New Zealand Done.

February 17th, 2007

I’ve been in New Zealand almost 2 weeks but it seems like months. Already had tons of outdoor adventures, met loads of people, had a cold, had some beers, had a great time. Still having a great time, not much timme for internet (sorry blog fans). Highlights include hiking and swimming on a glacier (yes, i swam in a pool of water on a glacier), many nature walks in very beautiful, pristine outdoors,, a few late nights, many early mornings, and lots of cool, laid back people.

My first day was in Auckland, but early the next morning I started my kiwi adventure on the Stray Bus. We headed to Hahei – the hot sand beaches and cathedral cove. Those beaches were sooo cool – basically theres a hot spring under the beach, and you can dig a hole in the sand and make a mini hot tub. You can only do it at low tide, and the hot spring is too hot by itself, requires a little ocean water to get it just right. We got lucky enough to get a bit of the hot tub action before the rain started pouring down. Add some wind and you get a nice recipe for a cold. Since i was still a bit worn out from my last night in SF and traveling, that cold caught me the next day. But before that cold the 30 of us on the bus had a tastee bbq and some beers and a bit of getting to know you time.

Wednesday we left the hot tub beach and headed for Raglan, a surfing town on the west coast of the North Island. My cold prevented me from joining the other kids surfin’, instead i had the pleasure of chillin’ in the hostel on the hill (which was actually quite cool). I got to take a nap, do a bit of internet, and watch mission impossible with some other lazy bums. I called it an early night.

Thusday, Day 4, we hit the Glo-worm caves in Waitomo. That was really interesting – these little worms live in the ceilings of these caves, hang threads down like spider webs, and just glow .. making other insects think its light and they come buzzing up to be dinner. They had tons of other caves around there, carved partially by streams, surrounded by trees and ferns, all pretty cool – it really felt like magical elf land lord of the rings style. That lasted a few hours, we had some lunch, and hit the road to Rotorua, home of the hot springs and bubbling mud pools. We stayed in a nice hostel with wireless internet (only wireless in NZ so far), a pool and hot tub, and the Lava Bar snug up beside it.

Friday we had some time to kill in Rotorua before heading to Taupo. I checked out the bubbly mud pools and did a bit of shopping. They are plenty of Jade shops around, since Jade is found everywhere in new zealand. In fact, i got a nice little wood carving bowl thingee for pretty cheap in one of them jade shops. I also enjoyed some awesome (world-class) indian food for lunch. Once we arrived in Taupo, we checked into our hostel, rented some bikes, and went down to the river. It was unbelievably kick ass. First we swam near this hot spring that dumps into the river, creating a variable temperature hot tub in the river. Then we went to this other section called cherry island where all the locals were swimming. You could jump into the river via a bridge, a tree, or a rope swing. Sweet as.

Yes, i said “sweet as”. Down here in NZ (and Australia, too), they like to say an adjective followed by “as” for emphasis. Instead of “hard as a rock”, it would just be “hard as”. Instead of “easy as pie” its “easy as”. You get it.

Saturday we were supposed to do the crossing, but the weather was not so good, so i chose to wait for it. Wait for it … After all, most say its the best thing to do on the north island. In the meantime I handled some travel stuff, rode a bike, and hit that river again with some more peeps. Went to bed early, but didn’t sleep well. I think it was because my cold was finally leaving me and my energy was returning. Or maybe i was just giddy with excitement for the crossing.

Sunday we got up early and headed out for the Tongariro crossing, home of Mt. Doom (Lord of the Rings). It was a 17km trek with about 1km vertical. We started from the Mangatepopo trailhead, went up for about 2.5 hours, then saw plenty of evil (red and black rocks with steam pouring out), and some crystal clear emerald pools. But the sky was a bit cloudy so the view was not so great. It was still cool, hiking down the mountain and thru a rain forest. The whole thing took about 5 1/2 hours. After the hike we checked into a lodge in Tongariro National Park and proceded to drink. It was my first time drinking beers in a while, so i was thirsty. About 15 of us headed out to the pub, the only ones there, and had a grand ol’ time. I especially liked the parrot that could drink from a red bull can.

Monday we got up and headed to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. The trip was not very exciting, but got to Wellington in time to see the city a bit before dark. Summer in New Zealand gives you really long days – It’s basically light out from 6ish to almost 9. Anyhoo, after checking into the Base hostel, we went down to the Te Papa Museum – free, open till 6. Then a shower and some tasty chinese food before nap time.

