Wellington and Cook Strait

The city of Wellington is quite small (~150K) in European standards to be called the capital, but its strategic position right on the edge of the Cook Strait makes it a great place to conduct business out of. The city itself is quite nice, even though a bit windy at times. I'd say, it is almost like walking in miniature San Francisco without the fog. We decided to spend a good 4 days in the city, so were obviously looking for the cheapest accommodation available in the form of tent sites. The only one in the city for tents is the Rowena's Lodge, which has a small lawn where tents are set up in a very random chaos with no privacy. What would be considered 3 campsites at a regular motor camp, served quite well to accommodate at least 13 tents, so you can imagine the zipper pulling symphony during the morning and evening hours. However, don't let that fool you, Rowena's is actually quite nicely situated close to the center, with an OK parking lot and reasonably priced, so a little bit of invasion of privacy is a very small price to pay for this place.

There is a great museum of New Zealand in Wellington called TePapa which is actually free of charge, except a few exhibitions inside which you of course have a choice not to attend. There you will learn about New Zealand's beginnings, its tough times, stories of immigration over the years, animals including the 4 types of kiwis and the extinct giant moa bird. You can even experience a real-like earthquake in one of the exhibits which is really not that exciting, but a good attraction.

As in SF there is a cable car. However, this one is not really on a regular street, it is more similar to the one in Prague to the Petrin tower. It leads to a beautiful botanical garden with great views of Wellington. There is a luscious rose garden and many other areas with New Zealand's plant life. On the way from the garden you will more than likely pass around the parliament buildings and the Beehive, which is an architectural splendor of Wellington. After the walking, I couldn't resist and had to go swimming in one of the outdoor pools near the Beehive (the only outdoor pool in Wellington that I was able to find).

There is also a pretty tasty Maori owned restaurant in the area of the town right by Rowena's. It is called "Kai in the city". Maori live music makes sure during the evening that everyone is involved and each guest even learns a bit of Maori when they are involved in singing a song. The meals are not too big, so make sure you are not starving when you go there, but they are very delicious.

The last day in Wellington, we hopped on a ferry over the Cook Strait which was quite comfortable as the weather was wonderful and it took about 3 and a half hours. The scenery of the South island's Marlborough Sounds when the ferry was coming in was just spectacular. After arrival we decided to head to the least rainy spot in New Zealand, Nelson.


Waking up after the hike in Tongariro National Park was interesting. Painful, actually. I don't think I have ever gotten out of bed with such strange choreography. It seems that knees have muscles in the strangest places, and all of them were aching from all those steep climbs - I was walking like Robocop. The stiff posture along with rainy weather made us decided to head for East Coast and spend a few lazy days in Napier.

The timing to visit Napier turned out to be perfect, since the town was celebrating its annual Art Deco -festival, honouring the style and sophistication of the 1920s and 1930s. Pretty much all the locals were dressed up according to the fashion of the time, up to the tiniest details with pearls, gloves and accents. We even saw Charlie Chaplin, moustache and all! There is naturally a story behind such festivities. In 1931 a huge earthquake destroyed pretty much the whole town, after which the town was rebuilt according to Art Deco Style. So even without the Charlie Chaplins, the place already reminds you of those two decades.

There is also a parade with hundreds of spit-and-polish vintage cars, an airplane show and big band music everywhere. If you are a sucker for Agatha Christie's murder mysteries, this is definitely a place worth going. It was incredible! Though we did not exactly fit in with our broken beach bum clothes and flipflops, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Hooray weird festivals!

Tongariro National Park

Hey are there any Lord of The Rings -fans out there? Me, I confess, I have a bad case of LOTR-obsession - If I could live in a hobbit hole or grow a Gandalf-beard, I would. Therefore I was extremely excited to enter the Tongariro National Park, home to Mount Doom and other great sceneries in the epic film.

The National Park is located about 70km south from Taupo, and is known for mountains and volcanoes. Most of the visitors go trekking in the area, so we decided to put the boots on and walk through Tongariro Crossing, known as one of the best one-day hikes in New Zealand. We read the warnings carefully ('be fit and wear woollypants'), packed a lot of food and a lot of clothes, and woke up at 5 a.m. the next day to start the 18 km journey.

The walk was definitely challenging, with some serious climbing in steep hills. However, the scenery was simply amazing. We had a great clear weather so we had a nice view over Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu, which were both used in creating Mordor and Mount Doom. Apparently both of these volcanoes are still active, though no major eruptions has happened in years. The picture on the right shows you, from left to right, Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe and the Red Crater.

