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New Zealand - The South of the North Island

...Rotorua, Taupo, Napier & Wellington

sunny 18 °C
View Around The World in More Than 80 days on phileas's travel map.

Back on the road and time head down to the South of the North Island, first stop Rotorua (full name is Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe), a city located on the southern shore of Lake Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty region. Rotorua is largely a spa resort, well-known for geothermal activity owed to the Rotorua caldera, clouds of steam engulfed the town as did a profound eggy smell (sulphur). Apparently the local council capitalises on this by ignoring the need to build sewerage towns away from it's vicinity, nice!. (My sister tells me that they had to scarper quick sharp on their visit as Ben's stomach couldn't handle the aroma.) Besides the hot springs, the main draw for tourists is the crazy adventure sports where you can do anything from sky diving to bunjy jumping, bridge swinging to beer swilling, yowsers!

In the morning of the first day we headed down to Whakarewarewa Thermal Village - The Living Maori Thermal Village. Whilst a bit touristy, this was an enlightening experience into how the Māori use the thermal energy each day from bathing in the hot pools, to cooking in a pressure steam oven to disposing of their mother-in-laws in the mud pools. Chatting to a shop keeper, I discovered the first sign of the New Zealand government exploiting the local Māori people, boo hiss. Apparently the whole area was owned by the village including the famous Prince of Wales Feathers geyser, but this was grabbed from the village chief through exploiting his generosity and some underhand tactics. Now, access to this part of the site is owned by the government funded Māori Arts & Crafts Institute, vistors and residents of Whakarewarewa are banned from the site (unless you pay the $20 entry fee). Further I hear there are plans to oust the Māori people from the village to create a Disneyland type setup. Bad form New Zealand!

it wasn't me guvnor!
Prince of Wales feathers Geyser
Bubbling Mud Pools

With our new friend Yoshi in tow, we headed out to the Government Gardens to enjoy a spot of lunch on the banks of Lake Rotorua. Our lunch was hurried by the resident mosquitos enjoying their lunch feasting on our blood whilst the swallows enjoyed their lunch on said mosquitos. How nice to be at the bottom of the ecosystem for once.


With lunch barely settled in our stomachs, what better way to stir things up than to go Zorbing. Just about the only activity not covered by my travel insurance, this had to be worth the extortionate $50 price tag. Alas, it was all a bit tame - I was expecting a huge grassy hill to roll down out of control with maybe some jumps and bumps to send you flying, but there was only a choice of a short 40m straight run or a windy track with banked edges. Reservations placed aside, I handed over the credit card and gave it a go. It was fun, kind of like being in a padded cell with some water in the bottom and getting sloshed around a bit. You couldn't even see through the ball apart from the little porthole window so there was no clue you were actually moving. Ho hum, I guess I was hoping for more. A tick (or more like a X) in the box I guess.

Finally to fnish off a grandeuse day out, we headed down to one of the few attractions in the area, Kerosene Creek which was a natural hot spring out in the wilderness which you could bath in. Delightful!


A new day dawns and more crazy adventures await, this time it's White Water Rafting on Kaituna River. The wallet is beginning to hurt as much as my ageing body! What a blast tho! The rapids were tame to begin with but allowed us to get to grips with working as a team and paddling in time. The rapids increased in size and speed until we reached the grand finale - a class 5 rapid with a 7 metre drop down the Tutea Falls. I was to head to the back of the boat for better balance, which apparently is known as the catapult seat. With some brilliant and harmoniously coordinated paddling by the crew, we managed to sail off the top of the falls perfectly aligned, submerged the entire raft then boosted out of the water at 45 degrees. What a rush! It's pretty big and looks even bigger once you're down it, not sure I could do that in a kayak though apparently people do.


After a much needed dip in the hostels hot pool, a slap-up curry dinner the night before and a good nights kip, we were ready to step up the game for more adventures in Taupo (full name is Taupo-nui-a-Tia). With a population of 20,000 Taupo is a small city (hee hee) located at the north-east corner of Lake Taupo, and functions as a tourist centre, offering panoramic views over the Lake and Mountains to the south. The main purpose of the visit here was to exploit the cheapest skydiving to be had anywhere in the world - a snip at $139 for a single tandem jump. After some deliberation and a little pressure applied to Dushka, I couldn't get her to agree to jump so we instead we planned to settle in to things with a full day hike across the Tongariro Crossing.

The Tongariro Crossing in Tongariro National Park is one of New Zealand's most spectacular tramping tracks, designated one of the "great walks" by the Department of Conservation and might very well be the best one-day walk in New Zealand. The crossing passes over volcanic terrain along the slopes of the active volcanoes Mt Ngauruhoe, Mt Ruapehu and Mt Tongariro, some of which can be climbed weather permitting but alas the first snowfall of the year had hit only 2 weeks earlier meaning that ice picks and crampons were a must - far too serious for these part timers.

