Some Place Like Home
From 30c blue skies we landed in a country that was very similar to England; cold, damp and drizzly weather!
We had a bumpy start in NZ as we had booked our magic bus tour the wrong way round! We were flying into Christchurch (South Island) and flying out of Auckland (North Island), except that our bus was starting in Auckland and finishing in Christchurch! There was no way of changing our bus pass so we had no alternative than to fly to Auckland from Christchurch the day after we arrived and do the same again at the end of our trip. Luckily these flights ended up being cheap costing $50 each (half that in pounds).
We were on our way and were very excited, we met a lot of people in Fiji who had just come from NZ and they had a lot of good things to say about it, as our flights from Christchurch to Auckland had past over snow capped mountains we felt confident that we were going to have a pretty amazing time here.
We only stuck around Auckland for a couple of days, it was just another city and it bored us being there and we knew we would be coming back to Auckland at the end of our NZ adventure. So we called the Magic head office to reserve two seats on the bus the following morning.
Our first destination was to the town of Rotarua, but on the way we made a stop off at the town of Hobbiton. Here we went on our first tour. For $70 each we were driven to the film set of Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings. We were in for a treat as they are rebuilding the village for the upcoming Hobbit movie. It was in the land owners and filming contract that after filming they are to get the land back to its original state, but the landowners decided to keep a couple of the houses for tours. So for us to see about 30 something was a real treat! I haven't been a huge Lord of the Rings fan and at a couple of moments I laughed a little to myself at the idea of being like one of those people who go to Star Trek conventions, it was only because a couple of other people on the tour were cliched nerds who were quoting the film! They were hardcore! But it was a good tour which we both enjoyed, and I think if I had watched the 5hour extended versions of the film like Fay then I would have been able to quote the movies :) Unfortunately we are not able to upload our photos of Hobbiton. We had to sign a confidentiality agreement, and if we break it we will be sued, so you will have to wait to see them when we are home. After the Hobbiton tour we were treated to a demonstration of sheep sheering and Fay was able to feed a lamb, pretty random I know!
We spent 4 days in Rotarua where Fay fell poorly, so I made sure to give her plenty of TLC and nursed her until she was better. We used this time to relax and stay warm and dry as it was raining an awful lot. The hostel we stayed at had a thermal pool, which was naturally heated from the ground to just above 30c. The whole of Rotarua had hot pools and hot mud baths and you could see steam coming out of ponds, lakes, hillsides etc but because of the sulphur it left an awful stench of stink bombs in the town. Not good for poorly Fay! On our last day Fay was just about well enough to venture out, so we caught a bus to Redwood Forest. This forest was covered in Redwood trees from America that grow 110 metres tall and can live up to 600 years old!!! Around the forest there were plenty of walking trails ranging between 30mins to 8 hours. We chose a steady 2hour walk that ended up taking 3 hours and didn't do much good for Fay :(
Our next trip was to Taupo and stopping off at the Waitomo caves on the way. The Waitomo caves were special in that they housed millions of glow worms. After a brief tour of the caves and information on how they were formed we were then lead down some stairs to a part of the caves that were flooded. Here we got into a boat and the tour guide used ropes tied from wall to wall to navigate the boat down the tunnels into complete and utter darkness. The sight laid out before us was incredible. Thousands upon thousands of glow worms all over the tunnels ceilings. If you didn't know where you were you would think that you were looking up at the best display of stars you had ever seen, it was magical, an image I don't think I will ever forget.
After the glow worm tour we headed back to our coach where we continued our journey onwards to Taupo. In Taupo we were staying with our first NZ couchsurfer. We were staying with a 54 year old Mauri guy who amazed us with the amount of trust he has in people. In his last message to us he explained that he would be out of the house all day where we arrive, so told us where he hides the door key and to make ourselves at home. Not something I would personally do but it makes you realise how different people are and that you can live in a place that must be safe enough to build your trust in people like that.
Terence turned out to be an awesome and genuine bloke. He was into his long distance running and regularly took part in charity marathons and tough man challenges. We had our own bedroom with a double bed and electirc blankets!
Taupo has the famous Tongariro crossing. A 8 hour trek across the Alpines and half way up the famous 'Mount Doom' from Lord of the Rings. Not that you would recognise it as it was covered in snow! It was an early 5am start, a walk into town and an hour long bus ride to the trek base. We were provided with walking boots, crampons, fleeced trousers, wind proof jackets and hats/gloves. The weekend before had snowed heavily so the trek was more challenging than normal. I annoy myself at how I always seem to underestimate these types of treks. I suppose you can never comprehend the energy you'll exert when looking at a mountain from a distance. It was extremely challenging physically and mentally. Where there had been snow drift the depth come up to my thigh and pretty much Fay's waist! It was a clear day weather wise, but when part of the mountain blocked out the sun the temperature would plummet, and a wind would chill you right to the bone :( The beginning of the walk was very scenic with streams and waterfalls breaking through the snow and ice, but as we began to ascend steeply the terrain became a lot different. Jagged, sharp rocks piercing through the snow gave it an appearance of some uninhabitable lost world. We were suprised to come across a board warning us about volcanic erruptions and the safest route to take to get yourself out of the way of Lava flow. We had no idea we were trekking around an active volcanic region! Looking up at the tip of 'Mount Doom' we noticed the steady flow of white smoke floating away from it.
As we neared the summit the climb became very steep and the snow cover turned to ice, so our crampons came in full use as we kicked out spikes into the ice to keep us from sliding down to our deaths! This was probably the toughest part of the climb, really taking it out of the both of us! When we reached the summit we had the great feeling of knowing we were going to be taking a half hour rest to have our lunch. The summit had no snow and the stoney surface was steaming with 30c heat from the volcanic activity deep below the earth. This was well needed as we could rest, take in the magnificent views as well as thawing our feet which had been in constant snow the entire way up! We were half way through the trek but we were unable to trek the 2nd half because of several avalanche warnings due to the recent heavy snow. We had already heard a couple of avalanche's, they sounded as though someone had just fired a cannon, sort of similar to that type of explosion. Coming back down the mountain was a bit easier, and as the day had warmed up a bit, that helped. Arriving back to the bus we felt hungry and tired, our feet were throbbing and soaking from wet snow, the hour journey back to Taupo was quiet as everyone slept the whole way.
The final leg of our journey in the North Island was to Wellington, the capital of NZ. The bus does a quick route of the city pointing out the parliament buildings etc. But for us this was just a one night wonder as the following morning we jumped on the ferry to take us 3hours across the Sea to the South Island :)