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New Zealand - The North Island

Adventures in Colin the Campervan

all seasons in one day 26 °C

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We had a great flight and were able to see a gorgeous sunset which turned the sky all sort of wonderful colours as we descended into Auckland. Sylvia was travelling into Auckland on a separate flight, as were Sue and Jane who were also spending the majority of the month in New Zealand. Unfortunately they had a terrible time with delays (some poor bugger had a heart attack in the check in queue).

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A slight mix-up with bookings meant that Sylvia and I had to share a twin room in a separate hostel to Gavin. It was fine though as the hostels were very close to each other and at least it meant that Sylvie and I didn't have to go into a dorm for a couple of nights.

The following day the three of us headed to one of the many Vulcan Lane cafes and restaurants for a slap up breakfast during which we planned our itinerary for our New Zealand adventure. Next was the Tourist Info office, Department of Conservation and the ferry depot to collect all the information we would need for the next few weeks.

A gentle stroll around the city followed by a lazy few hours in Albert Park were about as much as we felt up to for the rest of the day.

That evening the three of us met up with Sue and Jane and headed to Karangahape Road, known as 'K' Rd, to a Southern Indian restaurant called Satya for a delicious meal and followed this with a few beers at an Irish Bar on Vulcan Lane (Gav's eyes do light up when he sees that Guinness sign).

On Saturday we had an early start. Sylvie and I had to move over to the hostel that Gavin was in and then the three of us were shooting down to the ferry terminal to catch our ferries. Gav and I were heading to Rangitoto Island and Sylvie was off to Waiheke Island.

It takes 40 minutes by ferry to travel the 10km to Rangitoto Island, which is Auckland's youngest volcano, at just 600 years old. We planned to challenge ourselves to walk to the 850 metre high summit. It took us 4 hours, including a short stop for lunch, and I have to say was pretty exhausting. Once we had finished the walk, we sat on a bench to wait for our return ferry and both fell asleep. I only woke because of Gav's gentle snoring in my ear!

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On Sunday 6th we had a tour booked to the Bay of Islands. A 6.45am pick up was followed by a 4 hour coach journey to get to the Bay of Islands. We then had an informative talk on the Treaty of Waitangi and tour of the Treaty House, a traditional Māori meeting house and war canoe. Then it was onto our boat for a cruise around the Bay of Islands. The weather wasn't great but it was still very lovely.

Meeting house and war canoe at Waitangi
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Bay of Islands, incl. the 'hole in the rock'

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Once the cruise was over it was back onto our coach for the 4 hour journey back to Auckland City. The scenery during the drive was as stunning as that of the Bay of Islands itself, but we did struggle so to keep our eyes open to take it all in. Sylvia has some very amusing pictures and Gav and I asleep, mouths open, heads nodding, the whole shebang.

On Monday 7th we picked up our second campervan, we named him Colin. We were all looking forward to this camper as he was much larger than Kenneth and would mean that we did not have to move our backpacks around each time we wanted to make up our beds. Colin had a peculiar smell. It turned out that Colin's waste tank had not been emptied since he was last hired so we had the pleasure of driving our first few hours in what smelt like a public toilet.

Colin
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Our first night in Colin the Campervan was spent at Mount Mauganui Beachside Holiday Park, in the Bay of Plenty region. Wow, what a setting for a campsite. We had the back drop of the mountain behind us with a gorgeous long stretch of beach to our right.

Campsite at Mount Mauganui
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As soon as we parked up Gav and I changed our shoes and headed off to climb the mountain. It was just an hour up to the summit and back down again (maybe more of a hill than a mountain?) and following this the three of us grabbed our swimsuits and nipped to the Hot Salt Water Pools that were right next door to the campsite. A long soak in the exothermically heated pools was just what the doctor ordered. The pools are open so whilst soaking in water we were able to gaze up at the mountain - pretty spesh if you ask me.

Mount Mauganui
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Hot Salt Water Pools
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The following day, after a morning stroll along the beach, we headed onwards to Roturua. I have since heard that Roturua has a bad reputation and is called the 'Vegas of the North Island'. Well we definitely didn't see anything that would warrant such a reputation. It did smell though, it's described as rotten eggs but it's probably closer to the smell of a spent matchstick. The smell is caused by the hydrogen sulphide wafting up through all the cracks and crevices of the earth’s crust that occur in the region. Imagine a scene from a film like Jurassic Park, with rainforest covered mountains oozing steam and lava from recently erupted volcanoes, bubbling mud pools and steaming lakes. That's what Roturua is like and, in fact, many parts of the North Island. You feel that you would not be at all surprised should a dinosaur appear in front of you. Although as Jane said, she would be bloody surprised if a dinosaur came around the corner, and I guess in reality I would too, but you know what I mean don't you?

Our campsite was on the banks of Lake Roturua, with a hot water beach separating us from the waters of the lake. The campsites were all geothermically heated which is basically like having under-floor heating installed. I imagine not so great on a hot night for those in tents. All the houses around the campsite that have steam pouring out of the earth in their gardens is a very strange sight!

