In the winter of 2008/09, I spent 4 ½ months seeing most everything to see in this great country. The itinerary was determined first by the dates of music festivals. After they were calendared in, I made it a mission to do all nine Great Walks, the best of fifty or more multi day treks available in the country. I saw the most outstanding parts of the country. I did many other hikes and visited all the touristy places. The Maori culture is mainstream and celebrated as they have treated their indigenous people better than any other country in the world. It has had progressive governments – they were the first in the world to grant the vote to women in 1893, eliminated their senate years ago and don’t have pennies or nickles.
Tourism is facilitated like no other country in the world. Every town has an i-site visitor information center where any trip or means of transportation can be arranged. It is a great country to see and easy to travel in. Speaking English and having a culture very similar to the one I came from always makes for the easiest travel. The bus system goes most places but a car would be ideal. Hitchhiking is safe and a great way to meet native Kiwis. The spectacular government website doc.gov.nz manages all bookings for all the treks. Once registered, one can pick all the campsites or huts you want to use, pay the fees, and get a printed copy that serves as your permit. Cancellations appear as soon as available and so in the busiest booked treks (Milford Trek books out in a few days in early July), one still has a good chance of obtaining a spot. The NZ$ is relatively cheap.
History. Originally settled by Polynesians between 1000-1200 AD, the entire country was populated in 100 years. They bought kumara or sweet potato, gourd, yam and taro with them. NZ has no native land mammals except for a few species of bat but there were 12 species of moa (the largest weighed 240kg and many sea mammals. Tribes arose in the competition for resources and they were often at war with each other.
The Dutch arrived first in 1642, they were attacked and never came back but left a name. Cook arrived in 1769 and relations were better. The first station was established in 1814 in the Bay of Islands. 271 whalers called between 1833-39 alone and conflict was minimal and intermarriage common. Europeans bought pigs, potatoes and disease but smallpox never arrived. By then the Maori population had only been reduced by 20% post contact. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed by 40 chiefs in 1840 and NZ became a British Colony. It gave the Maori full rights but the English retained full control of government (the maori thought that it allowed them to retain their chieftainships. War broke out in 1860 and did not end until 1916. Only 5% of the Maori live in the south island.
Britain received most of its exports of meat, wool, and dairy products until the 1970’s. Maoris increasingly moved to the cities and more immigration was allowed. In 1984, they barred nuclear powered vessels or armed ships from their waters angering the US. In 1985, French spies sank the antinuclear protest ship, the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1986 and the country jumped to the left socially (civil unions allowed in 2005). Proportional representation was introduced in 1996. The pub, rugby and the sports ground, , the quarter acre section, the bush, the beach, and the bach (cottage) are dear to all kiwis. They do not tolerate show offs.
Wellington is the wealthiest city, and NZ is 21st in the world in GDP/person. Its major exports in order are dairy products (every field has cows in it), meat, wood, fish and machinery. It imports considerably more than it exports producing significant balance of payment problems. Of its 4½ million people, 1/3 live in Auckland and 86% live in cities. Maori culture has a special and separate status, Maori is an official language, and they are guaranteed parliamentary seats. Auckland has a 20% Asian population and 16% are Pacific Islanders. Rugby and the All Blacks are a religion and net ball and cricket are popular. The wines are world renowned and they pride themselves on their grass-fed meat – beef, mutton and lamb, and venison.
Arising from Gondwanaland 130 million years ago, it has undergone uplift, erosion, ice ages and achieved its present state only as recently as 10,000 years ago. This has produced one of the most varied landscapes from the 650km long southern Alps to all the volcanic activity in the north island. The many earthquakes give the islands the moniker “the Shaky Isles”. Due to its long isolation, it has many unique plants and animals. The moa is extinct and it must be very rare to see the nocturnal kiwi (the only place is in zoos and reserves), although you hear them all the time at night. Many introduced mammals have wrecked havoc – 70million possums (destroying huge areas of forest), deer, rabbits, stoats, pigs and goats. One third of the country is protected including 14 national parks. Of 54 multi-day treks, nine are designated Great Walks and it was my goal to do all nine.
I landed in Aukland (pop. 1.2million) and was met at the airport by my cousin and her 9 year old son. They live in Takapuna north of Auckland. Her family had migrated to NZ when she was a teenager as her father was in the oil pipeline business. She has stayed and is married to an Air New Zealand pilot. Her 3 brothers all live in Australia. Auckland is basically on an isthmus running east west between two harbors. Its volcanic history is shown by the many volcanoes spread all over town. We went down to Davenport and walked up Mt Victoria and drove out to there bach. These cottages are an institution and they spend a lot of time here. It was nice to get reacquainted with her and meet her family.
