Monday, 10 December 2012

Round the world travel: New Zealand, North Island

Where we are

That's right, 'we', I've not gone all Gollum, rather my beloved has joined me for the rest of the trip.  Not a moment too soon. I had rather missed him.

Anyway, we're in Middle Earth! Ahem, sorry, reality reistated - New Zealand.  But it really is not too much of a stretch, or even a stretch at all to continue believing the former.  My word, it is beautiful.  I feel like I've barely got to the last 'w' in a never ending 'Woooooowwww!' the whole time.  The hills are so green and the waters are so clear, the weather's been bright and the people endlessly friendly.  It's outdoorsy tourist heaven.  I love it like Hobbits love seed cake. An awful lot.

Where we're staying

In a Spaceship, a people carrier helpfully MacGyver'ed into a campervan, complete with double bed, cooker, fridge  and terrifying chemical toilet, which we thankfully had no need for.  It is an ingenious idea, allowing us to pass as a car on ferries and as a tent at campsites, but being warmer and more comfortable to sleep in than either.

New Zealand is ridiculously well set up for campers.  There were campsites of every variety, from basic Department of Conservation (DOC) ones to Top 10 Holiday Parks of every amenity and everything in between.

Our favourites included the beautiful Mangawhai DOC site near Hihi beach, where the trees had been thoughtfully planted to give each site a measure of privacy and where we passed much time sitting in the sunshine reading.  Also, the cold, but set in some stunning scenery DOC site at Tongariro, which was surrounded by great little walking tracks, and the independently run site in Kerikeri that was owned by an exceptionally friedly and helpful host  and had a great lounge complete with wood fire.

Each of the more commercial Top 10 sites were also perfectly fine, but, as with most generic things, not especially exciting.  They were, however, useful when in need of a laundry, a kitchen or a hot shower.

What I read

ALL the Robin Hobbs I could get my mitts on.  The Assassin's trilogy,mostly, three big tomes on the trot till I began speaking faux-Medieval in my own head.  I miss the characters now like you would a friend, but I'm saving the second trilogy for the long train journeys ahead.

What we listened to

Bill Bryson's 'A Walk in the Woods'.  We spent a lot of the long drives talking, a luxury after three months apart, but when we got a little tired this made us both laugh, despite my having read it before.  The attempted outdoorsy-ness meshed well with our camping vibe.

What we scarfed

Some excellent craft beers at the gorgeous hidden gem of Havana in Wellington.  Greg got quite the man crush on the knowledgable hipster barmen.  The tapas was pretty good also.

Camp food - chilli one week, spag bol the next.  Alot of noodles for lunch and porridge for breakfast.  Home cooking was welcome, for me at least!

Ritz crackers and Philly cheese - age old family tradition of camping.

Fish and chips in Turangi.

Lots of pleasant, but not overly memorable sandwiches, coffees and muffins on the road.

What we did

Visited the Northern beaches near Hihi, an off-the-beaten path tip off from the gent who ran our first night's campsite.  They were beautiful: white sand, turquoise water and utterly, utterly empty.

Soaked in the gorgeous mineral filled hot spring spa at Te Aroha, a lovely little Edwarcian town whose name means 'the love'.

Hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the best day walks in the world, surely.  It's a tough 20-something kilometre trek over rocky paths, up steps chiselled intot he steeper mountainsides, sliding down volcanic scree, across icy plains and onto a lengthy hillside descent.  The views were amazing - amazing.  The green and blue jewel coloured lakes, so tempting, but poisonous due to the minerals that give them teir hues, did not look real.  The looming form of Ngauruhoe OKA Mount Doom was every bit as forbidding and unscalable as it seemed to Sam and Frodo.  Exhausting excellence.

Lazed by the van in the weak sunshine and read companionably.

Picnicked at numerous sites labelled 'LOOKOUT'. Chanelled my mother by saying "For what?" at every single one.

Giggled at the oddly detailed roadsigns urging drivers to 'Merge like a zip', Who doesn't love a roadside simile?

Wandered round and fell completely in love with Wellington.  If Camden were an entire city, but without the attitude, it'd be Wellington. Visited the Te Papa Museum, a brilliantly informative and well presented collection of history.   Saw Argo at the absolutely gorgeous Embassy Cinema. I wish all cinemas were like that. Put the Odeon to shaaaame.

Were ever so slightly disappointed by the Glow worm cave tour after being very disappointed to find that the blackwater rafting was fully booked.  Too much talking and too commercialised was Greg's succinct review.  The glow worms were pretty (in the dark only)  though.

Walked to the Te Porere Redoubt after spending the day in Turangi preparing for Tongariro.  Mostly I wanted to go to see what I'd only previously heard of in Skyrim.  Thankfully we were not attacked by Bandits and my imaginary pony did not fall down it and get stuck.

Ran the Speights West Coaster Half Marathon. Did not die. Yay.

Northern beaches

Te Aroha
Tongariro - I promise he enjoyed it really 
A week later it erupted for reals



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