Along the way were many huge craters and gorgeously blue lakes. We walked about 7 hours, during which we had many snack breaks, several layers of clothes the higher we went and numerous 'is the wind going to blow me into the crater' -moments. Though tough, it was well worth the effort. We were lucky with the views, the next day it was pissing rain and the mountains were all covered in clouds.

'Fartytown' aka Rotorua and Lake Taupo

Following the beautiful scenery in Coromandel, we parked Frodo in the sulfur smelling city of Rotorua. This town is well known for its bad smell from the local thermal pools, for Maori culture, hippie like attitude and a lot of spas. We didn't really do as much as we could have in this town, but made sure to get as much of the smell as possible. First day we headed about 30 km south of Rotorua to Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland which has a large amount of different craters, pools, steaming mud and other extremities. The entrance fee is a bit on the expensive side (about $27/person), but it is worth it (you'd be surprised how one starts paying more-than-usual attention to discount vouchers during travelling :)). There are several paths/walks one can take throughout the park. The longest one lasting up to 2-3 hours I believe. The tracks take you through numbered sites for which there is a brief explanation as to what it is all about. I guess the main attraction is the always steaming Champaign pool with slight reddish rim formed from all the deposits. If I recollect correctly, the pool is about 60m deep, so quite a pool. After walking through this wonderland for 3 hours, we needed to get some fresh air into our lungs and our legs some needed rest, so we decided to enjoy the facilities and services of SPA QE organization. Jenni went for a therapeutic massage and I did a mud bath. SPA QE offers cheaper prices for treatments than the world known Polynesian spa, so it is a good bargain. However,I have to say, the mud bath, was not all that it is made out to be. Sitting in a bath of mud water (not really mud) for 20 mins does probably not equal a nice massage, but at least it was half the price (mud - NZD 45, 1 hr massage - NZD 80).

After we spoiled ourselves in Rotorua, we were off to our next destination, Lake Taupo. On the way there, we made a quick stopover at famous Huka falls which were quite spectacular, even though it was raining a bit. The water there goes from a wide river which is about 4m deep into a very narrow passage which is 10m deep, so you can imagine what that does to the water :). Very impressive and the water is so blue.

We had only one goal at Taupo and that was to catch some fish. The area here is very well known amongst the fish enthusiast as a trout capital of the world. We were determined to give it a go, but were quite shocked by the prices some of the fishing guides charge, so ended up hiring a couple of rods and spinners from a local Rod&Tackle shop where we also got an expert advice on the common fishing spot. I was so excited, I really could not resist and that night already went out to a spot to try the luck. After a couple dozens of casts, I was able to hook one, but it fell a few centimeters short off the allowable size, so my 37cm catch had to go back in. Neverthless, it got us pumped for next day of fishing. The following day was a georgeous sunny day, which was a nice change from the previous overcast streak. We found ourselves a nice spot between two bays and went after our business. After 3 hours of casting and reeling, no fish shown even a slight interest in our spinners, however, a few trees got the hang of snagging our spinners. Even though we saw some trouts swimming around our base, we ended up empty handed and helped put up some spinner Xmas decorations on the nearby trees. At the end of the day, it was a great day, but a bit disappointing as we had to settle for another pasta for dinner :) with no fish.


We needed one quick refreshing day in Auckland's B&B and we were back on our way. This time, we were on our way towards the south island and the first stop on the way was the always talked about Coromandel peninsula. We decided to settle in a very small campground with the softest grass in Coromandel Town and then do a one day excursion north of the peninsula. As agreed, we started off for Fletcher Bay, the furthest point in Coromandel, in the morning. The journey should have been a quick one, however, little did we know that we would spend 1 hour each way driving 30km/h on a dirt road to get to the bay. Once we got there, the sun was still shining though, so we did a short 1 hour hike up the nearby mountain. One can actually walk to the next town over the hills, but that would have been too long for us to come back to the car, so decided not to pursue that notion. After the walk, we took a quick dip from the black sand beach in Fletcher Bay, but brrrrr (not the warmest ocean here :)).

