We are currently sitting on the Interislander ferry en-route to the South Island of New Zealand and figured it would be a great time to catch up on our blog writing. The 3 hour journey from Wellington to Picton is said to be a New Zealand highlight of its own, and we were curious to compare the ferry Kiwi system to our own BC Ferry system at home.
Probably the most notable difference would be the price. It cost us $165 CDN for 2 people and our campervan. Not the cheapest option but we're told this is still a bargain price considering it is the offseason. The ferry is quite nice but different from the mass transportation of BC. And that would be the biggest difference. The Interislander is not nearly as busy and isn't used as frequently, at least that was our experience. It is much more relaxed and slightly similar to a cruise ship in that it has a large bar, movie theatre, and a games room. The trip from North Island to South Island was very nice. A little rocky due to the cold Southerlies that were coming up from Antarctica, but the landscape was beautiful and the water was a deep greenish blue. Overall, we would give the title to BC Ferries, but only because of its efficiences. Yes, we said it. BC Ferries are efficient! But I guess we have a bias.
Our last blog was written while camping alongside the Waikto River in Taupo (Reids Farm) that flowed to the nearby Huka Falls (considered to be a big tourist attraction but nothing too spectacular). This free campground was a lucky find given that most campgrounds in NZ charge about $15 per person per night. We spent most of the night listening to heavy raindrops hitting the fibreglass roof of our campervan and hoped that the weather would clear up enough for us to do the Tongariro Crossing. The Tongariro Crossing is a famous full day hike that many Kiwis and travel enthusiasts say is a must do trek when on the North Island, and it was high on the list of things to accomplish while in NZ.
The trek passes through a range of three impressive volcanoes named Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, which rise above Lake Taupo, NZ Zealand's largest lake that is said to be a massive volcanic crater the size of Singapore. Excited to gear up and tackle the 7 hour hike through the valley of volcanoes, we headed into Taupo to get the trail details before starting the ascent. This was where we received the bad news. The crossing was closed and had been for several days. A southern front was coming in from Antarctica and it was causing severe weather conditions. When we were told 'no one should be up there right now' it was time to make the decision.
We knew that travelling to NZ at this time of year was 'off season' and had hoped that the weather would cooperate, but We were still bummed out by this unexpected news...but what can you do? (the nerve of the weather to mess up our trip plans!) So the decision came down to either hanging out for days waiting for the weather to clear, or to push on to Wellington and arrive a day early. The weather forecasts showed little signs of improvement, so we set our goal on Palmerston North, which is about 2 hours outside of Wellington and about 3 hours south of Lake Taupo. We found a good campsite with power, purchased a case of beer and potato chips, and put a DVD on the mini computer. It was a nice way to finish a long day of driving (and forget the disappointment of the unsuccessful trek).
The rain continued in raging bursts, at times so loud that you couldn't hear anything else. We had a lazy morning and hit the road at about noon, arriving in Lower Hutt by mid afternoon. We were looking forward to seeing old friends Chris and Tina, and their two and a half year old twin girls. It was fantastic having a comfortable house to relax in with television, internet, hot showers and a fridge. Amazing what becomes important when on the road for over 3 months! We spent the first few days taking care of errands, uploading photos, catching up, and of course sampling the local beer and playing NHL hockey on XBox. A memorable highlight was watching the Vancouver Canucks playoff game videostreamed over the internet. The group of us were huddled around the mini computer with beers in hand cheering for the home squad (however, only to have them blow a 2 goal lead and loose the game poorly...booo!).
Wellington feels like a combination of Victoria, West Vancouver and Halifax. There are colourful houses spread out along the hillside and a decent sized city center with office towers and a nice harbour front with restaurants and patios. Over the days we had the opportunity to visit some of the local sights, go for a hike, and head into the city for Dim Sum. Near the end of our stay in Lower Hutt we went back into Wellington to Te Papa, which is the local museum. The museum is free to enter and it houses the largest squid which has ever been displayed. It was actually the first real museum that we had visited in our first 3 months of travel.
The week went by very fast, but the time had come to say goodbye to Chris, Tina and the twin girls and continue our adventures on the south island. The down time and first class hospitality in Lower Hutt was a fantatic break for us and we were very greatful to have such generous friends in such a remote place (at least remote when comparing to Vancouver anyways!).
So far, New Zealand has been refreshing and everything we had hoped it would be. We are happy to be back on the road and are ready for what the south island has to offer.