Tuesday, Day 9, I left north island for the south island. They say the north island is beautiful but the south island is more dramatic – less people, more nature, bigger mountains, glaciers, etc. My kind of place. To get across, we took a 3 hour ferry from Wellington to Picton. Then we hopped on another Stray bus and drove through Nelson (artsy hippy town) to Abel Tasman National park. The park is known for its beautiful beaches and islands. Nelson and most of the north part of the south island gets tons of sun, good for grapes. In fact, the marlborough region is world renowned for their sauvignon blanc’s, among others. We stayed at old macdonald’s farm by abel tasman. I had time to do a nice run along the beach path and see some of the beautiful tiny beaches and rolling hills with almost a tropical rain-forest feel. Most stayed there for 2 or more nights, sadly my tight schedule made me leave the next day.

Wednesday, Feb 14 (Valentines day) we had our longest driving day down to barrytown (near greymouth) on the west coast. We stopped at a couple cool national parks – Cape Foulwind and the Pancake rocks at Punakaiki. We also stopped to get clothes for the dress-up night for valentines day – the rule was that you had to spend $5 or less at the thrift stores to dress up. The girls loved it, lucky they helped me pick out some stuff, too. Once we got to the hostel, we found bins full of stuff from previous groups – i ended up wearing a red dress from there. Lots of fun ensued that night till the wee hours – we weren’t leaving till after noon the next day. Normally our bus leaves at 8 or 9 every morning. Good times, good times.

Thursday and Friday nights were spent at Franz Josef Glacier. Thursday was uneventful, left Barrytown at noon, a bit hungover, but we did make a stop in a townwhere i got to see a real kiwi bird. They’re quite rare, and only come out at night. We arrived at the Urban Retreat hostel by the glacier. It was pretty sweet – had a nice bar/restaraunt and a big 16-person hot tub in addition to the usual internet, laundry, kitchen and tv room. I finally did some laundry thusday night and caught up on my journal and pictures. Friday morning we got up early and did the glacier full-day walk. It was “sweet as” – weather was great, our guide Sam was fun, and the the 11 people in my group were adventurous. The glacier is about 4km from the ocean, we walked about 40 mins in a rainforest like trail before we got to the mouth of the glacier. We put ice talons over the rubber hiking boots they gave us, and while doing so a chunk of ice fell off the front of the glacier, right where the river flows out, crackling like thunder as it fell. Sadly i learned that it happened again later in the day, this time breaking a man’s leg, a man who did not heed the warnings to stay away from the mouth of the glacier. You best be listening to your guides! Once our boots were on, we started on the glacier. The hike was slow moving, we’d walk for 5 mins then wait 5 mins for the guide to chop out some stairs. The glacier melts quickly, every day a group arrives at 6am to chop out ice stairs for that day’s tours. Even with that, Anthe guide for each group spends time with his ice pick hacking as he goes. Towards the end even I got to create a stair. Thank you, thank you. The glacier itself is increadibly dirty – and due to the hilly granite underneath, it had many cracks and peaks. We did hike up far enough to get to some really blue ice – and it was soo incredibly blue. But my favorite part was the swimming. On our way back down, there was a pool of water the size of mini hot tub in the middle of glacier. Our guide jumped in first, followed quickly by a bunch of college girls in our group. Of course I and the other stray kids had to jump in as well – man was it cold! But extremely exhilerating. I put my dry shirts back on, my wet shorts took about 30min to dry. My rubber boots and wool socks never did.
Once we got off the glacier, we hiked back to the bus, but i did one more dip under a waterfall, which was also quite refreshing. We got back to the hostel and hopped in the hot tub. I began to celebrate my last night with stray as more stray friends showed up from the bus one day behind us. It was a lovely night.

Saturday i woke up, made it to the bus stop to go north to catch the trans alpine train from Greymouth to Christchurch. The train was lovely, but a bit too shaky for me to write, read, or type on my laptop. I was still tired from the night before, so i mostly slept and took in the scenery. Upon arriving in Christchurch, i found a backpacker hotel, happened upon karin, a fellow american i met on mt. doom, and she joined me for some indian food. I tried to upload some stuff onto the internet, but like most internet stations in NZ, i could not. You can only launch the web browser. Sigh. I went too bed early to catch my 4:15am shuttle to the airport.

Sunday, Day 14, i leave New Zealand. I’m sitting in the Christchurch airport right now, so by the time you read this i’ll be in Australia. I’m sad to leave NZ – you really need 6 weeks to see it all without being rushed. But i’m soo glad i had time to visit the land of the kiwi’s. It’s a bit more expensive than the USA (except for NY and other big cities), but definitely worth it. And the stray bus was a great way to go – gave me more time to enjoy NZ and fellow travelers instead of spending all my time planning. Although i must admit i was tired of being herded around to certain hostels and spots by the end of the trip – sometimes you just want to sleep in.

Sweet as, New Zealand.