Our first activity in Roturua was to visit the Te Puia Thermal Reserve, which was a stunning introduction to the geysers, hotpools and mudpools in the area. We were also given a free Māori cultural display which included traditional song and dance.

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Sylvie ejoyed a lunch of fresh corn on the cob that had been cooked in a thermal pool
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That evening we were picked up from the campsite and taken to the Matai Cultural Village for a Māori cultural evening that along with traditional song and dance included a Hangi meal which is a selection of meats and vegetables that are slow cooked in a traditional Hangi earth oven. It was a very entertaining and informative evening.

Hangi meal
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(Cultural show pictures to follow!)

It became apparent that we would need lots of early starts if we were going to fit in everything we wanted to see and do so on Wednesday 9th we dragged ourselves out of bed to go and see the hot water beach at Lake Roturua. I know this might seem really obvious but the water is really very hot indeed.

Lake Roturua
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Kuira Park in the centre of Roturua
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Next we sped off to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland determined to see the Lady Knox geyser erupt at 10.15am. We bumped into the lovely Sue and Jane in the car park and all wondered around the park together. There were some spectacular things to see there such as the Champagne Pool, however, the Lady Knox Geyser was a bit of a disappointment. Some chap comes out at 10.10am and pours a loads of what is basically washing powder into the spout of the Geyser and the geyser then spits it all back out again. Hmmmm. Apparently the washing powder just speeds up the process which would occur naturally around 4 times a day anyway. They just speed it up and have it happen at an exact time so that all of us lucky tourists get to see it without waiting around for hours. As I said, hmmmm.

Bubbling mud pool en-route to Wai-O-Tapu
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Wai-O-Tapu - Artists palette, Champagne Pool, thermal pool and Lake Ngakoro
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Next stop Taupo. Taupo is 80km south of Rotorua and is slap bang in the middle of the North Island. It has a magnificent lake in it's centre that reflects the Tongariro National Park's three volcanoes. We booked into a campsite a few kilometres out of the town and headed into town for a coffee whilst Sylvie took herself off on the 4hr walk to the Hukka falls and Craters of the Moon.

Lake Taupo
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Something Gavin and I were desperate to do was the Tongariro Crossing, a 7-8 hour, 18.5km hike from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi in the Tongariro National Park, 1886m high at it's higest point. It's described as one of New Zealand’s best one day hikes....it's also described as "challenging" but hey, we're up for a challenge!

On Thursday 10th we were picked up at 5.15am and taken by minibus to the starting point of the hike. During the journey the driver gave us leaflets and talked us through the times it should take, the dangers and gave us tips on how to complete the hike. That bit made me slightly nervous.

Oh, we are all smiles before the hard work begins aren't we....
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It was very challenging! The 'Devils Staircase' was the steepest climb up and I have to say I lost count of the amount of times I had to stop and catch my breath. Gavin 'Mountain Goat' Curley looked like he could have just jogged the whole thing and barely looked like he had used any energy at all until the very last 30 minutes or so. It was so worth the effort though, the views were out of this world. Every single step we took brought something new into our line of vision that made each (painful) step worthwhile.

Not so funny now is it young lady! The Devil's Staircase
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View from the Red Crater
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The Blue Lake and the Emerald Lakes
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She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes....
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Night-night
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I'm delighted that we finished the hike in 6 hours although we both promptly fell asleep as soon as we sat down on the minibus for the transfer back to the town.

That evening we camped in Reid Farm Campsite. Apparently some chap left his land to campers and backpackers and so all are allowed to camp there free of charge for up to 28 days. Of course there or no facilities but our campervan had a loo and Taupo has a "SuperLoo" which is a shower and loo block that you can use for a $2 fee. It has hairdryers etc and you can hire clean fluffy towels so it was no hardship to nip there to scrub our smelly selves before setting up camp for the night.

Reid Farm Campsite
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Did I mention that Taupo is the Skydive capital of New Zealand........oh didn't I?

15,000ft tandem skydive over Lake Taupo
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The official pictures taken on the day take up lots of memory so we can't add them on just yet as we have used our upload limit for the month. We'll update the page as soon as we can though.

We have the DVDs to entertain you all when we get home as well. You know that the camera never lies and that you will see that Sylv and I were actually ****ing ourselves. Gav was cool as a cucumber and was not the slightest bit apprehensive. You can really tell from his face that he loves every minute of the jump and got the most enjoyment from the experience of all three of us. He is already looking at when he can do his next one!

Still shell-shocked from our jump we drove for 5 hours from Taupo to Wellington and set up camp in the Lower Hutt area which is 13km out of the city. Sylv was left understandably a bit tired after throwing herself out of a plane and decided to stay in that evening whilst Gav and I went into Wellington for dinner and drinks. We celebrated being alive with a lovely tapas style meal and a bottle of local Savvy.

On Saturday 12th we had an 8am ferry crossing over to the South Island and on to the next part of our New Zealand adventure.

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Posted by Curleys 18:42 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking

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