It’s like a light switched on in Christchurch over Christmas Break–the wind has died down (…sort of) and it rarely dips under 20C. I think summer has finally come around (fingers crossed!). This all made showing up to work this past Monday not TOO bad. But admittedly, the past two weeks were the longest two weeks of my life, which made this whole holiday pretty awesome. I kept thinking of activities like the Kepler Track and remembering, “wait, we did that a mere week ago? It feels like it’s been over a month!”
Fellow Americans please take note, it’s currently 9 January and most of the country has not returned to work yet. It has been very difficult coming to work with my regular coffee and pastry shops still closed. Most Kiwis take of at least 2 if not 3 weeks for the holidays. All of our client’s offices shut down for at least 2 weeks. So far the country hasn’t gone into depression or economic slowdown for taking 2 weeks off, maybe there’s something the US can learn from this… 😉
Now onto week 2/weekend 3 of the Flanders holiday! — After hopping off the boat in Doubtful Sound, busing along the access road, then boating across Lake Manapouri, and then busing back to Te Anau we started our journey back “home” to Christchurch. Along the way we picked up a stranded coworker in Queenstown which made for some nice extra company on the return journey. The next two days were a great mini staycation–we pretty much chilled out and did nothing except a barbecue with our neighbors and all the stranded UK doctors in Christchurch (one of those rare NZ professions that didn’t have their office shut down for 2 weeks – good thing!).
Tuesday 30 December
We were up at 6am taxi-ing to the airport with our borrowed tent (our one checked bag) and fly to the North! Keith’s boss and his wife were amazing hosts — picked us up from the airport and offered us a place to stay for a couple of days before we headed out for further camping exploration. Since we had the whole day ahead of us we ferried to Waiheke Island and explored a few wineries by foot. We were initially worried about renting a car/moped/or figuring out the bus schedule, but for us walker-fanatics, walking around to Cable Bay Vineyard, Jurassic Ridge Winery, Mudbrick Vineyard and even to the beach at Oneroa Bay wasn’t a big deal. We loved Jurassic Ridge! It was a smaller place with no people (which we LOVE when it comes to wineries) and the tastings were great (try the Montepulciano!)
Wednesday 31 December – New Years Eve!
Our host recommended we walk up Mt Victoria. Mt Victoria is a volcano outside the doorstep of where we were staying in Devonport. Albeit a short walk, it was a steep straight up! Unfortunately, New Years Eve was a bit cloudy but we took in the city views and checked out the old gun hidden up there (New Zealand used to worry a lot about the Russians)
Since we had plenty of time before New Years, we drove across the country to the west coast 🙂 Around Auckland the country is so narrow you can easily get to the west coast beaches within the hour. We drove to Muriwai beach to see the black sand beach, beautiful cliffs, and the gannet colony! Hundreds of beautiful white and orange birds make this beach home (inches away from the public). They raise their young and then fly off to Australia for a season.
Upon return we cleaned up to get ready for new years eve in the first city that celebrates! I think we may have been the most excited about this fact in all of Auckland. But first…a mandatory trip to Dunkins (only found on the North Island), then dinner, then drinks and a walk about the skytower and casino.
Around 10pm we leisurely headed down towards the water, found a vacant bar–Wildfire–with a great view around 10:30pm, and eventually it was packed right around 11:50pm. COMPLETE 180 from any other crazy New Years experiences I’ve had in the States (i.e. New York City) and plus it was warm out! New Zealand really doesn’t get enough press for being the first big city to celebrate New Years, but we had a great time and it was definitely fun to experience.
Thursday 1 January – Happy 2015!
We woke up relatively early to pack it up and begin our journey Northland. We planned out a loop where we’d drive to the “rugged” west coast first and then loop over to the more popular Bay of Islands. After understanding that the North Island had plenty of unpopulated places, we realized we couldn’t just set up a tent and find a nice restaurant for dinner. So the
next ONLY town we passed through we made sure to pick up some PB&J and snacks for the next couple days. Then it was on to Tokatoka volcano for a short yet super steep (I didn’t make it, Keith took the photo below) walk to the top where you got a view of the always-brown river below.
Then it was on to the Kai Iwi lakes area. The Kai Iwi lakes are super popular, we weren’t there for them, we were there for a secret farm-walk down to an amazing abandoned beach! We parked the car near all the tourists, grabbed our snacks, and walked a mile to get here sans other tourists…
I could understand why families don’t hang out here, the waves are rough on the west coast and there’s no lifeguards. Plus there’s that little fact that you trek through farmland and barter with bulls to get here (we stayed as far away from the animals as possible). However, the scenery was beautiful. I’ve never been the ONLY person on a beach as gorgeous as this!
We drove over to the DOC Trounson Park to set up our tent and then realized we HAD to go back to the beach for sunset. Further north up the beach there was an access road where a little population actually exists. Although, other than a couple other fisherman, Keith and I were still the only souls on the sand watching the sunset.
