16.02.2011 - 26.02.2011 30 °C
We arrived in a cold and wet Auckland at 4am. Thankfully the weather improved as the day progressed. We spent a couple of days relaxing, seeing some of the city and planning our trip around parts of the North Island. Auckland is known as the city of sails and the harbour and marinas are really nice-looking areas. The rest of the city is also pretty good too and most people seem to have fairly large houses. We were surprised by the Asian influence in the city, as there were lots of Chinese, Korean and Japanese here which meant some great food.
We picked up our campervan from Wicked Campervans, who paint their vans in unusual, sometimes controversial and unique designs. Our van was called the Flying Rat and was a converted 1997 Toyota Townace. Although it was a bit small, basic and awful going uphill it was fun and was all we needed. We set off north to head up the coast to the Bay of Islands. Our first stop was Paihia where we stayed a couple of nights. It is a really pretty place with good beaches and lots of islands within the bay. The weather was great as it was 32 degrees, which was a lot higher than we were expecting for their Autumn. We had another great day when leaving so we took a slight detour to a place called Whangarei where we visited some waterfalls.
Our next destination was Waipu which is a town founded by Scottish immigrants around the 1850’s. It has a Scottish Museum that actually lists all of the Scots (mostly Highlanders) who made this journey from Ullapool via Nova Scotia in Canada. This also had a stunning beach and we were lucky to get more fantastic weather. We also did a trip to the caves to see Glow-worms. Linda wasn’t a fan of the mud, water and lack of light that we had to get through to see them so she stayed outside. I scrambled through to the cave at the back to see them though and it was impressive. Unfortunately none of the photos came out though.
On our way back to Auckland, from the Northland, we stopped at Glenfield to visit my Mum’s second cousins, Jimmy and Willie. They are from Gairloch and Dingwall and they left Scotland 50 years ago, although they haven’t lost their Ross-shire accents after all that time. They made us feel really welcome and we had a good laugh with them. They also had a photo of my Mum as a baby, which was a bit bizarre seeing on the other side of the world.
After returning to Auckland we decided to head south-east to Rotorua to break up our journey to the Tongariro National Park. There was a lot to do here but unfortunately time wasn’t on our side so we only managed to visit the town’s thermal springs. These were impressive, especially since they were in the middle of town, although the smell of sulphur was a bit overpowering. Most of the town smelled of rotten eggs so thankfully we decided to stay in a nice wee campsite out of town and away from it.
We stopped at a city called Taupo when headed South from here, which seemed pretty nice although very touristy. There are many adrenaline activities to do here but again we didn’t have time so will maybe try to do something when we get to the South Island. It was here that we heard the awful news about the devastating earthquake in Christchurch. We listened to the news progressing as we continued our journey to Tongariro and it was then we realised the severity of it. As the following days progressed the news became a lot worse as the death toll increased. It has been a complete eye-opener to be in the same country as a disaster like this happening.
The following morning we started the day trek over the Tongariro crossing. This is a 19km trek which takes you up and over a ridge between 2 volcanoes, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films). The scenery was pretty unique with active volcanoes, active volcanic craters, emerald lakes and jagged lava flows. One of the lakes was particularly impressive called the red crater. It was a good day but a long one since we had to dirve back to Rotorua that evening.
Following Rotorua we drove North to the Bay of Plenty to check out some of the beaches on the way up to the Coromandel Peninsula. The weather was once again fantastic and the beaches were superb, reminding us of the Brazilian beaches. The drive up the coast was stunning as we worked our way up to Hot Water Beach near Hahei. We got lucky with the tide as you need to be on the beach within 2 hours of low tide to experience digging your own hot water pool in the sand. We had a couple of failed attempts at digging for hot water before being advised on how to find a good spot. We then got successful by helping others who had already found a good spot. The water that came up through the sand was so hot in some places it actually burned you!
That was our last night in the North Island as we returned to Auckland the next morning after clocking 1750kms in the fuel guzzling Flying Rat!! We enjoyed the North Island especially the fantastic weather and great beaches but we are looking forward to the more scenic South Island.