Well, so much has happened in the past 2 weeks that I'm sure to bore the tears off ye all if I go into details...but since my flight has been delayed by an hour and a half, and I was at the airport 3 hours before the original flight time, and the internet is free here (altho' I've already been hogging it for too long and am probably making people mad!), then prepare to be bored..
So I left Wellington on a Monday morning (the 2nd?, can't remember now) and took a bus up to National Park. That's a village with 2 streets, at least 3 hostels and a great pizza place...not much else...not somewhere you'd want to get stuck! It's a busy enough place tho' cos people use it as a base for skiing in the winter and walking the Tongariro Crossing in the summer. I booked myself on a bus to the beginning of the Crossing the following day. The weather was fab the day I did the walk, fortunately cos they cancel it if the weather's too bad...as anyone reading Rebecca's blog will know..
The Tongariro Crossing is reputedly NZ's best one day walk. It's about 17 km long through Tongariro Nat. Pk. This NP contains 3 volcanoes - still active - along the fault line between the pacific and australasian plates I think - anyways, the walk goes between the 2 northern volcanoes, one of which is better known as Mt Doom from the recent LOTR films. Unfortunately there isn't really time to climb to the summit of Mt Doom (Mt Ngarahoe is it's real name I think), esp. if you want to stop for lunch and lots of photos. It's not a circular route either, so there's no going back - the bus meets you at a specific time at the far end and if you're not there then it's kind of tough! Anyways, it was an amazing walk along craters, some filled with turquoise waters, parts of it looked like a moonscape but for the last hour or so you end up going thro' lush green forested area. There's lots of steaming gases along the way, lots of yellow sulphuric deposits and some not so pleasant smelling parts...a geologists dream!
I did the walk with a Sydney girl, Kate, that was in my dorm and a Swiss guy, Chris, who we met on the bus and we bumped into an English guy, Javid, who I'd met on the bus from Wellington the previous day, but was on a different bus from the village that morning, towards the end of the walk. The 4 of us got on really well and had pizza and beers that night. The following day myself and Javid took lifts with Kate and Chris to Taupo, where we had a lovely picnic lunch (weather still fab), sat in a natural hot spring for an hour and a half (perfect for soaking those aching muscles from the previous day) and visited the Huka falls. After that Chris headed off as he'd to fly home the following day. Myself and Javid continued as far as Rotorua with Kate.
Rotorua is the smelliest town I've been to - lots of rotten-egg sulphur smells about the place (it's on the same fault line). The night we got there, the 3 of us went to an organised hangi at a Maori village. It was v cheesy touristy, but good all the same. They entertained us with traditional dances, music and, of course, the haka. The food was great and afterwards we got a tour around their forest area checking out the trees and the glow worms and all that. The following morning we continued our geothermal adventures with a trip to Waiokata, NZ's geothermal wonderland including a geyser that goes off at the same time everyday (after someone drops some soap down the crater!), lots of bubbling water and mud, more smelly sulphur and lots of different coloured deopsits. We were back in Rotorua by lunch time to meet my English friend Marcus, who's been living in Auckland for over 2 years now, and his kiwi girlfriend Jade. All 5 of us got on really well and we headed off zorbing that afternoon. For those of you who haven't been here yet, imagine 2 massive beach balls, one slightly smaller than the other and inside the other with a very cushined layer of air between, add some warm water and any fools that want to get inside (myself, Javid and Kate got in one together) and roll it 200m down a hill...this is zorbing and it's definitely worth doing! After that we went to the Polynesian spa, where we hung out in 4 different outdoor pools ranging from 38 to 42 degC with a view over Lake Rotorua (altho' it was dark when we were there) for an hour and a half...on the way back to the hostel we got some fush n chups NZ style..
The following day (Rotorua is a bit of an activity central), the 5 of us went to the luge track (think go-carting but with gravity instead of engines) and raced each other down each of the 3 tracks on offer. After that Kate left to head to the east coast and Javid decided to spend his last few days in NZ with the 3 of us - as much for the comfort of Marcus' car as our great company I reckon . We headed west to Waitomo, another small place in the middle of nowhere, where we ended up in a really scummy hostel, but the attraction there is the cave systems. Myself and Javid did the 5 hour Black Abyss adventure through the caves the following day (that's Easter Sat btw, in case you've lost track!). This began with a 45 m abseil into the cave and also included a swinging accross in the dark on a rope thing (technical words failing me here..), rafting through the cave on tyre tubes, climbing up big waterfalls, sliding down small waterfalls, drinking hot orange and eating chocolate and checking out the glow worms. Screaming alot and getting cold were also integral parts of the adventure! That evening we headed up to Raglan, a small town with a big beach and big waves, for the Easter weekend. The hostel we stayed at was class, full of surfers and some hippy types, very chilled out and all the accomodation was in old train carriages that had been converted. We spent 2 days there generally chilling out...playing frisbee and cricket on the beach, boogie-boarding in the waves and eating, drinking and playing cards in the hostel. Still the weather was fab...not a cloud in the sky on the Monday!!
On Tuesday the fun was over for Marcus, Jade and Javid. We drove up to Auckland where we dropped Javid at the airport and then crashed at Marcus and Jade's place for a few hours. The fun was not over for me, however, altho' I was ready to sleep for a week at that stage. I went out that night to catch up with Karl, a kiwi friend of mine who was my instructor when I did my DM course on the Aran Islands a few years ago. I met him at the apartment he shares with his lovely French girlfriend and we had some of his home brew and caught up til Liz, the girlf, came home from work. We all went out for a yummy Italian and had a lovely time (he sends his love to all of you that know him...Mercer, Cooney, Orla...). The following day he helped me organise myself to get some diving in up north of Auckland. I rented a car and headed up to Tutukaka,the base for diving the Poor Knights Islands. Got one days diving in there - it was great - lots of morays and scorpionfish. Had an interesting trip back to shore (the islands are a long way off - maybe an hour by boat..) in very high seas - was more like being on a rollercoaster than a boat. I should point out by the way,that the first rain I saw was when we arrived into Auckland - and since then it's rained every day - really short but very heavy showers, apparently typical for the area especially now that winter is setting in..Anyways, there wasn't much going on in Tutukaka and on Friday I headed for Goat Island which is a marine reserve (as are the Poor Knights) and met up with an Irish guy who works at Auckland Uni in the marine lab at the reserve. Had an interesting lunch with him and then went for a snorkel around the island - such an large number of fishes in such a small area I have never seen and I swear one of them was following me around - they're not at all shy! Stayed in a really cute caravan that night at a campsite that would have been great with a group of people and some beer but was instead full of families with small kids that woke really early in the morning.
So that brings us up to yesterday, when I drove back to Auckland, stopping for lunch with the Irish guy and his family on the way. Last night I went out with Marcus and Jade and some of their friends for one friend's birthday celebrations, today we did a fly by tour of Auckland, and now I'm at the airport waiting for my flight to Sydney...it's sad to be leaving NZ especially with so much unseen, but it's been a great few weeks and I can't complain
Hope all's well with ye all and apologies for the marathon blog - but I'm sure some of ye will appreciate the excuse to take a break from work
Some pics from NZ: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niscratz/sets/72157626213396275/