Our ferry rolled into the beautiful harbour of Wellington exactly as planned, and we were moving into a new phase of New Zealand....the North Island phase! Since the South Island was so fantastic and beautiful we were quite expecting the excitement and natural beauty to peter off, but we were wrong!
As we rolled into Wellington we could already tell this 200,000 population small city was like no other we had seen before. It had undulating hills but barely any traffic, and much better coffee than you’d guess from its size and location (the local specialty is the “flat white” coffee, which is basically a zero-froth version of a cappuccino).
Upon arrival, we were greeted by our friends Neil and Helen and their daughter Caitlyn at the arrivals gate of the ferry terminal. We were glad to have friends to visit and to be shown around by locals and we were once again looking forward to sleeping in real beds for the next couple of nights ;)
Wellington is supposed to be the political, cultural and artsy hub of New Zealand (along with being the actual capital of New Zealand), and it became quite evident to us not 15 minutes into our arrival brunch at the cutest 1960 themed bohemian beach café. It was loaded with hipsters, however, not the annoying kind. We must have been in a good mood… either way, the food was fantastic and service was killer. We just wish we could remember the name of that place!
Right after our re-fuel session, we were wisked away to see the iconic Wellington Cable Car, which has been running for over 100 years. From up there we took in all the views: watched planes land at the Wellington airport and tried to figure out which body of water was a bay and which was the Cook Straight.
On our second day in Wellington, our amazing hosts took us all around, from the famous and free museum called Te Papa, to the crazy, indie Cuba Street to window shop and sample some local drinks and grub (coffee, plus dessert this time).
This is where we discovered some very unusual fashion trends. In Wellington, as there is in Toronto, there is a small group of teenagers and twenty something’s that like to dress Goth. Where we are from, Goth fashion has a vampire, punk rocker, all in black scary kind of feel. Well all of this applies in Wellington and maybe all of NZ (not sure), however there is an undeniable pirate theme running through the place... arrr ahoy matey, eye patch and all! Hahaha super weird.
Ok enough rambling, the day ended in true Toronto hipster fashion with us adults (only) hanging in one of the coolest resto/bars called Chow. The cocktails were to die for (Steph ordered the Ping Pong Punch...delish!) and the tapas style Asian fusion dishes were unbelievably tasty. For those who know Steph’s hobby of staying hip like the kids, she was in heaven and equates the experience similar to the Toronto based restaurant 'Origins' (the one on Church & King not Liberty Village :)
We would like to send out a very warm and huge thank you to Neil, Helen, Caitlyn and Ryan for welcoming us into their home, for letting us take over their long weekend and for spoiling us like we were one of their own teenage kids ;)... they even bought us toothpaste for the rest of our trip. Good as gold!
So with two full nights of 8-10 hour sleeps, in a very comfortable bed (thank you again Neil and Helen), we hopped back into our tin can on wheels and hit the open road, continuing north.
First stop for us north of Wellington was the historic and iconic art deco town of Napier.
If you weren't aware, New Zealand is on a major fault line and has a long history of earthquakes. On February 3, 1931, Napier fell victim to one of the biggest earthquakes in the country’s history and was completely flattened. It took a few years, but they eventually rebuilt the town, and when they did, because of the era, almost every single building was rebuilt in art deco style. Hey, it was the style at the time! What might have been ultra-modern then (they were the first city in NZ to get electricity, too), seems like a movie set now. It is the neatest place you could ever see, and you feel like you have gone back in time.
When we arrived, we hit the local tour office and picked up the self-guided tour pamphlet and walked for hours admiring the buildings and colours and layout. Napier also lies on a pretty nice beach, which makes this town a very rewarding visit. Unfortunately due to the fact we only had six days left in the north island we could only spend the day, and then we were off again.
Next stop...Lake Taupo. As we mentioned two blogs ago, we had declared NZ a “budget-free zone” back in the South Island, and so we ate at the occasional restaurant and took in fee-bearing the tourist attractions as they appeared. But with the Lake Taupo and Huka falls area, it was easy to enjoy on the super-cheap. There were several things to do here at zero or little cost, so we explored the area, kept the wallet in the glove compartment and had a fabulous time!
This day quickly became the ‘corniest' day of our trip, as all the places we stopped in at were super-kitchy (this seems to happen in places where a waterfall is the major attraction – Niagara Falls – we rest our case ;). Here is a list of activities in the area and you can judge for yourself. We watched the Aratiatia Rapids Dam open and take fifteen minutes flat to fill a river gorge ten meters or so (pretty cool to see and only happens three times a day – and we had a great viewpoint alongside the other retirees ;).
