheaper than renting a car for along period. It was fun checking out the local papers and car auctions looking for a late 80s car that would last our two months here. We finally bought a car from a local woman who loved her car — so we named our car after her. We named her "Steph". After checking out many of the local sites and finally figuring out the mystery of where the real grocery stores are hiding (hint: check the malls in the suburbs!), we left town Thursday morning.
From Auckland, we drove along the water east of the city towards the Coromandel Peninsula, finding beautiful blue water and soft sandy beaches. The road then took us inwards where we found what we had imagined New Zealand to look like: rolling green hills filled with sheep. We stopped every once in awhile to soak in the scenery and recognize that we were finally on our way! We stayed at a wonderful Motor Camp in Miranda that night. New Zealand Motor Camps are nothing like the RV parks in the U.S.! They have places to camp or hook up your RV, like in the U.S., but they also have other rooms of varying cost and amenities. While staying there, you can use the showers, the full kitchen, TV room, etc. The best part is that it's all amazingly reasonable, especially with the strength of the dollar in NZ right now. This place spoiled us as it was fairly new and it had a huge hot spring pool, free to use! Not a bad way to end the day!
We entered the Coromandel Peninsula on Friday and we spontaneously decided to do an overnight hike into the Kauaeranga Valley up to Pinnacles Hut. NZ has a great hut system — you pay a little bit for a reservation and they provide beds, stoves, water. It was strange not having to carry all of the typical things up the mountain in our packs! the hut was in a beautiful location and was also in terrific shape. These "huts" are large — more like hostels. We were lucky in that by chance we went up Friday night. We had 15 other people there with us — but on Saturday night, they apparently had 70 people booked! the place holds 80 — I can't imagine the noise level! It was gorgeous. What's interesting about the area is that the area used to be covered in Kauri trees - absolutely enormous trees. Typical humans, they chopped them all down. It's amazing looking out over a valley and seeing the dead stumps of some of these trees and all of them are taller than the current living shrubs and trees around them. They were huge! It was a great first taste of using the hut system and getting our hiking muscles in gear — I know my calves were sore for days!
We have been trying to learn about the local fauna and flora here — especially identifying the native and endemic birds and plants. This area is being sadly destroyed — by many introduced animals that are killing the native plants and birds. NZ tries very hard to keep any non-native plants and animals out now. Coming through in the airport, they quarantined Geoff's boots and tent for a while so they could clean them of dirt and any possible "infection". at the hut, the warden caught an opossum — a non-native species which is one of the main culprits of the destruction of native flora. One of our favorite plants has been the tree ferns — giant ferns the size of trees with gorgeous fronds. Maybe we can bring one back to Seattle with us!
We continued to travel up and around the peninsula to the eastern side of the north island, enjoying eating local mussels and the wonderful waters. We found some amazing beaches with unique rock formations on them (look at the photos! You'll see what I mean!) We ended one of our days by camping at a beach which has a really unique feature: hot water bubbles up through the sand! So, any time two hours on either side of low tide you can go and dig yourself a hot tub in the sand! It's soooo hot coming out of the ground that you have to mix in either cool water from the ocean, or find colder spring coming up to make your pool reasonable to sit in. There are only two small areas on this beach with hot springs, so you look for the crowds and follow what the locals do. We ended our day watching the sunset with some beer, in our own little dug hot tub in the sand. How rough!
We completed the peninsula on Monday evening, going to a local wildlife refuge to see some amazing birds. We saw an Eastern Rosella in the woods — a colorful introduced parrot (like an escaped pet!) — and found some elegant terns and other water birds on the beach. We got a chance to try some wine tasting at a couple wineries along the way, and arrived in Rotorua in the early evening.
Rotorua is one of the crazy New Zealand towns where you can try lots of the wacky "extreme sports" activities that New Zealanders have invented. It's also known for thermal activity — the place reeks of sulfur and there are lots of baths to dip in. We went Zorbing yesterday. What's zorbing? http://www.zorb.com One of the wacky things Nz-ers do! It's a 10 foot double-hulled transparent ball that you're strapped into, and then pushed to roll down a grassy hill. It was so hilarious that we had to do it again! Except this time we weren't strapped, we went together and they through two big buckets of water in with us! Sounds pretty kinky, eh? Then they tell you to "run" down the hill inside the ball — soon you're slipping and sliding all over the place. Too funny!
Today we're taking the morning to write this journal over breakfast before getting out to enjoy the day. We've been really fortunate with the weather - it's been amazingly beautiful and dry so far! We're both doing well — we're trying to take it easy and not over-plan ourselves.
I hope you're doing well and we'll be back in a few more weeks with some more stories and images!
Laura and Geoff