|New Zealand's North Island
I had about three weeks left to explore the north of New Zealand. My way led from New Zealand's capital Wellington into the active volcanic center around Mt Ruapehu and Mt Tongariro, on to the geysers of Rotorua, along the subtropical beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula and the Northland and finally into Auckland, Polynesia's largest city.
Arriving on the North Island Wellington showed why it is called the windy city. Must be a good spot for windsurfing over here. Unfortunately, I did not have time for that as I had to move on north. So I went for a bit of sightseeing in New Zealands capital the next day and visted the national museum Te Papa. The next morning, however, it was time to get back to nature again and so I took the train to Mt. Ruapehu and Tongariro NP.
Leaving Wellington at sunrise, I arrived on the central volcanic high plateau in the early afternoon. Coming from the south it was quite clear and I had some nice views of Mount Ruapehu (on the picture), an active volcano which is the highest elevation of NZs North Island. Originally I wanted to cycle for 60 km up to Turangi but strong winds and rain approaching from the north west raised doubts in me whether I could make it there before darkness and so I decided to stay in a backpackers in the tiny settlement of National Park village.
The next morning a small shuttle bus took me and some others to the start of the Tongariro Crossing, which is considered to be the best one day walk in New Zealand.
|Unfortunately, the weather forecast did not look very promising with low clouds and even lower temperatures. But we decided to go on the track anyway and started the 17 km route with about 20 others that wanted to take this challenge in spite of the weather. In the first minutes on the track, small clusters of independent hikers were formed, mainly depending on the walking speed of the individuals. So I went alongside another German and two Frenchmen and climbed the first ridge from about 900 metres above sea level to the South Crater at 1600 metres. Our hopes for getting above cloud base and having these magnificent views for which the track is also famous for, however, have not been fulfilled. Instead we climbed deeper and deeper into the clouds and it just became wetter and, of course, colder, the higher we got. But it was a very special experience in this rough and mysterious landscape.|
|Originally we wanted to take a side track and climb to the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe. But bad sight and temperatures close to freezing level forced us to stay on the track. We made our way through the South Crater and the Red Crater towards the ridge of the Central Crater at about 1900 metres. In the meantime, the winds had increased to storm level and it became a challenge, much tougher than all of us had expected. On our way down the northern slopes we walked alongside the Emerald Lakes and were able to experience the activity taking place beneath the ground. The strong smell of sulphur was everywhere and it became hard to tell which clouds originated from the sky and which ones from the volcano.|
|Following the track we came to a corner with a sign showing: Hot springs - Do not enter this area. Without this sign, we would never have entered that area since it did not look very promising. But as we were all very keen to get to a hot spring, we had no choice but to leave the track. In the rough terrain we did not really know what to follow and so we orientated on the smell of sulphur and the sound of water in search of that spring. It became quite steep and rocky as you can see on one the pictures but we finally found some water running over rocks that was not boiling hot but it had a comfortable temperature of 30 to 40 degrees. But what was even more impressive were the bright white, green and red colours which the minerals in the water created on the rocks.|
|Afterwards, we were happy to discover the track below us on the
slopes of the mountain and when we made our way there it became a more
gentle walk into denser vegetation. Eventually, below 1000 metres we
descended through native rain forest and alongside nice waterfalls to
the end of the track. Over there our shuttle bus brought my bike and I
decided to take it on another bus which was collecting tourists going to
Taupo as I was not able to cycle another 50 km after that exhausting
Skydiving on Lake Taupo
As the end of my time in NZ came closer I could not afford to take a day of rest and so the next morning I went skydiving at sunrise before heading the 90 km from Taupo to Rotorua. It was a beautiful morning with just a few clouds and I was quite confident that I really wanted to go skydiving. But as I entered the plane and it started to rise in the air, my nervousity rised as well.
|When we reached 12,000 ft and the first pair jumped out of the plane I really thought I was absolutely mad to do that stuff. Within seconds it was our turn and I was sitting on my knees in front of that open door staring towards the ground 4000 metres below me. A slight push by the guide behind me, who was connected to me and even more importantly carried the parachute, and we dropped out the plane and rolled over once. Suddenly, my mood changed from scared to death to indescribably excited and I felt how we were falling down towards the earth at 220 km/h. You can control the way you go by lifting your arm and easily turning into that direction. So 50 km across Lake Taupo I could even see the volcanoes of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, which I had not been able to one day ago when I crossed them on the track. After somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute I started to become nervous again since the ground came quite close. But then my guide opened the parachute and allowed me to steer it a bit before scaring me again by doing some stuff that you should never ever do with a paragliding canopy. Landing on the ground quite softly I was that flashed that I was only able to lie down and laugh for a while... Whenever anyone of you has got the chance to go skydiving, DO IT! No matter how expensive it is, its worth it! It kept me so happy and stoked all day long on the not very exciting route on the highway to Rotorua.|
The next day, I went on a day-trip to the Waitomo Caves. This extensive system of caves is famous for its glow-worms and, as it is located in NZ, for the sports activities taking place in the caves. So I was equipped with a very thick wetsuit, other funny layers of clothes and a helmet with a lamp, as you can see on the picture. Afterwards everyone was given a big black truck tube which had to serve as our raft in the tiny cave. We entered the cave through a small hole between the rocks and had to climb upwards for a bit. Then we had to jump from a few waterfalls until we started to float on an underground river through the caves. Switching of the lights on our helmets we could see the thousands of tiny glow-worms hanging from the ceiling like stars on the nightly sky. After about one hour we were floating into the daylight again and made our way back to the visitor centre where we were rewarded with a revitalising hot shower.