It was an early start to the day, picked up at 6.15am from our hostel with a good hour drive out to the start of the trail at the Mangatepopo Hut. In the background you can see Mount Ruapehu , spectacular!


Continuing at a gentle gradient the main track climbs alongside a stream and around the edges of old lava flows which leads to a short side track leads to Soda Springs - an oasis for the moisture loving yellow buttercups and white foxgloves. The track then climbs steeply up from the valley to Mangatepopo Saddle up The Devils Steps, finally ending up between Mount's Ngauruhoe(pictured) and Tongariro.


The track continues along a poled route across South Crater with the ever growing coned peak of Mount Ngauruhoe looming over us.


Across the crater is a ridge leading up Red Crater with an amazing view over Central Crater & Blue Lake (aka Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihiroa - Rangihiro's Mirror)


You can smell the sulphur, evidence that Red Crater is still active.
From the summit of Red Crater (1886m), the highest point on the Tongariro Crossing, the track descends down to three water filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes. Their brilliant greenish colour is caused by minerals which have leached from the adjoining thermal area.


The track continues over Central Crater to Blue Lake then sidles around the flanks of North Crater, descending to Ketetahi Hut where you are bowled over by a stunning view over Lake Taupo. I thought I was looking at the coast line the lake is that big.


Finally, below Ketetahi Hut the track continues down through tussock slopes to the forest bushline into cool podocarp-hardwood forest provides a final contrast on the long descent to the roadend to a much needed rest.

And finally, if that wasn't spectacular enough, we were treated to a fine Sunset over Lake Taupo which was almost enough to make me cry. All that followed by a few beers in the evening watching the Hurricanes (Wellington's Super 14 Rugby Union team) beat some happless Aussies in the super cup Semi's. What a day, what a day!


The next morning, a renewed effort was made to do the omninous skydive but alas the weather was not on our side so all jumps were off. Ho hum. After a quick dip in another natural hot spring, (this one fed into the mouth of a river allowing you to vary the temperature of your bathe from scolding hot to freezing cold with a simple stroke) it was time to jump ship and head south to Wellington, passing by the spectacular Mount Ruapehu (which hoasts the Whakapapa ski area).


Arriving in Wellington on a Sunday afternoon, it was time to meet up with an old friend. I can't write about it here,it was quite emotional and the tears might short circuit the keyboard. Anyhow, here we are catching up over a nice pint of Speights (no cider in sight!!):


Only a couple of days in Wellington, taking in the sights at Te Papa museum and generally moching about town. I think I was at last discovering with the guiding hand of Dushka how to take things easy without feeling the need to rush off and do stuff. I was trying atleast.

Only a brief visit this time (but I will return) as the girls decided they were running out of money so needed to head up to Hastings to pack some apples and collect some pocket money. On the way out of the city, I discovered the extent of international identity theft, my lawyers will be in touch...


After dropping the girls off in Hastings, I was set free on the open road with only my iPod and the great outdoors for company. Luck would have it that my friend Owen lived just up the road
in Napier so I headed up there to catch up with him. Another out doorsey type like myself, we took the opportunity to head up to Lake Waikaremoana and hike around it. A little wet and windy but nothing a good set of waterproofs can't cure. The finale view from Panekiri Bluff was spectacular!


Time to head south again back to Wellignton to catch up with Gemma on her weekend off. I managed to take every wrong turn possible on the way down, taking 6 hours for what should have been a 2 hour drive, oops. That said, the scenery was spectacular with yet more green pastures and stunning beaches. Also, another hidden gem, I passed by the town with the Longest Place Name in the World -
Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu. In truth I didn't see a town at all, the sign was erected on the roadside so not sure if it's true or not, I reckon I might do the same back home to fool some other hoodooed traveller.


So, not much to report on the visit to Wellington. Met up with Gemma and her lovely friends I'd heard so much about, and yes they were lovely. A lazy weekend all in all - hanging out around town, climbing Mount Vic and took in the views over the city, followed by a creme caramel/caramel ice creamon the beach. Super!