The next day, we headed to Cathedral Cove and Hot water beach, the must-do attractions in every guide book in Coromandel. Well, the 40 min hike from carpark to Cathedral Cove is quite nice and once we got to the destination, it was actually quite a spectacle to see this tunnel in the cliff. Make sure though that you go on a sunny day and not on a local holiday or you are facing the same situation as us and will be passing folks every two minutes on the path. Not as secluded as the other places we went to, so I'd say it is a bit overrated. The Hot Water Beach would sort of fall into the same crowded category, but we decided to give it a go. After 2 hours spent in digging for hot water in the low tide (which really wasn't that low), I finally gave up thinking that I got the $5 for spade hire well spent. (Jenni left me there as she was much smarter to realize that this is not a good idea). Well, I found the hot water (it is actually very very hot), but along with 100 other folks and with low tide waves filling up your hole with sand every so often. I reckon with a real low tide, it could be much more fun to dig a hole and lay in the warm water.

The last stop on Coromandel was a small place called Mt. Maunganui where we climbed the local mountain. After 1 hr of uphill tracking, we were able to see a stunning view of the bay and had a great feeling of achievement and also a needed practice climb for our next adventure. We got lucky, it didn't rain too much. The beauty of this mountain is that there are actually many tracks leading up, so it never gets old.

Auckland and Northland

We have finally arrived to the land of the infamous kiwi bird (haven't seen it yet though :(). After a lazy week in Auckland, well not that lazy, I guess, we set out for the Norhtland above the big city. Back in Auckland, we stayed in a very cozy hostel (well, more of a guesthouse), Bamber House with all the facilities that a tired traveller might need. Our main mission was to find a car and to get a tax number for Jenni, and as you might imagine, we did achieve it. Actually, it was quite easy as one of the guys in the hostel mentioned to us in a conversation he was selling his ride. Since it checked out, worked well and the guy seemed nice, we got a car (nicknamed: Frodo). The next day, we went out and bought a few camping necessities such as tent (A-frame for $30, so hopefully it will last), mats, pots, pans, cooler etc. With all that packed in our little Frodo, we started the trip.

Our first stop was the Waipoua Kauri Forest and the local campground where we started the tent adventure. The trees in the forest are humongous and have a mythical significance to the Maori tribes in NZ. After that on our way to the city of Ahipara, we visited the Wairere boulders which are the biggest crystal boulders in NZ. They are not limestone as the private owner kept stressing. Here we did a 2 hr hike in the forest and the coolest thing was that we were the only ones there. The views from some of the areas of the walk were just spectacular and it was money well worth spent. We also learned that there are 5 types of ferns in NZ, but only 4 of those grow in the area (thanks Felix :))(interesting or not? you decide :)). The next stop for us was the northernmost tip of NZ, Cape Reinga with its lighthouse which now does not need a manual worker to attend to it. It is being run from the capital Wellington. Where were the days that humans were actually needed on this planet hehe. On the way to the campground we stopped over at the TePaki sand dunes which are famous for local sandboarding. We didn't engage in this activity, but were quite exhausted after walking around in the desert for a while. That night we spent at a very cheap campground at Waitiki Landing (not Waikiki:)) which was infested with mosquitos, so after a night of mosquito massacre, our eyes had dangerously overloaded bags under them.

On our way back from the north we stopped over in Russell (also known as Kororareka) which used to be the capital, but it is more known as the "hell-hole of the Pacific" as all the drunken sailors were there. I tried some fishing off the local peer with my hand made reel :), but apart from making a lot of small fish happy, loosing two hooks, I got only one bite. So no dinner that night. The day after we ended up taking a tour through the Waitangi reserve along with the Treaty house, Maori song/dance show, the war canoe and a meeting house. This historical site is quite nice, but I think one really has to be interested in British history in order to get a full enjoyment out of it. (too bad we weren't there a couple of days later - 6th of Feb - when the Waitangi day (national holiday) was celebrated in remembrance of the treaty that was signed between the Maori and British folks. Big festivities happened in this area).

Our last destination was a small place in Bay of Islands called Tutukaka, where diving at the Poor Knights Island is the thing to do here. So, I couldn't resist and paid the killer price for a day trip with 2 dives. The cool water (21 Celsius) gets you definitely appreciate the warm waters in Thailand and Australia. Neverthless, the dives were amazing, so day well spent.

Right before Auckland we did stop at one more place with thermal pools, called Waiwera. It was not as exciting with the thermal therapy, the place is more of a kids' park with waterslides, however, we did took a few rides and get our adrenalin pumping.