I arrived in Rotorua in the evening and still had enough energy to go out with some guys of my hostel. So, we went to a pub with live music and I had the best night going out since I had left Queenstown about a month ago. The next morning I was a bit hung over but still able to experience what Rotorua is famous for: Any kind of thermal activity from hot mud pools sounding like spinach...
|...over rocks covered by a layer of sulfur that emit gases,
reminding you of rotten eggs...
|...to geysers that suddenly throw huge amounts of hot water into the air. Altogether really bizarre landscapes, which you can see on the pictures, are formed, creating a deep impression of natures forces.|
In the afternoon I left towards the Pacific coast again and went to the Coromandel Peninsula. My first stop was at a place called Hot Water Beach where thermal activity is taking place under the sand. And if you dig a deep hole during low tide you can have your very own hot pool on the beach. Arriving in Hahei I was very happy to stay in my tent again after a couple of days in hostels.
|This tiny former fishing village on the Coromandel close to the famous Cathedral Cove rock formations is among the places with the highest property prices throughout NZ. If you have got a look on the photos you can possibly guess why.|
|The next morning I went on a sea-kayak tour through the marine
We surrounded some islands and surfed waves with our big kayaks before we were landing on a beach close to Cathedral Cove (next picture).
|I spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach and cycling along this magnificent coastline for a bit. Here was the place were both Europeans in the late 18th century and Polynesians a few centuries earlier, started to settle the islands of New Zealand or Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, as the Maoris call it.|
|The following day I crossed the peninsula and discovered some of
the last Kauri forests in New Zealand.
These massive, slow-growing trees once covered large areas of the North Island before mainly European settlers cut them down for timber and in order to create space for their sheep.
From the west coast of Coromandel Peninsula I was already able to watch up to Auckland, 60 km away across the sea.
I talked to fisherman in the harbour and asked in the local pubs as well but there was no way to get there on the water. So I had to cycle about 200 km on the land route to make it to NZs largest city.
Fortunately, on the campsite where I had to stop on the way, they had discovered a hot spring and so I was able to take a relaxing bath in water of about 40 degrees next to my tent after a long day on my bike. What a splurge...
Arriving in Auckland I had 4 days left before my flight departed to Melbourne and so I left to the far north the following morning. My first stop was at Pahia in the Bay of Islands. Here me and a guy from the UK borrowed canoes from our hostel and paddled through the waves of the bay. However, these dodgy little canoes were not as stable as they should be for going on the sea. It almost cost the life of my camera when a wave caught me and sent me over the rocks. Fortunately, I could stay on top and get away from the rocks to the beach. When pulling my canoe on shore, I realised that it had put on weight since we left from Pahia The reason for that was a hole in the back which slowly filled it with water After emptying the canoe on the beach I tried to make the way back a bit quicker as I did not want to end up as a submarine
|My last days before heading back towards Auckland I spent in Ahipara on the Ninety Mile Beach. There I found time to relax and reflect upon these exciting two months in one of the most beautiful countries of the world. But, of course, I could not miss out on surfing the waves which have become famous by the movie The Endless Summer in the 1960s. It was the perfect end for my longest period of travelling so far. It has not always been easy, I had tough moments on my bike and elsewhere and moments where I have been tired of travelling. But every night I had the feeling that it was worth all the effort of the day. And now, in the end, I will keep an experience in my mind that will make me happy, whenever I think about it.|
|The final day in Auckland
The last day I did some city sightseeing in Auckland. So I started with the Skytower, the tallest building in the southern hemisphere.
|Up there I ws rewarded with some magnificient views over Aucklands
center and the more than 30 volcanoes the city is situated upon.
Finally, I was heading to the airport where it ended the way it has begun in Christchurch about two months ago:
|With a night on the airport. As you can see on the final picture, it was again a random mix of cultures in our provisory dorm with backpackers from Australia, Canada, Brazil and Germany.|
|Click here to go back to the South Island|