Thursday, January 26, 2012

Northland, a Crime Wave and Cruising on a Cat

After spending some time with the Hills over Christmas we decided to take a roadie to the north part of the island. We left quite late in the day and arrived at a free beach campsite after dark. Driving the gravel road in the rain after dark was slightly unnerving (at one point, just for a second, all the lights and headlights of the car went off then came back on, just to keep us on edge), but we survived to tell the tale. The beach was at Te Arai heads, and in the morning we woke to blue skies and breaking waves. Kel went for a long walk on the beach while I started to glue the lock back together to fix the window lock that was destroyed in the first break in.

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We continued north and spent New Years at a DOC campsite. It was the second time we paid for a campsite, and made us both thankful that we were here in the off season; the campsite was FULL of people, and although everybody was very respectful, but there are just to many people around. We tried to make it to new years but we ended up making some nice mussels, falling asleep with very full and sated stomachs, and waking up at 3 am for a belated new years. We felt very old, but hey, we were tired!

We woke up and rocked up north. I have to say, the north of New Zealand is beautiful in a rustic way, but it is full of pretty shabby little towns, and just doesn’t feel very welcoming. That night it took a long time to find a camp, and we ended up on ninety mile beach, which is in fact 90 km long, and leads all the way to the northern most point of NZ. We arrived just in time to celebrate New Years back home, 6pm and toasted the event with a bottle of NZ bubbles. The beach was absolutely covered in jellyfish! They were everywhere! The plan was to drive up the beach to the tip, just to say we did, but we were not feeling it, so we just drove south on the beach. It was the highlight of Northland, the little van performed admirably.

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Again, that night, we took a long time to find a place to stay. Our SCUBA course started the next day at 9 am, so we wanted to be close to Auckland. We decided to sleep at a place called Bethells Beach. We were doing a cool walk to some sand dunes when some locals we had been talking to ran back to us to told us our van had a window broken! Second time in a week, and the opposite window wasn’t even locked, as the lock was still broken. They stole our bags this time. Bit of a bummer, to say the least. We were pretty fed up at this point! We ended up spending the night with the locals, who were really great people and fed us like kings. Meeting them was a nice silver lining to the second break in. Also, the lock from the broken window worked perfectly for fixing the other window! Hurray!

The next four days were all about scuba. The course was really fun, with 3 days of diving. Our class was only 6, and all of our peers were friendly, which made the course more fun. It was really just so cool to be under water for a hour, with schools of King fish and Snappers swimming around you. We will definitely be doing lots of it in the future, hopefully in Australia. Despite all the cool fish we saw, Kel’s favorite part of the whole week was shaving my beard off and cutting my hair. I guess it’s been awhile. We were so fed up with the van and getting our things stolen that we sort of crawled back to the sailboat in Viaduct harbor. We cleaned all our stuff out of the van, left all the windows open, and put it up for sale. There was a fair bit of work to do around the boat, fixing the hot water tank, gooseneck, and the bowsprit. This took a few days, and in the night we cruised around Auckland. We sold the Van for 2000 bucks just two days later, with a Lexan window I put in for 28 bucks. .

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Footloose and fancy free, we took off for a week on the Catamaran, all around the Haurangi Gulf. We stayed at Waiheke Island first, then went over to Great Barrier Island. We spent three days in smokehouse bay, where I speared my first fish, and spent countless hours unsuccessfully trying to kill another fish. Any other fish. At all. There was a fantastic bathhouse, with a wood fired heater, and a smokehouse to smoke our nonexistent fish. Kel and I went over one day and started the fire and had an incredibly relaxing afternoon in a hot bath.The bath was great, and all the other people smoking fish made it look like the smokehouse was also pretty fantastic.

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Great Barrier Island has some fantastic hikes, and we did the summit hike, which takes you up to the peak of the 639m mountain. Its actually quite strenuous, even thought the trail is well made. Just so steep! Interestingly, it is the only nesting ground for several species of bird, and has some of the first settlements in New Zealand. Kel took a spill at a Kauri dam, used to make a reservoir of water to flush Kauri logs down a small stream. She fell about 10 feet down a steep wall, but luckily the rock was so slick and well warn that she might as well have been on a waterslide. She was shaken and only had some scratches on her thigh. Still, it was scary to watch.

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We left Great barrier for Kawau Island, which was owned by a rich Governor. He built a huge house, and imported several exotic species, including wallabies, peacocks, and pine trees... these were apparently really rare in NZ at one point, but they seem to be everywhere around the island now. Kel and I went on a walk around one point of the island to a cool old copper mine. The rocks around the tunnels were covered in patina, it was quite pretty. On the way back to the bay we spotted several wallabies which was pretty exciting. The island is pretty cool, and they sold ice-cream which was quite a treat… the provisions were getting a little low towards the end of the trip. Last stop was Islington bay, where we did another walk to a volcanic crater on Rongitoto Island. The morning was rainy, but as we reached the summit of the crater, the clouds cleared, and we had a pretty spectacular view of Auckland and the surrounding Hauraki gulf.

