Thursday, January 12, 2012

Arrival in New Zealand

December 14th-22nd, 2011
Since my last blog over seven weeks ago, we traveled to both Venice, Italy and Venice, California with a stop in Flagstaff on the way!  We are now on the South Island of New Zealand and I will pick up our story on December 14th, the morning Darrell and I arrived in Auckland…

Our first stop on arrival was the Maui dealership near the airport, where we saw the van we ultimately purchased.  We spent a few more days looking at other vans and researching via internet in a lovely cottage while Auckland received record rainfall.

Darrell and our VW T5 Transporter
Lindsey arrived just three days after us and we began our North Island adventure.  We stopped at the Salvation Army store in the small town of Papakura to buy sheets and blankets to outfit the van, then we ventured to the Coromandel Peninsula.
Lindsey and I inside the van
 The van has a sink, small refrigerator, 2-burner stove and a microwave.  There are two benches with a table in the middle that can be turned into a bed.  Lindsey was a true sport and slept in a tent each night (though there is a tight loft space above the cab) while Darrell and I slept in the cozy van!

Our first campsite was near Hahei on a beautiful coastal bluff.  There is both Maori and Pakeha (white) history here beginning with the Maori explorer Kupe’s famous waka (canoe) that landed around 950 AD, and then other canoes arrived during the large 14th century migration. Maori are descended from Polynesians and their language is similar to Tahitian and Hawaiian, but it isn’t known exactly where they set off from before arriving on Aotearoa, the land of the “long white cloud”.  In 1769, good ol’ Captain Cook landed here as well.

Dad is so happy that Lindsey is here!
We walked to beautiful Cathedral Cove where there is a stone arch and a waterfall shower, and then headed to unique Hot Water Beach.  Two hours before and after low tide you can shovel into the exposed sand and create a thermal pool.  Hot water rises from below to warm your personal spa.  This area can get very crowded and it isn’t easy to find the warmest areas in the sand, but we were lucky and chanced on a perfect pool just as the people who had dug it were leaving!

Warm soak at Hot Water Beach
Many roads in New Zealand are narrow and windy, and if you want to get off the beaten path, you are likely to end up on a one-lane gravel road. I had booked a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite near the wilder tip of the peninsula without having a clue what the road was like on the way there… Over the weeks now, I have hyperventilated a few times as we’ve wound our way around tight corners with steep drop offs and no guard rails.  Though my sister bicycled here twenty years ago, there are rarely any shoulders and there are MANY camper vans.  I would not recommend NZ for a biking holiday… Oh, and remember the “long white cloud” – it rains a lot!

Our journey with Lindsey then took us toward the Bay of Plenty where we camped by an estuary. The next day we continued south along the coast to the hip beach town of Mount Maunganui where we forfeited our usual crackers and cheese for some fish and chips on the beach. This would be a fun place to hang out! Turning inland we climbed up to the volcanic center of New Zealand, Rotorua.

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village
We toured a living village where an iwi (tribe) of Maori has lived for centuries.  You can see some of the houses behind the hot spring in the photo above. Our guide showed us how they cook food in the hot springs and with hot vents that they cap to make a steam oven.

Since we wanted to stay near town, we camped in one of the ubiquitous holiday parks.  We tend to avoid them unless we need to do laundry or if we want to hunker down and have a site with power, but this one had a series of hot pools to soak in; something Lindsey and I especially enjoy! The next morning we went to a wildlife park where we toured the kiwi breeding facility and saw a nocturnal display where an adult kiwi probed with its long bill in the forest floor for insects.  Kiwi will get much more room in a future blog as they are fascinating birds!

We drove along Lake Taupo, the largest lake in NZ in a crater created by a huge volcanic blast 26,500 years ago, and continued on to Tongariro National Park. Three volcanoes dominate the landscape of this area that was given to NZ by the local iwi in order to preserve it. This is also “Mordor” in the Lord of the Rings movies. We camped at another DOC site and had a view of Ruapehu (the largest volcano) when we looked up, or this lovely variety of ferns if we looked down.

New Zealand is a land of ferns!
While I had hoped to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing while we were there, the weather just wasn’t cooperating, so we took a shorter hike to Taranaki Falls.  I will leave you here for now, but there are more adventures ahead, so stay tuned!

Darrell and Lindsey at Taranaki Falls, Tongariro National Park

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