Auckland is NZ's largest city, with 1.4 million, or roughly one quarter of country's population. But, Auckland is NOT the capital. Don’t get that wrong at your next trivia.
Wellington is the capital, which is where the ferry takes you when coming from the south island.
Wellington is a fun city, and in addition to being the political capital of NZ, also happens to be the beer capital (apparently one country can have two beer capitals, fine with me). While we were here, we stayed with a Wellingtoner that we met in Borneo.
So now we’re in the north island. What’s different here? Well it’s noticeably more multicultural, it’s a little warmer (once you leave Wellington), and it’s very volcanic. I’m sure those last two points have nothing to do with each other.
Although the north island doesn’t have the adventure glamour of Queenstown, we still get a chance to do some pretty intense rafting (Rangitaiki River seen below), caving, and even get to climb the mythical Mount Doom (or Mt Ngauruhoe, for non LOTR fans).
You can’t talk about New Zealand without talking about the Maori. Just like the Americas, Australia, Africa, and many parts of Asia, Europeans clashed with natives upon arrival, often with terrible results for the local population. Through different conversations, I was able to gather a few points that make present-day New Zealand able to have the pretty good Maori relations it exist.
After Wellington, our next big target was the Tongariro Crossing, another one of NZ’s Great Walks. These Great Walks are an excellent bit of marketing on the government’s part, creating a comprehensive list of “must-do” hikes (and rightly so) for your time in NZ.
Together, the Great Walks wonderfully highlight the diversity of NZ’s scenery, and Tongariro is no different. It is a stark, volcanic landscape that conjures up images of Tolkien’s Mordor… actually this is where Mordor was filmed in the movies. The Great Walk through here covers about 43km, we did maybe 15-18km or so in and out.
Mordor was awesome, but Mt. Doom lived up to its name. It’s a pretty obvious volcano that you can climb up. This was a challenge set before us by someone, so we kinda had to do it. Basically a 45 degree incline up rocks and sand, which for me was unsettling. Then you have a “skree” ski downhill through the sand.
A scary 2.5 hours up hill, a care-free 20 minutes down. Another beautiful day though, we really got lucky.
Rotorua is a small town that smells like sulfur, because the whole area is volcanic. When I say the whole area is volcanic, I essentially mean that volcanoes and thermals occupy a good chunk of the island.
The Waitomo caves were a neat experience. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as claustrophobic, I would say that there are a number of things about being deep in a cave that make me anxious. Like what if an earthquake happens? What if I get stuck in a space I can’t fit through? Etc.… none of these things happened of course, and I even fit through all the spaces.
And THEN…we went to Hobbiton.
I could go on gushing, but instead I’ll just say that Hobbiton is a good spot to visit.
But if you’re a fan? Well ya just gotta go! It was as green and rolly like I’d hoped for, and the feast at the Green Dragon was just icing on top.
And in some ways, that was it.
Visiting Hobbiton was our last “big ticket”, planned item for the trip.
We then had some coastal beauty in the Coromandel peninsula. The peninsula is renowned for its beaches, particularly “hot water” beach, a place if you dig more than a few inches you hit hot water. So you literally dig your own hot tub, right in the sand.
But since, you know, it’s heated by like a volcano, it actually does get too hot at times, thus requiring some ocean water dilution.
THEN… we’re in Auckland…the van is returned… and we’re on someone else’s schedule… the company of Anna and Zenon.
We were thrilled to not have to plan stuff or drive ourselves places. So the duo took us further north to Anna’s family's “Bach” (pronounced 'batch' – A holiday home or beach house), and we’re introduced to the wonders of NZ Lager and Fris-chair, a fantastic conclusion to the 6 weeks.
And that was 14 months. Japan to New Zealand and a few places in between.
Hang in there for one more. You know, final thoughts, summaries, photos, usual wrap up stuff.