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Krista's Travels

North Island Roadtrip

USA | Monday, 13 April 2009 | Views [735] | Comments [1]

Ramona and I enjoying White Island, NZ's most active volcano

Ramona and I enjoying White Island, NZ's most active volcano

I just finished a 9 day roadtrip in a small minivan decked out as campervan with my buddy Ramona. She flew over from Sydney to meet up with me for a week and I was thrilled to have a friend to travel with for a bit! We had heaps of fun and the following will just be a brief wrap-up of the highlights.

Day 1: We both flew into the Auckland airport and took a taxi to pick up our cute, bright orange "spaceship" named Aries (see photo). We drove 2 hours to a campsite near Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula and set up camp in the dark. We slept peacefully to the sounds of the river.

Day 2: We drove up the gravel road from our campsite and took a few short bushwalks in the reserve, seeing our first massive Kauri trees. We then drove up the west coast and over the spine of the Coromandel, with beautiful views all around. We hiked to a beautiful beach then camped in teh parking lot for Hot Water Beach.

Day 3: We got up early and rented a shovel from the store. We hiked 5 minutes down the beach to an area where you can dig in the sand and make your own natural geothermal hot tub. This was WAY COOL! Even though we eventually were sharing the experience with at least 50 other people, it was so much fun. Even the older folks in the crowd had smiles like they were being kids again. It was a whole bunch of adults and a few kids doing reverse sand castle building. Every once in awhile a wave would destroy your progress and cave in your hole and you'd be back to a 2" pool again. No matter, what a cool, er, HOT thing to do! We went just down the road to Hahei beach for lunch before continuing a few hours done the road to a campervan park near Whatakane that had it's own geothermally heated pool (complete with heated floors in the changing rooms). We were eaten alive by mosquitoes that night, but enjoyed having a hot shower and kitchen to cook in.

Day 4: we woke early to get ourselves to Whakatane and on the boat for WHITE ISLAND: new zealand's most active volcano. We hiked around the crater area for 2 hours, put on gas masks for the acidic volcanic gases, and really enjoyed the otherworldly environment. It was an astounding, unforgettable day but I kept wondering where I would run if the bugger decided to blow its top again (like it did only a few years back). Afterwards, we drove to Rotorua and camped on the north end of the lake at a little grassy park with public toilets (not exactly a designated campsite but it was lovely all the same, and I collected lots of falling chestnuts to roast later).

Day 5: We spent the morning at the Polynesian Spa, enjoying lake views from our rock-lined pools of geothermal waters. Ahhh, Bliss!!! We were like jelly afterwards. That afternoon we got a tour of Whakarewarewa (that's the shortened version of the name) Thermal Village, where the local Maori tribe still live amongst the steaming vents and boiling mud pools. This was SO COOL! They all cook in the cooking area, where they stick their dinner in a wooden box set into the steaming ground, or put it in a bag which is lowered into the more than boiling waters (I think he said it was 150 degrees celsius coming out of the ground), so everything cooks much quicker than normal. They also bathe in communal hot tubs which are cleaned and refilled on a daily basis from the hot river. Very basic housing, but with so many of your needs provided by nature, it doesn't need to be much more! We camped that night at a DOC campsite on a lake south of Rotorua.

Day 6: Woke up to a gorgeous frosty sunrise over the swampy lake shore. We visited two great Yellowstone-esque parks today. The Rotorua area is pockmarked with separately operated thermal parks, each of which charges about $30 entry fee (that's about $18 US). Unlike Yellowstone, all the area inbetween is farmland or logging land. Still, the sights are similarly impressive, even thought the geysers are a bit smaller and less of them. We went to Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland first. Despite the name it is incredible. Then we went to Orekai Korako, which is accessed by a quick boat ride across a lake. Both had boiling mud pools, colorful pools, terraces, geysers, and lots of steaming vents. The only thing missing were the buffalo, moose, and wolves. We drove to the edge of Tongariro National Park that night and camped at a small DOC campground.

Day 7: Ramona tackled the Tongariro Crossing today. What a Champ! I enjoyed her pictures but decided not to test my knees on that 19km (12 miles) hike over hill and dale across Volcanic alpine mountain passes. The track goes between two volcanoes, one of which is Ngauruhoe, otherwise known as Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings. The other volcanoe nearby that takes up the skyline on all the hikes we did is Mt. Ruapehu, which blew its top in 1995 and 1996. The Tongariro Crossing is touted as the best one day hike in NZ. I believe it. Ramona knocked it off in only 6 hours or so. I on the other hand took a leisurely 2 hour stroll through alpine and forest, waterfalls and mountain views, then napped for a few hours, and later hiked another hour to take more pictures of Mt. Doom. We spent the evening in the sauna of a lodge at the ski village we were basing our hikes out of (Whakapapa) and returned to camp again at the DOC camp down the road to freeze ourselves silly for the second night in a row. Did I mention it was arctic in Tongariro, despite the off and on sunshine? Gloves and hat and fleeces and raingear for wind protection even at mid day!

Day 8: We did a 2 hour hike to Silica Rapids, another one with amazing mountain views. Mt. Doom finally showed its top for about 5 minutes (the clouds incessantly hide the tip). Silica rapids are a really pretty yellowy terraced section of river. We soaked up the alpine vegetation and expansive views one last time and headed down. We drove to Waitomo Caves mid day. We toured the glowworm caves there, where you get to walk through the caves with 50 other folks, then at the end they stick you in a boat and you travel through the pitch dark cave down the river gazing in awe at thousands of glowing insects that look like the starry sky in an area free of light pollution. The glow worm is actually a maggot that uses its light to attract river insects that then get trapped in its many hanging sticky "fishing lines" that it weaves and drops from the ceiling. Real cool, despite the touristy nature of it! We camped at a hostel for our last night so we could clean and pack up and enjoy the shower and warm, log fire in the lodge.

Day 9: A sad day, I dropped Ramona at the Auckland airport, dropped off the rig, and made my way into the Parnell neighborhood of the city to rest up and plan the last 2 1/2 weeks of my trip. Thanks Ramona, I had a blast!



Okay. Totally envious now.

  Chris Apr 16, 2009 3:04 AM

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