I’ve finally made it to Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand, meaning “the land of the long white cloud”)! I’ve actually been in the country for 8 days now and I’m currently back in the big city of Auckland after road tripping through parts of the North Island. It’s spring right now so it’s really strange seeing the cherry blossoms blooming in September. Weather-wise it’s been pretty similar to home–windy and rainy on most days, but warmer with temps in the 60s & low 70s. Here’s what I’ve been up to so far:
I arrived in New Zealand via Auckland, the country’s largest city with nearly 1.4 million residents. That’s a quarter of the entire population of NZ alone. It’s very spread out, has some nice parks, some nice beaches, a newly refurbished waterfront, and extinct volcanoes you can hike on with the sheep (yes, sheep in the middle of a city!). It reminds me a bit of Vancouver B.C. actually, but not as pretty. Honestly, there really isn’t much to say about Auckland. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of culture here–it just seems like any ordinary city.
After two days in Auckland I was ready to get out and see the countryside, so I rented a camper van and went on a little tour of the North Island. First stop I made was in the small surfer town of Raglan, where I loaded up on groceries and stuff I would need for the following days. The town is famous for its big black sand beaches, which boast some of the best surf in the country. It was pretty quite in town though so I went for a drive on a long gravel road outside of town that followed coastline. It was a beautiful drive, despite the stormy weather. At the end of the road, I ended up taking a short hike to Bridal Veil Falls, where I got to experience walking through the lush New Zealand rain forest (complete with pouring rain) and saw an amazing waterfall!
The next day I continued on south to the little town of Waitomo, which is famous for the massive cave system hidden beneath its hills. Here I went black water rafting and it was the coolest thing that I’ve done so far in NZ! Since it involved tubing an underground river, I obviously didn’t bring my camera with me. So I’ll just have to describe it. 🙂 I met up with my tour group just outside of town, where we all got acquainted with each other and received an orientation from our tour leader on what we would be doing. I’d estimate there was 12 people in the group–an odd mixture of young backpackers from here and there, couples visiting from Europe, and an Aussie family which included an older woman who must have been around 60 (she was also hilariously witty). Anyway, we all got geared up in our wet suits, packed into the van, and proceeded on down the road towards the caves. Before we headed off to the entrance, we grabbed our tubes and did little group exercises to get warmed up for things we’d have to do in the cave. Once that was taken care of, we made our way over to this narrow crack in the side of a big rock wall with a little stream flowing into it and carefully squeezed on through one by one. Once inside, we had to duck down to avoid hitting our heads on the cave ceiling on our way to the main river we would be tubing in. It had rained pretty heavily in the days prior so the river was running higher than normal, although it varied throughout the cave. In some places it was ankle deep. In others it was maybe chest deep. It did get pretty tight in a few places. At one point we had to lie on our tube flat on our back with the cave ceiling passing by just a few inches above our noses. Eventually things opened up a bit more as we entered a large cavern. This is when our guides instructed us to turn our lights off and we could see thousands of bluish-green glowing dots sparkling across the ceiling–glow worms! Actually, they aren’t worms at all. Our guides told us they’re the larvae of a fly (which resembles a big mosquito) that lets out lines of poo, which is bioluminescent, to attract other insects for food. But since glow larvae doesn’t sound quite as enchanting as glow worms, everyone just calls them glow worms. 🙂 In any case, glowing poo aside, it was pretty magical. We drifted past the glow “worms” for a little while, then came to the point where we had to hurl ourselves off a few waterfalls. They were only like 5 feet high, but jumping backwards into the rushing water in the dark made it more exciting. Once everyone made it over the falls, we drifted through more glow worm caves before eventually rounding a corner where the light of day reappeared and we exited the river. Then it was back to the shop for hot bagels and soup! This was such an awesome experience–a must do when visiting New Zealand. I did the Labyrinth Tour with the Legendary Black Water Company and would totally do it again in a heartbeat.
After Waitomo I drove out into the countryside a ways until it got dark, where I spent the night at a nice little lakeside reserve. I got up early the next morning and continued on toward Hahei on the Coromandel Peninsula–a region known for its nice beaches, making it a popular holiday destination for Kiwis. By the time I got up there the weather cleared up and it actually started to feel like summer!
After spending the night in Hahei and taking a morning walk to the famous Cathedral Cove, I drove north to the very northern tip of the peninsula to Port Jackson Bay. Getting there required going up a narrow gravel road for 28 km (17 miles) that dipped down along the beach in some places and in others, precariously followed the edge of harrowing cliffs hundreds of feet above the sea.
I spent two days at Port Jackson Bay, strolling along the long wide beach, hiking the nearby hills, walking a good portion of the Coromandel Walkway, doing some reading, catching up on quite times. The morning before I left, I had tea with two British girls who were among the few people in the campground also touring their way around the country. We exchanged stories on what we had done so far in NZ, shared tips on what to see, where to go to get the cheapest food & gas (because food & gas in general is pretty pricey here, at least for a spoiled American where its way cheaper at home!). It was nice having some company for a change after spending 6 days on the road alone.
And now, I’ve returned to Auckland for the night and will be departing for the Bay of Islands tomorrow on the north end of the island for a few more days. Then its off to the South Island to look for a job and start getting settled in!