30.03.2014 - 04.04.2014 22 °C
We arrived in New Zealand's North Island after two exceptional weeks of camping travels in the South Island. After picking up our new (very big, very fast!) car rental in Wellington, we sought out a campsite and then went to meet an English friend we met on our China trip, who had moved to Wellington. Although we didn't get to see much of the city itself, it was lovely to see a familiar face. We now also know the best place in Wellington to go for ice cream - thank you Tim!! We'd have loved to spend longer in Wellington, perhaps visiting Mount Victoria and Wellington's Botanical Gardens, but due to the amount we wanted to do in such a short space of time, the following morning we left Wellington behind and travelled on up to The Tongariro National Park (or 'Mordor' for all of the Lord of the Rings fans out there!).
We camped the night in Whakapapa Village, inside the NP, and the following morning par-took in the amazing 20km walk of The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is supposedly the best one day walk in the world, so we felt we just had to do it. Especially as the weather conditions couldn't have been more perfect for us; due to the risks involved, the weather has to be just right to be able to do it.
I was still getting over my cold, but determined to do it anyhow. It is without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done; trekking a 700m ascent to get to the summit, over rocky, rough volcanic terrain. And then, down the other side 1100 metres to the finish.
We saw so much breathtaking scenery though, it was almost easy to forget the difficulty of the walk; from huge volcanoes, to bright blue and green volcanic lakes. It took us 7 hours and 45 minutes to complete, and that was actually pretty good going! It can take people anywhere from 6 to 10 hours to complete!
At the start of the walk - feeling very optimistic and ready to go!
Mount Ngauruhoe - AKA Mount Doom in LOTR. Some people actually climb to the summit of this - but with no actual path, and a huge scree ski back down, we gave this a miss. It's also approximately a further 450 metres of pure ascent and would have easily added a further 3 hours to our tramp.
We made it = 1886 metres above sea level! Having trekked from 1120 metres above sea level. We then just had to make it back down to 700m above sea level!!
The view of the Red Crater from the summit.
The view of the volcanic lakes from the summit.
After completing the walk - tired, aching and sore (I'd fallen over on the descent, landing on a huge rock) we treated ourselves to a lovely motel room for the night. We drove the hour on to Lake Taupo, which is New Zealand's largest lake - it's absolutely huge, being around the same size as Singapore, and checked in to our motel. After delighting in a glorious bath (remember, we'd also just camped for two weeks!), we promptly fell asleep. The following morning, after a quick stop to admire Lake Taupo and The Huka Falls, we headed on to Rotorua - the geo-thermal capital of New Zealand.
The Huka Falls.
It only took around an hour for us to drive to Rotorua from Taupo, which was nice as we got to visit one of Rotorua's geo-thermal sights in the afternoon; Wai-O-Tapu. Because of the sulphurous activity, the geo-thermal sites smell (as does the entire town actually) rather eggy, but it's worth enduring the stench to experience yet another act of nature at its most amazing in this fantastic country.
Ben and I with Wai-O-Tapu's main attraction in the background; it's bright green thermal lake.
We then checked in to another motel in Rotorua town, and spent the rest of the evening watching films and resting - we were both still so exhausted from The Tongeriro Crossing! And the fact we'd had such a hectic time in New Zealand in general.
The following day we left Rototua for Matamata - AKA Hobbiton! We'd booked on to the Hobbiton/LOTR film set tour - Ben is quite a fan of the films so I thought it was something we had to do whilst there. Although I'm not a real fan myself, the tour was so much fun and we both enjoyed it lots more than we thought we would.
A pork pie and ginger beer in The Green Dragon!
Bag End - the most famous of the Hobbit holes.
It was a really insightful day, learning more about how film sets work. Some of the 'secrets' told to us where pretty amazing too - such as Sir Peter Jackson shipping over 30 Suffolk sheep from England, as he didn't think the New Zealand sheep at the farm were 'Middle Earthy' enough. Also, the tree behind Bag End, is actually a hand-made tree comprising over 400,000 fake leaves, which were hand painted just the right shade of green for the film. He also employed several young children from the local town to walk certain paths (ie. to the washing lines) to make them look authentically walked on! I didn't realise so much thought and planning went into a film set!
We travelled from Hobbiton to Auckland later that day, with it being our last full day in New Zealand. As with Wellington, we didn't get to see much of Auckland itself due to our lack of time. But we met up with a friend of mine who'd moved to Auckland a little while ago, who put us up for the night. In all, it was a fantastic last day in New Zealand.
We left the awe inspiring country of New Zealand the following day, for our super long journey back home. We weren't too sad to leave though, as we'd had the most amazing time. It's such an untouched, natural wonder of a country and somewhere everyone should be lucky enough to visit in their lifetime. We are certainly planning on returning!