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We high tailed it back to the mainland, and are now in a marina in Bayswater, across the bay from Auckland. We went out for some pizza and beer this evening, which was a damn fine way to end our trip to NZ. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day, getting ready to leave on the 24th to Australia. Our main concern is finding new bags to hold our stuff.

Last night we finally got our act together and booked flights out of Australia. We leave the 14th from Oz to Hawaii, and then the 26th from Hawaii to Toronto. We will be spending most of our time on Hawaii on the big Island, with Ellin and Anna for 3 days and hiking a big track for the rest of it. Back in Toronto the afternoon of the 27th!

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Crater Lakes and Christmas on a Catamaran Part 1

It’s been awhile since we last posted, and it’s been a busy few weeks, so this post should be a long one, and in fact will be in 2 parts. You can find Part 2 posted below this one. A few weeks ago we were hiding from the rain and gale force winds in New Plymouth. After driving the west coast highway, aptly named the Surf Highway, we were a little bummed that we couldn’t see 5 m in front of us do to the fog/mist/rain. We spent quite a bitt of time hanging out in the New Plymouth museum and library and found a neat camp site just out of the city. We also managed to dodge a 200 dollar fine for not displaying current registration on the car. It involved a trip to the district council, a well worded letter of explanation, and Kelly looking very col, wet, and sorry as she made our case to the clerk.

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We decided to brave the weather and climb Mt.Taranaki, an inactive but not yet extinct volcano. We climbed up to a beautiful hut for the night and met some pretty cool people; a Canadian turned Kiwi, a Kiwi and a Spaniard. We played crib, drank wine and had a really lovely night despite the weather. The next morning the clouds were still looming around, with bursts of wind and rain but we decided we could do the climb. The Spaniard, Ouri, came with us and after the first hour the clouds cleared and we had a wicked climb up. The face of the mountain is quite steep and mostly scoria, a black volcanic rock, making it a two steps up, one step back sort of climb. We were told we wouldn’t be able to walk across the crater sans ice axe and cramp-ons, but when we arrived at the top we found what a Canadian would consider a heavy frost... well maybe a bit more than that, but not enough to be a problem at least The crater made for a nice spot to play a little snow baseball and we eventually made it up to the top for some spectacular views and some pictures of Ouri and oursleves wishing a “Bon 2012!” to everyone at home. We made a quick descent, which was a lot of fun and some trouble for Kelly’s geriatric knees.


The following day we took the forgotten highway to Tongariro National Park, where we discovered it was $20.40/person/night to camp outside of the huts on the Northern Circuit Tramp in the park. I’m sure you’ve all guessed that we didn’t pay and decided to camp 500 m off the track instead for free. We woke up early early the next morning and started what we thought would be a 4 day, 3 night hike, which we ended up cutting to 3 days, 2 nights. The first day was a beautiful walk in the shadows of Mt Doom, or as they call it here, Mt Ngagaruhoe. The planes were filled with red tussock and other sub alpine vegetation. We reached the first hut and pushed on, up the Mangatopopo saddle, the first steep climb of the tramp. Upon arriving at the top we were met with hail and rain, after a completely clear and beautiful day. We set up camp in the rain, and obviously it stopped as soon as we were done. It was alright though, the sunset made for gorgeous lighting atop the saddle with the surrounding lava flow rocks and remarkable tussock. Camping on top of an active volcano is sweet, for the record. The next morning we woke up early yet again and started out on what has been called the “best one day walk in the world”. John’s idea was to “dance the Tongariro Crossing” and did quite the job of it. The ground was red with iron oxide and we climb up to the red Crater, an active vent of Mt. Tongariro. The far side of the crater goes down to the Emerald lakes, perfect blue green lakes surrounded by thermal vents. We descended further into the desert side of Mt. Ngagaruhoe to the second hut where we had a quick lunch and continued on through the undulating hills to the third hut. We were met yet again by a powerful afternoon shower and decided to push on for another hour. We set up camp on an island of an old stream bed in the sand. We got black sand on EVERYTHING, but it was a cozy night. It was a long, 8 hour day and we feel asleep early. The last day we walked the remaining part of the track in 3 hours, three and quarter hours faster than the Department of Conservation time. We left Tongariro and made our way up to Lake Taupo for the greasiest fish and chips both of us have ever had. Despite our very upset stomachs, it was well worth it, but we will not be indulging again. I think that we have become unable to digest grease after the wholesome food we ate so regularly.


Continuing on our drive north we spent lunch in Rotarua and pushed on to a beauty campsite with hot water showers in the Bay of Plenty. Hot showers are a rarity in our life. The campsite was great, we got fresh strawberries and met some fellow Canadians from Banff. Our last bit of driving took us past a wicked old mining tunnel system that we explored for quite a while. We walked around in the tunnels which were filled and with glow worms.