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New Zealand - North Island

September 24th, 2009

We arrived in to Wellington off the ferry and immediately headed to the hotel that Ravi and Steve had stayed in on their way down to the South Island. Our (well Steve´s) first cock up of Wellington happened when he managed to put the wrong date on the parking ticket which resulted in him having to walk the 10 minute walk to the car five times. Once he’d managed to get the correct date we went in to town and spent an hour or so playing pool before hitting the sack.

Wellington didn’t exactly have much going for it so we drove up Mount Victoria, overlooking the harbour, for a few shots in the morning before driving up towards Wanganui for a little pit stop. It was on the way to Wanganui, some 70 minutes in to the drive, that we spotted Steve’s second cock up. Underneath the windscreen wiper was a little ticket. Wondering quite how we’d got a parking ticket, given the previous nights fiasco, we stopped and checked it out. Apparently, for parking facing the wrong way Steve was charged $40. Crazy.

Wanganui was a little dead to say the least. We’d never intended on staying there but thought it might be a nice stop off. There had been mention that there were nice walks/scenery around the area so decided to ask in the DOC (Department of Conservation) office what was available. Unbelievably the woman on the desk had absolutely no idea what there was to do in the area. She suggested the iSite would be better: it was. Our aim for the day had always been to get up to National Park near Tongariro. Unfortunately they couldn’t suggest any walks on the way up so we basically just took off in the car taking it easy so that we could take in the scenery which was, as usual, pretty stunning.

The journey up to National Park would take a little under two hours to drive. About 45 minutes in to the drive we spotted a lookout point and, seeing as they’re usually pretty impressive, decided to stop to take a look. It turned out to be a fairly large waterfall, Raukawa Falls in fact, and there was a small wooden lookout just off the road. Seeing as it was late afternoon the sun was low which meant that our photos were a bit rubbish. Obviously needing a great picture we went down through the bush (about 100 yards) to the river. To say it was a slippery slope is an understatement: I fell over several times covering my jeans and camera in mud. Once we’d taken our mediocre picturesRuakawa Falls we returned to the car to be greeted by a couple telling us that we had a flat tyre. Realising that the noise we’d heard, going around a corner earlier, was in fact the tyre going we “popped the trunk” and got the spare out. Neither of us had changed a tyre before but a few minutes later we had the “space saver” spare on. Unfortunately, this meant a maximum speed of 80kmh. We crawled in to National Park and had a bit of a chat with the hostel owner.

The flat tyre was not so much of a puncture, more of a health hazard. While the outside of the tyre had passable tread the inside of the tyre was completely bald, so bald, in fact, that Steve cut his finger on the metal. Spotting a possible insurance/rental rip-off problem we decided to cover our backs as we didn’t want to pay for the obviously terrible tyre. We popped to the police station and asked the onduty guy to have a look at the tyre and he said he’d back us up if the rental company refused to pay for it. Excellent, we thought, grabbed some food and hit the sack.

The following morning we’d signed up to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealands best one day walk. Tongariro national park is all about volcanoes. Mont Ruapehu being the largest with Mount Tongariro, now inactive but responsible for an absolutely monumental explosion several hundred thousand years ago, and Mount Ngauruhoe, the volcano best known for being Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. We’d been told by several people that the Alpine Crossing was not safe during the winter and that we should use a guide. So £50 later we were in a group of 10(ish) kitted out with crampons and ice axes and heading up the volcano. Either unfortunately or fortunately we had an absolutely stunning day and while this meant amazing views it also meant that me and Steve felt we could have just done it on our own. Anyway, it was a very good day, with the group’s pace not being too bad (a little slow at times.) We did at one point shoot off just to get the adrenalin going. We also had a bit of fun on the way down, sliding down about 150 yards of the volcano on our arses! I’ve got a video somewhere…Me on Tongariro in front of Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom)That night we somehow managed to get ourselves in to a pub quiz with the hostel owner. Neither me nor Steve really wanted to be in his team but it turned out to be an ok night. It was also quite fortunate because, had me and Steve done the quiz on our own, it would have been quite embarrassing. Our knowledge of New Zealand contemporary culture just isn’t quite there.

The following morning we (well the car) limped round to the garage so that we could blow up the now flat spare tyre. Realising we only had limited time on the spare we went as quickly as possible down the road hoping to spot the garage that the hostel owner had told us about. Thankfully we came across it and managed to get a new tyre pretty quickly. The mechanic even spoke to the rental company for us and sorted it all out!

