We left Martinborough and headed to Cape Palliser with Kellie and Foxy. We camped there for the night, climbed rocks, jumped on rocks to get good sunset pictures and explored the seal colony. We watched a baby seal play with its Mum for a while. We found a free camping spot beside a hot food truck, it was a beautiful day so it was really busy and there was just one lady. We had burger and chips and an ice cream later (which San waited half an hour for and it was dark by the time we ate it). The sunset was incredible and we sat outside listening to music and playing cards. It's almost winter now so it's getting dark at 5.30 ish so we moved into the van and played some games in there. Kellie wasn't a big fan of camping and found it hard to sleep in our brilliant tent we set up for her. It may have had a hole in top, and rained a bit in the night as well.
Next stop was Wellington for a couple of nights so we could have a night out and sort our visa for Vietnam out. We ended up having to fast track our visa and pay $330 in total! We had a Mongolian meal with Kellie, Foxy and Mike a friend from Martinborough, it was incredible, you choose your own meat, noodles and vegetables, spices and sauces and you hand your bowl to a chef and he shallow fries it all on a high heat. It's all you can eat and only $20. We managed four bowls each. We went to see Weta Caves, which is a company that make props and special effects for films likes Lord of the Rings, Avatar, King Kong and the Halo series. They have life size replicas of some of the characters in Lord of the Rings and lots of miniatures from different films.
The next day Kellie and Foxy stayed in Wellington and we made our way to National Park to do the Tongariro Crossing. We stayed in Okahune the first night at a DOC campsite and then drove to National Park the next day to book a shuttle bus for the crossing. Kellie and Foxy happened to find a job in a hostel in Okahune so we drove back there and had a pizza out with them and continued on to National Park later that night. We stayed at a DOC campsite that night and got up early to catch a shuttle bus to the start of the crossing.
The crossing was closed up until last year as a volcano erupted (Te Maari on the 21st Novemeber 2012) at the end of the track causing damage to a hut. It's classed as the best one day walks in New Zealand as you get to see incredible views of steaming vents, blue coloured lakes, craters and active volcanoes. We climbed Mt Ngauruhoe (better known to Lord of the Ring fans as Mt Doom) which was a difficult climb, rocks became dislodged easily so you had to be careful of people below you and it was covered in volcanic ash which was like walking in sand. It was 2,287m high and it took us about an hour and a half to climb. There was an incredible view from the top into a volcanic vent which had icicles all around it. When we came down (San came down on her bottom and tore her trousers, Jeff ran down) the ash and rocks were quite warm, which was quite nice as it was quite cold. We managed to do the whole walk in about 8 hours including our side trip up Mt Doom. We passed the Ketetahi hut which is closed due to the damage from the eruption in November 2012, there are holes in the bunk beds, roof and a huge hole just beside the hut. From the hut the crossing was about a 2 hour walk through alpine forest and well maintained tracks. Once we reached the car park and caught our shuttle bus back to our van, we drove a few hours to Otorohanga.
We arrived at a campsite and had one of the most incredible showers and a very early night as we were really tired from the crossing. The next morning we went to the kiwi house. They have a nocturnal barn where you can see kiwi's digging for food with their long beaks, it's the only place in NZ where you can see a Great Spotted Kiwi and it was huge and so fluffy! There were other species too and other birds such as the kea, kaka, weka and many more but after only 10 months we can finally say we have seen a kiwi in NZ, even if it was in a cage!
From the kiwi house we continued onto Raglan, the surfing capital of NZ! We had to drive 50km done a gravel road as we thought it would be quicker to take a back road. We passed lots of cows on the road. We stopped in Raglan and watched some surfers on the beach but decided we were both a bit too fragile to surf after the crossing. We continued onto Hamilton where we saw the Riff Raff statue and the gardens. Riff Raff (a life size statue of the character from The Rocky Horror Picture Show's), the time warping alien from the planet Transsexual has free Wi-Fi from his stun gun. From here we continued onto Hamilton Gardens which were incredible, there are separate Italian, Indian, Chinese, Tropical, Japanese and American gardens with pagodas and a mini Taj Mahal. Unfortunately there was a photo shoot in the Indian garden so we couldn't get a good picture of the Taj Mahal. After the gardens we drove onto Matamata (for you Lord of the King fans this is where the Hobbiton town is). We found a Turkish restaurant here and had an incredible Turkish kebab. We found a free place to camp in a car park of a museum and had quite a bad night's sleep because of the torrential rain overnight.
The next morning we drove to the Wairake Falls (the highest waterfalls on the North Island), we walked for about 45 minutes through forest and climbed stairs and rocks to get to the low part of walk. The waterfall was beautiful especially after the rain the night before. When we arrived back at the car park there were hundreds of flies around the cars and lots around our van, so the whole way to Mt Maunganui we were opening and closing the windows at 100km per hour to suction the flies out. We arrived at Mt Maunganui and met up with some friends, Rebecca and Martin who we met in Martinborough. We climbed Mt Maunganui together and there were spectacular views from the top with beautiful panoramic views of the town. We had a beer afterwards and continued on to another free campsite that was down a gravel road. The rain overnight again was so hard, we thought that the rain was going to indent the roof, it sounded like hail.
The next morning after a lie in, once the rain stopped we drove to Miranda. The reason we wanted to go here was because they had the largest thermal hot pools in the southern hemisphere. It was very relaxing but not as beautiful as we anticipated, it was just a really large swimming pool that was a bit run down. From here we drove onto Auckland to start or job picking persimmons ( a weird fruit that's a cross between an apple and a carrot. We arrived in Auckland and had a big culture shock, it was enormous compared to the rest of NZ and the buildings were so tall and the roads so huge (we hadn't seen a motorway for months and forgot how much we disliked Auckland!). We picked up some post and went to the library to route planner our way to our new job which was only twenty minutes outside of Auckland in a small place called Taupaki.