We are just waiting in the airport for our flights home – boy, have we come along way – it is 36 hrs home by plane.
Four weeks ago we were ready to leave the boat and go exploring in New Zealand’s north Island. We had about three weeks travel time. Many people hire or buy a camper van but we opted for a car and using hotels and possibly camping. Swopping one small place for another even smaller space just did not seem attractive, and we have found that it is easy to find very reasonably priced accommodation at short notice. Yes, definitely fans of booking.com, but New Zealand is such an accommodating place, and well set-up for the touring tourist.
First stop Auckland. Not the capital but the biggest city. Here we stayed with relatives Chris and Jane Ireland. Great hospitality, super comfortable bed and a bath! Very interesting tour of the waterside district of Auckland and inspection of the old America’s Cup boats.
We took the opportunity to visit Josh and Sara Tucker and family in their lovely home by the Stillwater Creek. Josh and Sara were with us when we crossed the Atlantic and we cruised and raced together in the Caribbean. It was great to catch up with Sara, Josh and their boys.
Next stop was Lake Taupo which sits on the central volcanic plateau and is New Zealand’s largest lake formed 27,000 years ago after the gigantic Oruanui eruption, and the lake is the caldera. On balance I think Lake Taupo, although a lovely setting, was probably a bit too touristy for us, but it did make a good spot for exploring the mighty River Waikato, and the many very interesting but strange geo thermal sites which we were keen to visit. These are not volcanoes but places where steamy hot water, sulphur smells, and various salts appear from the bowels of the earth. Sort of spooky. We also visited and walked along an old timber trail through the Pureora forest. This was off the beaten track and the flora particularly the lichen and ferns were just amazing. Oh, and Julian was able to “drive” a dead crawler tractor. We have also really enjoyed seeing the New Zealand agriculture on our way. Huge dairy herds, Hereford cattle and sheep all enjoying this great grass growing country.
Now that Julian did not need to worry about the batteries and charging on the boat, he took a keen interest in the renewable energy generation systems in New Zealand. The New Zealanders generate 84% of their electricity requirements from renewable sources. The mighty river Waikato has three hydro power plants and provides the cooling for two geothermal stations. It is also very beautiful and we enjoyed walking the various paths. When we were in the Lake Waikaremoana area we came across a small hydro plant (one of three in this setup,) installed in 1929 and still pumping out 60MW of continuous power. How incredible is that? Sadly we were not able to actually visit inside any of these plants but we think this could be a new tourism opportunity.
We were very keen to walk the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing so next stop was the Tongiraro National Park. This area is a dual World Heritage site. Yes, I am not really sure how you become a dual site as opposed to just a site, however it is a dramatic volcanic landscape, dominated by the perfectly shaped volcanic cone Mt Ngauruhoe and snow clad Mt Ruapehu. The walk was 19.4km and hard but the different views and changing landscape do make this a fabulous experience. Unfortunately it is very popular and thus very busy. We also had some lovely walks in alpine herb fields and beech forests past rusty streams from iron deposits and white streams of silica. Finally we had afternoon tea at the Chateau Tongariro. This was lovely and I haven’t had Battenberg cake for a very long time, but we were rather surprised to find that the actual tea was an extra on the bill – definitely cheeky.
Feeling a good bit fitter, and determined to use our camping gear that we had brought all the way from the UK, we decided to do a NZ Great walk, so we headed to Lake Waikaremoana in the Te Urewera area. This is very, very remote and deep in Maori country. We had a long drive on the magnificent Taupo to Napier road, followed by another steep twisty road and then onto gravel roads. This was a five hour drive which we are never enthusiastic about, but the scenery was fantastic. The return journey to Rotorua was yet another experience with one and a half hours travel on gravel roads through the forest.
We have enjoyed backpacking in the UK but at home you have the relative luxury of more sophisticated campsites ( proper loos and showers!) and local public houses for supper. This time we had to carry all our food, and the facilities are basic; definitely no hot showers, just the Lake for the hardy, and we did not fall into that category. The walk was great as described – very scenic, amazing flora and fauna, and extremely remote. We had four days walking, one night in a hut, and two in our tent. It was quite tough with the backpacks but, believe it or not, the dried food really is not too bad, or perhaps we were just hungry. That said we did make sure we were booked into a decent hotel with a good restaurant when we had finished and I think we deserved it. It was then hot foot back to Auckland, to a very comfortable bed and great hospitality again at Chris and Jane’s house.