The next day I headed up north again as the Arthogram and MRI scan was only 2 days away. Made the ever important stop off in Taupo for another attempt at the sydive and yay, hallelujah, the weather was on my side so the jump was on. Before I'd even had time to rub the sleep from my eyes, I was on my way up to 12,000 feet to jump out of a plane. The ride up was probably the scariest bit - you take it for granted when you're in a commercial air liner how quiet and protected the whole experience is - this thing was flimsy, bouncing all over the shop and all that protected me from falling out of the plane was a thin rollcage door that kept trying to open itself. As we approachedthe drop zone I swung my legs out of the plane and waited for what seemed like an age as we waited for the right air speed before plunging head first from the plane. Jumping was the most surreal experience I've ever had - you don't get scared of the height as I don't think the brain can comprehend such a ludicrous concept; the ground actually looked soft, spongy and almost inviting; and the freefall you don't feel like you're falling at all, more like floating. As the parachute opened there was no neck-breaking jerk which I thought would happen, and I even got to take the controls to make us spiral down at warp speed. So much fun, the first thing I said when I landed was 'can I go again?'

the plane

Shaking like a leaf, no time to waste as I headed north once again back to Auckland. After a good nights kip back at BASE Backpackers, it was time to go to the Auckland Radiology Group for Arthogram and MRI scan and what a fun experience it was. To my relief, a fax awaited at reception with the 'all clear' from my insurance company that they would pay for the treatment. Phew, $1400 saved there! The fun began signing my life away and completing the final checklist with tricky questions such as 'do you have a metal plate in your head', not to my knowledge was an acceptable answer it seems. Then off to the X-Ray buffs to have some regular x-rays done for the umpteenth time to triple-check there are no fractures, or more like it to claim another $150 off the insurance peeps. Then follows an injection of contrast medium with a 2" needle directly into my shoulder joint, suprisingly not that painful, followed by more x-rays for the artogram. I'm not sure of the maximum dose of x-rays but I must be reaching that now. The icing on the cake was a trip to the MRI scanner, a large tube into which you are inserted and blasted with a massive electro-magnet which then revolves around your body making weird clunking & clicking noises as it went, spinning the atomic nuclei in my cells and taking pretty pictures as it goes. The whole process took about 1/2 hour and was not painful yet incredibly claustrophobic. Anyhow, the job was done and now have to wait till Tues 6th June to get the results and next steps, oo er.


With time to kill in Auckland till the next appointment, I decided I would treat myself with a diving trip up to the Poor Knights Islands, just off the East coast of the North Island near Whangerei. Named by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world, the Poor Knights Islands are influenced by a warm current that originates in the Coral Sea, north of Australia. The water temperature is slightly higher (16 degrees on the day of the dive), and visibility significantly greater than in nearby coastal waters allowing tropical and subtropical life forms to establish themselves among the diverse and multiple environments formed by the island's volcanic origins. Underground caves, tunnels and archways are home to an extraordinary variety seaweeds and dense populations of friendly, colourful fish, so friendly infact that their first response is to check you out rather than take flight like many reefs I've dived.

Dive Tutukaka were my hosts for the outing, very professional setup and some deluxe catamarans to whisk us out to the islands. I hooked up with a nice chap called Simon from Telford, UK who'd be my dive buddy for the day. Taking the plunge for the first time without a dive master was quite a daunting prospect but I'm glad I did it - the challenge brought back the training on navigation and managing your own air & decompression time.

The day allowed for 2 dives. Scary Cave was the first dive of the day, so called because of the underwater cave with blinding white light halfway through the entrance tunnel followed by pitch black in the cave itself literally leaving you blind. Unfortunately I guzzled through my air in 46 minutes at a depth of 32m so had no time to explore the cave, but the wall that lead to the outside of the cove was spectacular with a wide variety of anemonones and some huge shoals of snapper. Numerous Nudibranches (a small sea slug) were dotted everywhere which once you exposed them to light revealed their glorious colours, amazing!!!

cave entrance
little fish
tambja nudibranches.jpg
Tambja Nudibranch

The second dive of the day was to Middle Arch. Starting off with another underwater cave with an air pocket allowing you to take a breath in the rank stale air, then following the walls of the arch down and around the cliff wall. I've never seen so many moray eels in all my life, totally more than 5 on the whole dive including yellow, grey and mottled varieties. Also, to cap it all off I saw my first ever sting ray, and what a beauty she was, so graceful in the water as I clumsily chased after her filming and snapping pictures all the way, I was a happy man!

yellow moray eel
mottled moray eel
long tailed sting ray

Back in Auckland now and awaiting the results of my scans and generally wasting time. Not constructive I know but just want to get on to my next destination - Indonesia - land of eartquakes, volcanoes and dragons, sounds like a fairy tale but alas it's all true. I might yet have time to get down to the south island, we'll see how things go. Until the next time, and thanks for reading.....

Posted by phileas 18:17 Archived in New Zealand

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Any scope for doing this kind of stuff with a 3yr old and an 18mth old in tow?

Glad to see you are having a fantastic time... just next time you start talking about MRI scans and stuff make sure I don't have to speed read all the interesting stuff by putting in the reason along with first mention of the scan... I nearly passed out when you just casually slipped that one in there...

You have a responsibility to bring yourself back in one piece.. I still owe you dinner ;-) Take care... LOL Jules xxxx

by JulieH

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