Having been told by the hostel owner that the 42 Traverse bike ride wasn’t actually all that good we left National Park to go to Rotorua and try the mountain biking there instead. Rotorua is best known for its location on top of a seriously volcanic area. It’s so volcanic that people have geysers in their back gardens and hot bubbling pools pop up all over the place. It also stinks of Sulphur so quite why you’d want to permanently live there is beyond me. While we’d come to see that we’d also been told that the mountain biking just outside Rotorua was top notch as well.

We crashed for the night in Cactus Jacks, a wild west themed hostel (!!) but not before I’d visited Hell Pizza for dinner: love that place. Not very early the next morning we drove off to Whakarewarewa Forest in search of a mountain bike rental place and alledgedly the best mountain biking in New Zealand. Arriving at the car park we noticed a load of tree huggers but not much in the way of mountain bikes. Hedging our bets we started walking off towards the forest visitor centre but soon realised that it didn’t feel right. A couple rode past who told us that the guy is usually waiting in the car park but to try his warehouse round the corner. We did, and we found him (Planet Bike) and not long after were on some pretty decent bikes (disk brakes, 27 gears plus decent front suspension) and heading off in to the forest. This place is brilliant. I’ve done a fair bit of mountain biking but nothing anywhere near this organised. The forest is reserved for bikers only and has numerous semi-artificial tracks, both downhill and uphill, to enjoy. It’s amazing; if I grew up there I’d probably be on it every day.

Having spent three hours throwing ourselves around the forest we spent the rest of the afternoon on a little drive out to see the “green” and “blue” lakes just outside of Rotorua. To be honest not really worth it but for completeness! We spent another night in Rotorua before heading off fairly early up towards the Coromandel peninsula.

At this point we were pretty much running out of tourist attractions to visit what with it being winter and therefore not really beach weather. Regardless of that I wanted to see some of the northern area of the North Island so we first drove up to Whangamata, a fairly big but essentially lifeless town, before driving on to Thames for the night. Thames was actually smaller than Whangamata and our hostel was up for sale. I couldn’t really blame them, I’m not sure how they’d even cover their costs. It was, however, lively enough to give us a good Indian before we went back to the hostel and watched a couple of videos.

The next day we drove up to Whangarei and the Bay of Islands, and, more specifically, Paihia. While I’m sure this place is amazing in the summer it’s an absolute waste of time when it’s blowing a force 10 gale and raining cats and dogs. So we didn’t exactly stay long, just one night, before heading down to Auckland to finish our road trip.Goat Island Marine Park

Auckland, despite the amount of abuse it receives, is actually a fairly nice city. Nothing amazing, by all means, but it´s got some nice areas, is pretty clean and has pretty much everything you´d need. That, I´m afraid, is about as much as I can sell it.

As we had to return the beast (the rather sarcastically named hire car) on the Monday at some point we decided to make the most of that morning and head to the golf course before returning it, plus we had to move the car before 8am so decided to just head off then. Chamberlain Park Golf Course is just off highway 16 as you go west out of Auckland. We knew this very well but neglected to take a map or directions with us so just headed west out of the city. Unfortunately we managed to get on highway 1 heading over the estuary in completely the wrong direction. I took the first possible exit in order to get back on the highway in the opposite direction. However, what with it being rush hour, there was a considerable queue and we decided to “wing it” by trying to go around the opposite, albeit longer, way. This proved to be very fruitful, we did in fact get straight to the golf club, it just took 80 minutes longer than the 15 minute journey should have been.

Anyway we turned up at the golf club and got some hire clubs ($20 for a half set) and paid the green fee ($30, about
£12.50) and headed out to the first tee. At this point I was a little anxious as I hadn´t swung a club in a while and I hate playing golf when I´ve got no confidence in my shot. Things were made worse when a guy rocked up and we ended up playing a four ball with two locals. Anyway, in the end, my driving (just a 3 wood, left the obscene driver well alone) was pretty bloody good and my irons weren´t too bad. Putting, and short stuff, was, as always, useless. On a more positive note you´ve got to hand it to Auckland. Given the price the standard of the course was excellent. Very well maintained, fairly decent greens but, due to the clientele, a bit of a mess in places with irreplaced divots and unrepaired pitch marks. Oh, and the weather was amazing.

Having played an almost agreeable round of golf we headed back (the quick way) to the city centre in order to hand in the car. They managed to notice that a couple of hub caps were missing, and were going to charge us for them, until we mentioned that we needed reimbursing for the tyre, and then the manager said “No worries boys, forget what you owe us and le me pay you”. Ok, will do.

Auckland Sky Tower

Without a car we were then pretty much confined to Auckland so the next couple of days were pretty chilled out, just checking out the city and, for me, trying to get a replacement Yellow Fever certificate for South America.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
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