Aside, on the way down we saw a wild peacock. I didn’t believe it was wild until we did a bit of research and found that throughout Northland the “peafowl” population has gone feral–pretty neat!
Of course we broke out our PB&J sandwiches and then continued to watch this for the next several minutes (can you tell I had a hard time picking ONE sunset photo)…
Fun fact – In this little bluff community there were pet goats everywhere and they all had their own little “goat house.”
At night we broke out our headlamps and tried to find a kiwi at the little nature walk near our camp. In Trounson the DOC has done such a good job killing of kiwi predators that the kiwi population has boomed. Unfortunately, we never saw one, but we heard quite a few (Keith DID spot a kiwi later in our travels in Russell). Their calls are rather creepy when you’re wandering around in the woods in the dark! We DID hear some rustling, got very excited, and shone our light on…a possum. Fun.
Friday 2 January
On Friday we packed up early and headed out to see “the big trees.” This was the main tourist thing I thought we’d see on the west coast–the giant kauri trees. The beautiful beaches were a bonus. First, we walked a short walk to see Te Matua Ngahere, or the “father of the forest.” The picture below really doesn’t do the size justice since I am so far in the foreground. Some statistics…the tree is thought to be about 1500 years old, the tree trunks girth (circumference) is 16.4 m (or 54 feet!).
Second we walked the very short walk of the road to Tane Mahuta, “Lord of the Forest.” This tree is the largest known kauri tree standing today. Its girth was much smaller than our first tree (a mere 13.8m); however it was definitely tall!
After our quick tree detour we were off to the touristy east coast!–Bay of Islands via Paihia! I was prepared for Paihia to be trashy and busy and annoying. But I actually kind of liked it. I made a fun comparison photo below… (We decided to AirBnB our night here and stayed at Two Trees BnB — a small ground floor studio inside a lovely family’s house. I’d highly recommend for a nice quiet cheap place to stay in Paihia!)
After sleeping on the beach for a while, we decided we needed to go up. This parasail boat kept driving by us all day so we needed to check it out (great marketing there). We managed to get on the last boat of the day. In actuality, I’m sure they just wanted to add a quick last couple ($$!) at the end of the day, but either way, we got our own private charter with Flying Kiwi Parasail. This parasail was 1200 ft high!–The highest in the country!
The great part about being the last flight of the day was the beautiful sunlight photos we got pre-sunset!
Saturday 3 January
Originally our plan was to get up early and keep driving down the coast on Day 3 of Northland. We enjoyed Bay of Islands so much thus far we had to explore more. We jumped on an early ferry to Russell–“the hell hole of the pacific.” Russell had a fun “wild west” downtown. Russell was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand. The historical town keeps their heritage intact very well. Of course we didn’t stay in town, we walked about a mile across town to Long Beach–again another beautiful empty beach. Apparently the tourists are scared away from this beach due to the walk, eventually the locals came out and joined us. Around lunch we decided to walk over to Tapeka Point to get some better views of the bay. We decided on the “easy way” by just following the coast line. Lucky for us the tide was still sort of low, and this just involved a bunch of rock scrambling and dodging incoming waves.
Once we got to the beach near Tapeka point we noticed the hole in the rock from the shore! Tourists shell out a lot of cash to take a boat here (you can sort of see all the little boats out there surrounding that island). So I was pumped we got to spot the hole from shore 🙂
The climb up to Tapeka Point was short but tiring after our coast-line adventure. We got some amazing views of the bay so it was worth it.
We left the Bay of Islands that afternoon and went south to some more adventures! We pitched our tent at Uretiti DOC campground (this was WAY busier and crazier than Trounson). I actually wouldn’t recommend staying here, it was just way too busy and didn’t really feel like camping. Its one good point is being next to a really nice beach.
Once we pitched our tent we backtracked to Waipu Caves – the best UNcommercialized glowworm cave in NZ. Tourists love glowworm caves in NZ. NZ has made a great business out of this and charges folks all over the country to go see the glowworms. Not Keith & Jen…we drove a one-lane dirt road to this cave in the middle of nowhere, donned our headlamps, and went for it. The cave was enormous! We got our sneakers pretty muddy, but we only walked some hundred meters or so until we came to a milky way of glowworms. You can kind of see some reflections on the ceiling above me in the photo below, but I failed at capturing them in the dark with my long exposure. So I attached an internet photo so you could sort of experience what we saw.
Sunday 4 January
On Sunday we woke up early, packed up our tent, and tried not to wake the entire 300-person campground when we rolled out of there at 6:30am. Unfortunately, our journey in the north was ending. We headed back to Auckland and off to the airport and flew back “home” to Christchurch. Lucky for us, we returned to a beautiful summer day. With this current big freeze back in the US, makes me happy to finally be enjoying summer down under!
PHEW! I don’t think next week’s blog post will live up to my epic last 3, but I will keep you posted 😉