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Northward Bound

NEW ZEALAND | Thursday, 6 June 2013 | Views [730]

All ferry crossings the following day were cancelled! Again I was lucky although it was far from a smooth trip. Arriving in Wellington in the dark, I find that navigation here is no easy task. I know that the hostel is about 20 minutes away and that I need to head north on the S1 highway, the difficulty is in knowing where to come off. Eventually I pull off and head to McDonalds where I can at least get internet. Unfortunately nothing on my Google map indicates where I actually am and I am obliged to go in and ask a somewhat bemused couple which town I was in. One more junction and I am just about blown into the hostel by high icy winds.

Moana Lodge kindly gave me my own room - a double bed, real towels, two pillows and an electric blanket. When you are long-term travelling things that previously were common place become total luxury on the road!

Plans to head North via Lake Taupo and Rotorua are scrapped when the next morning it is confirmed that the Desert Highway (S1) has been closed due to snow. It seems inconceivable given that Wellington is basking in late autumn sunshine this morning! I decide to set off anyway and re-route via New Plymouth if I am to have any chance of getting the car back on time. Not sure what I will find, I keep to coastal roads where possible and still see very little. I am soon frustrated as any views are passing me by beca­use there are no pull-ins and picnic areas are set behind thick foliage. It appears that the North Islan­d does not accommodate sightseeing. Navigating the coastal road around Mt Egmont however, I am able to stop just long enough to take a couple of photos.

Sunflower Lodge accommodates and the next morning I am heading off towards Waitomo Caves, famous for its glow-worms. By the time I arrive I am concerned I will not have enough time for the minimum 2 hour tour so I opt to visit the tiny Piri Piri caves and the Makopa Falls which were pretty. Heading off I find none of the towns signposted are on my map and before I know it, I am in an unmapped area about 45 minutes south of where I was heading! A kindly chap invites me to follow him through the series of badly marked winding roads that eventually bring us out to Hamilton. By now my opinion of the North Island is struggling and I decide to head straight through to Auckland where I can unload the car and return it without an early morning start.

Ponsonby Backpackers has become my New Zealand home and it feels good to go back somewhere I know and meet up with people I met a few weeks before. I may not be a huge fan of Auckland and the North Island so far, but Holly has been baking and the cup-cakes she hands around definitely go some way to raise the spirits.

The extensive distances I have covered in the last 12 days, being driver, navigator, sight-seer and blogger have left me feeling pretty exhausted. I drop the car off and head up the Sky Tower, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s rather overcast, but the views are good. Feeling slightly dizzy I congratulate myself for walking over the glass floor squares as I turn to see someone doing the sky jump experience. Jumping a mere 192 metres off the Sky Tower, now why would anyone choose to do that?

There is something about a cold, overcast or drizzly day. It’s a sort of unwritten permission to stay indoors and catch your breath - which is exactly what I do the following day. I forge a plan for my last few days in New Zealand. I am giving North Island a chance to impress me and booking a bus up to Paihia on the Bay of Islands and then a brief trip to Rotorua to experience the geysers and mud baths.

Sunday arrives bringing glorious blue skies and warm winds. Rachael and I decide that as the sun is shining, the water beckons and we duly head out to Devonport on the ferry. Ritchie has decided to come along and we wander along some of the little beaches there and climb to the highest point for a fabulous view of the mainland and surrounding islands. It is amazing how a sunny day can change the whole perspective of a place. People are out promenading and boats dot the harbour on the sparkling waters. The greyness is lifted and with it some of that oppressive gloomy feeling you come to dread living in the UK. There is a strong passion for the outdoor life in this part of the world, and when the sun comes out, so do the people.

Tags: backpacking, car hire, desert highway, glow worms, makopa falls, mt egmont, new zealand, paihia, ponsonby backpackers

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