Stuff to Write Home About: Volume 9 Issue 2 New Zealand North Island

In honour of the tenth anniversary of my trip to Australia and New Zealand, I am re-releasing blog entries originally published elsewhere. That was a fantastic year. Here is my latest entry. Enjoy!

Alright, so I have given a brief overview of my travels on the South Island of New Zealand, and now it’s time to tell you about the North Island. The North Island is said to be rich in culture, and that much is true. We took the ferry to Wellington. It doesn’t look like it’s a far distance between the South and North Islands, but the ferry ride was about 3 hours long. Fortunately, the sea was calm. Apparently, it can be quite dicey at times with even the toughest people feeling a little seasick. We arrived in Wellington and had a bit of a look around. It seems like a nice city. I think if it weren’t for the wind, it would be a place I’d like to live. There is an obsession with seismic activity in Wellington, and with good reason: there is a huge fault line running underneath it. The museum “Te Papa” is the best example of constructing a building to withstand an earthquake. There is a special section dedicated to describing this system and how it works. I won’t even attempt to describe it here, except to say that there is a combination of sliding and absorption of shocks. I may sound a bit nerdy, but it’s actually kind of cool. I have probably already mentioned that I’m not a huge fan of museums (I prefer art galleries) because I don’t get the fascination with the dead animals. That is still true, but Te Papa was the coolest museum I have ever been in. It was more about volcanoes, fire, and earthquakes than stuffed animals. Thus, I was content to spend a few hours in the place. Walking along the waterfront is quite nice as well, and the nightlife is way better than Christchurch.

Our next overnight stop was Lake Taupo. This lake is actually a flattened volcano, with the lake being the water-filled crater. It’s actually a rather relaxing place to be – going for a walk along the water and watching the sun set over the lake. We were next off to Rotorua. This town is famous for its hot springs and sulphur smell. Our tour manager said we’d get used to the smell in about 30 minutes. Maybe my sense of smell is rather special, but I couldn’t get used to it. I went to the thermal parks and looked at the boiling mud and got the sulphur smell in full effect. I don’t know how people live there with the smell, but the boiling mud is cool. In the evening, we had a Maori Hangi-style dinner and concert. That was really good. Everyone who attended it seemed to really enjoy it, and we learned some things about Maori culture. Definitely good times.

Waitomo was next. We were in Waitomo to see the caves. There was the option to tour the caves entirely on foot and completely dry, but I chose to do the Blackwater rafting. The water is black because it’s dark, and the raft is an inner tube that you sit on as you float through the caves. At times, we had to jump backwards from waterfalls and land on our butts (with inner tubes snugly attached). We were dressed in full wetsuits; boots, shorts and helmets with flashlights attached and went into the caves. It was really neat wandering through the caves with only our flashlights to see by, and sometimes we were without those. The glow worms dotted the ceilings of the caves and looked like green stars. This doesn’t sound as romantic if you happen to know that the pretty green glow is coming from their “poo”, but try not to think about it. I decided to just think about how pretty it looked. Our guides made us find our way out in the dark. Fortunately, we all found our way out; although I did tell the guide he could have my shoes if I got lost in the cave.

After Waitomo, we had a stop in Auckland and then headed up to the Bay of Islands and stayed in Paihia. It’s a nice beach/ resort town with lots of history and opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and the bay. I went dolphin spotting and sailing. I didn’t actually sail the boat, but I did help. I also had a nap on the hammock and went swimming. It was a perfect day. We had a couple of good nights out in Paihia as well. A few of us went over to Russell on the ferry and had dinner by the water. Bay of Island was fun and it was sad to leave.

At the end of the tour, I spent a few days in Auckland on my own.  I visited Rangitoto Island, which not surprisingly, was created by a volcano. I walked up to the summit and looked into the crater, and walked all over the little island. It used to be a popular weekend resort place, and there are some cottages called “bachs” remaining. That was a fun day. Some other highlights of Auckland were the shopping precinct of Queen St, and some really good pizza. I wasn’t a huge fan of Auckland mostly because “just over there” usually turned out to be “waaay over there”, which made my usual method of exploration (walking) more strenuous.  However, the parks are nice, especially the Domain, they have that tower, and as I mentioned good pizza. That’s it for my trip of NZ. Thanks to the Kiwis and my Contiki tour mates for helping make it a super fun and memorable trip.

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