Then we went to Huka Prawn Park...yup you read that correctly, a shrimp farm where you can fish for your own lunch. We too were in shock. Then we went to the Huka Bee Hive, an exhibit completely dedicated to honey and honey production and honey bees. They even had indoor glass bee hive with bees working away....slave drivers! Vince had a shot of honey liquor (hey he needed it to wash away the flavor of the mead!).
Then we went and checked out Huka Falls, which turned out to be a lot smaller than all the buildup! Maybe we’ve been spoiled growing up near Niagara Falls ;).
Our last visit of our corny day was at a spot called "Craters of the Moon”, a 45 minute circuit around a few dozen hectares of ground of volcanic activity. This was cool. There were steam vents and thermal mud pools all around. As an attraction it should rival, if not beat Huka Falls, but for some reason waterfalls seem to get all the glory.
All in all Lake Taupo was super fun but maybe more geared towards those aged 8 or 80. Fun day though!
Moving on at high pace, that night we drove south, around Lake Taupo, to camp on the cheap and to be within spitting distance of our biggest goal for the North Island the next morning: the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
You see, since leaving Toronto in December, we have taken up hiking and we have been ramping up the intensity of our walks ever since. Of course, we don’t mountain climb (for a lot of reasons), but we think we are doing pretty good hitting some of the bigger hills in the Asia Pacific region (and we’re training for Macchu Picchu).
Assuming the weather co-operated, on this day Tongariro, would be our toughest trek to date. This walk would be a total of six hours and was mainly uphill all the way to what is called the Blue Lakes. As well, you have to walk through all four seasons including the season of extreme winds. By the end, Steph was convinced she was going to have to be carried out to the campervan on a stretcher...the downhill return on a mix of loose and solid rocks was super killer on the knees.
Despite the pain -- what an amazing day and sense of accomplishment!
We certainly felt our age in our joints, so that night we found a holiday park that also had natural hot pools, included in the price! Total score, and exactly what we needed.
Waking up pretty much rejuvenated, we continued north to the (also) volcanic region of Rotorua. This time we were heading for another goal: the Agrodome! Steph wanted to shear a sheep! And feed a few, too. When we rolled in, it was like Disneyland meets Old McDonald’s Farm…fantastic!
Upon arrival we learned to the laughter of the ticket agents that there is “no way” we’d be allowed to shear a sheep ourselves, during the sheep show we did get to watch a poor little lamb go from well-insulated to naked in less than 60 seconds.
The show was great. It even included dogs! Check out this video http://s3.amazonaws.com/NWOTR/MVI_5066.m4v …those sheep are not stuffed. It was the real deal. We had no idea there were 20 different breeds of sheep. This was actually the first time while on the road Steph wanted to get a job hosting the sheep show. Can’t be that far from a dog show, right? ;)
After the show, we did the tour. It was an hour-long tour of the farm grounds and fed every animal you could imagine. Cows, sheep, deer, ostrich, alpaca and duck…crazy!!! Steph was in heaven and did not want to leave. To the confusion of the other tourists, Vince was yelling “mangia, mangia!” to every animal he fed.
After our morning of farm fun, we headed uphill to the crazy Rotorura Sky Swing because in NZ you have to jump off something, and this was the tamest free fall we could find.
Time was ticking and our flight out of Auckland was less than 24 hours away at this point, so we booted it north one last time to drop off our van and get to the airport in time. Rush, rush, rush! We only had to squeeze in one last item before left.
Our good friend Ritu (who you met in our last India Blog) has family in Auckland who she has not seen in a very long time. We promised her to go visit their restaurant, give them a hug for her and say hello. We only narrowly managed to squeeze in the stop, but it was wonderful and we were greeted as family. What a great hour with delicious food and great conversation. We hope to visit them again some time but nest time for much longer!
Well this concludes our last week in New Zealand, by far the nicest storehouse of natural beauty in the world. We highly recommend that you take every reasonable measure at your disposal to get there – especially if you enjoy the great outdoors – the stuff you can do here, you just can’t do anywhere else.
For example, Zorbing: http://s3.amazonaws.com/NWOTR/MVI_5166.m4v. We’re not even going to talk about this one. No, we didn’t do it! Instead we did this!
We should run now, as we’re wrapping this one up from Beijing where we just arrived and we are getting ready to hike the Great Wall of China. Stay tuned for more crazy adventures!