Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

Tauranga and Mount Maunganui

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

As I didn’t want to carry my dive gear around too muchI had left it in hostel luggage room back in Auckland. However, before heading there to pick it up I decided to make one stop along the way. From few different options I decided to stay overnight at Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty. Or more specifically in Mount Maunganui east of the city itself.

This proved to be a good choice, Mount Maunganui was a pretty interesting area and the hike up the “mountain” was quite nice. I actually did the climb twice, first to get some sunset and night shots and again in the morning. The weather was playing nice for a change and the morning was beautiful indeed.

After some more walking around it was time to head to Tauranga itself to catch my bus to Auckland. I spent a couple more hours in Tauranga exploring the historic buildings and some other sights. Tauranga is not the most exciting city but there were still some cool sights, including the floral steamboat and the large waka (war canoe).

Back in Auckland I picked up my dive gear and prepared everything for diving in Northland. I also picked up a new 32 GB SD card as I was quickly running out of room for photos. After one night in Auckland  it was time to catch a bus to Whangarei and some diving around the world-renowned Poor Knights Islands. Unfortunately weather had other ideas…


Monday, November 12th, 2012

One of the highlights of my New Zealand trip was supposed to be Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the best and most popular one day hikes in New Zealand. Or anywhere in the world for that matter. Unfortunately, weather messed up these plans. The hike involves crossing over some pretty exposed terrain at high altitudes. As I arrived in the nearby Taupo I received word that all the trips to mountains had been cancelled due to poor weather. Large parts of the track actually got covered in snow and there were some heavy winds too. This was rather disappointing of course, but the track can be somewhat challenging even on a good day.

So it was time to make some alternative plans while in Taupo. Luckily there are some nice attractions nearby, so I had plenty to do while waiting a few days for weather to clear (it didn’t).

Lake Taupo is the starting point of the long Waikato river. Waikato starts as a gentle enough river but soon enough it passes through some narrow canyons resulting in a series of rapids and falls. The most magnificent of these are the Huka Falls. While the water only drops a few meters the amount of water flowing through makes the falls a spectacular sight.

After taking lots of photos and some videos at Huka Falls I rushed onwards to Aratiatia Rapids. Normally the floodgates there are opened a few times a day resulting in great display as the water rushes through. I made it just in time, unfortunately due to maintenance the floodgates were kept constantly open. The Rapids were still a nice sight but missing out the opening was still a disappoinment.

It was a long walk back from Aratiatia Rapids to Taupo. I could have retraced my steps along Waikato river but I decided to visit some other attractions on the way back instead. After a long walk along roads I finally got to the Craters of the Moon. This large geothermal area is covered in steam vents and well worth a visit. By then I was getting bit tired, so it was finally time to head back to Auckland after a great day of sightseeing.

In addition to those more popular sightseeing destinations I also visited the Botanic Reserve (unfortunately little disappointing). There was also one truly spectacular sunset above Lake Taupo.

While weather up in the mountains looked like it might be improving in a few more days I unfortunately didn’t have time to wait for that. I had already booked some dives in Northland for the next weekend and besides my return flight was getting closer too. So it was time to start heading back north again.

Geothermal Wonders of Rotorua

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Rotorua is a popular tourist destination in the Bay of Plenty area and the chief attraction are all the geothermal features in the region. Even in the city itself hot springs were everywhere (nice) and you could often smell sulphur (not so nice). I opted to avoid the larger (and more commercial) thermal parks and visited many of the smaller features instead.

I followed a nice walking track that covers many interesting sites both in the city itself and nearby. Rotorua has a long history (in NZ terms anyway) as a holiday resort and spa town. So in addition to the geothermal pools themselves there are lots of interesting old buildings. From historical perspective the Government Gardens are one particularly interesting area and so is the nearby museum (which I didn’t visit).

My route also took me to Redwoods, a forested region dominated by massive Californian Redwoods. While my time there was quite limited I still did one of the walking tracks. It is a very nice area and definitely worth a visit!

Matamata and Hobbiton

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

On my way from Auckland to central North Island I visited Matamata and the nearby Hobbiton movie set. This rural community was fairly unknown until Peter Jackson picked a nearby farm as the spot for the Hobbiton movie set. The smials and other hobbit buildings stayed there even after the filming was finished and these days the site is a major tourist attraction.

While everything looks pretty on the outside, unfortunately it’s all fake on the inside. The shoots inside hobbit holes were actually done in a studio in Wellington, most of the buildings can’t be entered and the few that can are empty and bare inside. Still, just walking past Bag End, Green Dragon, the Party Tree and other Hobbiton landmarks was a great experience!

When I was visiting they were actually building up Green Dragon as a real pub. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to go inside yet, the official opening was still few weeks away to coincide with the Hobbit movie. There were obviously no hobbits around but there was one quite real cat. Pickle was abandoned on nearby road as a kitten and has been living in Hobbiton ever since. Some cat petting was a perfect way to finish the Hobbiton tour, for me at least. 🙂

Auckland the City of Sails

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Just a few hours after returning from Wilsons Prom it was time to board a flight to New Zealand. While the NZ trip was mainly a holiday I did have some official business in the country too. For my new Australian VISA to be granted I had to be outside Australia. Pretty silly bureaucracy if you ask me, after just a few hours in the country I received an email that the VISA was granted with no action required on my side.

I started the trip from Auckland. A hostel bed to be more precise, after four nights of camping and an overnight flight I needed a few hours of sleep before heading out to explore the city. The City of Sails may not be the capital of New Zealand but it is the largest by a clear margin. It lives up to its name too, the marinas are filled with sailing boats, including some really fancy ones.

While Auckland itself is an interesting enough city, it’s not really what most people come to New Zealand to see. While there are several ancient (and not so ancient) volcanoes in the area and the views of the Hauraki Gulf are certainly pretty, the area lacks the majestic natural beauty people often associate with New Zealand. Still, it is a nice enough place to spend a few days in. In addition to the usual sights in the city I did the coast to coast walk, a relatively easy 16 km hike from the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the Tasman sea. This walk also covered many of the main volcanic features in Auckland.

However, after a couple of days in the city I was getting a little bored and it was time for some day trips before moving on to the “real” New Zealand. I started out with Rangitoto Island, a volcanic island within a short ferry trip from the city. The shield volcano shape is quite distinctive and pretty symmetric from all directions. Rangitoto is a fairly recent addition to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, it was formed in a series of eruptions around 600 years ago. This history is still clearly visible on the island, in many places the volcanic rock is still visible. The plant life also reflects the harsh environment.

In addition to some great views and nice walks there are also some lava tunnels to explore. I also did a little bit of snorkeling while on the island. The volcanic beach was nice enough swimming spot, even if the arrival of a school group made things quite busy there. These days the island is a scenic reserve but in the past there used to be a small settlement there as well. There are still several baches (small holiday houses) on the island that are kept intact as a part of this heritage.

My second day trip was to Devonport and the North Head, I had already passed both on my way to Rangitoto and back. This northern part of the city is connected to Auckland city center by a ferry and makes for a nice day trip. Devonport has some nice short walks and great views, particularly from atop Mount Victoria. North Head was also an interesting visit. In the past this volcanic hill was used for the coastal defense of Auckland and there are still lots of military bunkers and tunnels there to explore. After a short detour further inland I started heading back towards the ferry. On the way I visited Mount Victoria again, this time shooting the Auckland skyline during sunset and night.