Getting out of Auckland

It is definitely long overdue, but now that I’ve settled in New Zealand, here’s my first blog update in over a year!

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I started my job with 0 days of vacation, but have been slowly accruing free time. In the meantime, I’ve been spending most of my time exploring the Auckland area, which definitely has a lot to see. My company shut down over Christmas, so I decided to take some much-needed travel. I experienced a number of ‘firsts’ on the trip, such as the first time camping in New Zealand, the first time using my new tent (I was told that NZ is very strict about bringing in a ‘dirty’ tent, so I brought a new one), and my first extended road trip outside of Auckland.

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I chose to head south to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for the first stage of the trip. The Crossing is a trail just short of 20kms over volcanic terrain with amazing scenery. A friend of mine decided to come along for the ‘adventure’. We loaded up my car and headed south. When we got close, we looked into the details of the Crossing.

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The trail isn’t a loop, so we had to arrange transportation. There are several bus companies that offer drop-off and pick-up service, but I thought the price was really steep–$35/per person. To put it in perspective, there’s a bus company here that offers trips between Auckland and Wellington (8hrs away) for $29.99. Of course, most people we talked to had the scare tactic—that it’s quite common for cars to get broken into, etc. I had a suspicion that it was actually the bus company operators that break into cars—to scare people into submitting to exorbitant fares.

We headed to the campsite and set up camp. It was a basic campground, with water from the mountain and a non-flush toilet. It was really crowded though—reminding me a lot of camping at the Bonnaroo music festival. We met a Croatian couple in the same situation as us—not wanting to spend so much money for the bus, we decided to drop off one car at the end and the other at the start. It worked out well, and we ended up having company on the hike.

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The trail starts at about 1100m, climbs to 1900m, and then drops down to around 750m. Fortunately, the weather was good—overcast and windy, but not rainy.  Like elsewhere in New Zealand, it changes quickly—when there are clouds it is cold, when the sun peaks out, it’s scorching hot. Most of the hike was above the tree line, and the views were extensive. In a few places there were still hot spots of activity, mostly steam belching out with the off smell of sulfur. Only the final few km’s were in the forest.

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After finishing the hike, we returned to the cars and fortunately the bus operators hadn’t broken into either of our cars! We hit the road a little further south to another campsite, this time a bit less crowded.

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The next day we headed on toward to the town of Whanganui, a quaint city bordered by river and sea. We stopped in a restaurant and had a feed (Kiwi term), glad to have a filling meal after the hike of the previous day. Afterwards, we headed along the coast to the town of Hawera. It was raining so we decided to get a room rather than set up camp in the rain.

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Refreshed (and dry) we headed up toward Mt. Taranaki for some light hiking and sightseeing. It was Christmas day, so almost everything was closed—except a few gas stations and Chinese-run fish&chips stores. We checked out the city of New Plymouth and then hit the road heading north toward the surfing town of Raglan.

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Raglan has a rugged and beautiful coast—not best for swimming, but a ‘world-class’ surfing spot. Not far away is Bridal Veil Falls (seems like a common name), a 55m drop. There were a few freshwater eels in the stream below the waterfall.

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Finally, after a few days on the road, we headed back. I feel like I know a lot more about New Zealand and appreciate all it offers. I can’t wait to start exploring more…once I get some more vacation. And I’m definitely looking forward to some more excellent driving conditions to exercise my Honda Euro R!

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