I then took the ferry through the Hauraki Gulf with its many islands none of which I visited. I was on my way to the Cormandel Peninsula and landed in Cormandel Town. I hitchhiked to the north tip, seeing on our way a pod or killer whales just offshore. With an Austrian woman, I hiked the scenic, 3 hour Cormandel Coastal Walkway, a 3 hour hike between Fletcher Bay and Stoney Bay. It had great coastal views and an ambling section across farmland. We were luckily able to get a ride at the end back to town. I bussed over to Hahei, the legendary Kiwi beach town. Nearby is Cathedral Cove, with its famous gigantic limestone arch and natural waterfall shower. It’s a 70 minute walk along the coast from Cathedral Cove to Hahei Beach. Hot Rock Beach is justifiably famous. For two hours on either side of low tide, hot water oozes up. Bring a spade, dig a hole and you have a personal spa. I then backtracked along the untamed 309 Road to Coromandel Forest Park to day hike up to the Pinnacles (759m) in the Kauaeranga Valley behind Thames. At the huge 80 bed Pinnacles Hut, I talked to the caretaker who planted the seed for me to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain starting in Le Puy, France 1600km to Santiago, Spain. After taking a trail and stairs to the top of the Pinnacles, there were commanding views including one down to the ocean to the east.
After a night in Thames, I went down to Rotorua (pop 70,400) in the heart of NZ’s dynamic thermal area. Despite the persistent eggy odor, this resort town is thronged with tourists. Ohinemutu is a lakeside Maori village. The historic St Faith’s Anglican Church is intricately decorated with Maori carvings, woven panels and stained glass windows. Opposite is the Tama-te-kapua Meeting House. The Rotorua Museum has displays of the many eccentric therapies like radium and electric current baths, along with the usual museum fare. The surrounding Government Gardens are pretty. All the thermal features are seen in private venues including geysers, springs, boiling cauldrons. There are many Maori cultural shows and whitewater rafting opportunities.
I passed through Lake Taupo in the central plateau, formed by one of the largest volcanic blasts of all time 27,000 years ago to form the 606 sq-km round lake. Taupo has an abundance of bungy jumping and skydiving adventures. My destination was Tongariro National Park, with its 3 huge volcanoes, established in 1887, as NZ first NP. This was to be my first great walk, the three-day, 50km, Tongariro Northern Circuit. It circumnavigates Mt Ngauruhoe, Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings. I skipped the traditional start at Whakapapa Village and instead began at Mangatepopo car park. This is the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the best and most popular day hike in the world and the first day of the Crossing. It is notorious for its weather and my first day was no different with freezing wind. I didn’t climb the perfectly symmetrical Ngauruhoe is we were in dense fog at the bottom. Spectacular sights include South, Central and the Red Crater, several brilliantly colored lakes (Emerald, Blue and Tama Lakes), springs, cones, lava flows and glacial valleys. I stayed in Ketetahi and Waihohonu Huts to finish the circuit in three days.
I returned east back through Rotorua to the western Bay of Plenty and Tauranga, and went through Mt Maunganui, on of NZ premier surfing communities. The eastern bay has long stretches of sandy beaches. From Whakatane, I took a boat tour to Whakaari (White Island), the most active volcano in NZ. 49km off the coast, the island is dramatic with hot water hissing and steaming all over the place. It is privately owned and once had a sulphur mining factory, the ruins of which are rusting and crumbling away. The most amazing thing was a lake with a ph of less than 0. I missed the best rodeo in NZ in Opotiki bussed around the east cape. Te Araroa boasts NZ’s largest pohutukawa tree, more than 350 years old with 22 trunks and 40m boughs. Gisborne (pop 32,700) claims to be the first city on earth to see the sun each day. It has great beaches and many bridges because of the two rivers that meet here. Its Rhythm and Vines music festival is one of the largest parties in NZ over the New Years weekend (I missed it).
Continuing down Hawkes Bay, I met my shuttle in Wairoa to take me to Te Urewera NP and another Great Walk, the Lake Waikaremoana Track. I hit if off with the Maori fellow, went to a friends for some ganja, and went to his home to help load a truck with all the garbage that appeared to have accumulated over a few years. 40 years old, he had recently married a woman with 6 kids, there was a 9 month old crawling around and she looked like she was ready to pop another any day. Driving the 50km back down to Wairoa to dump the garbage, we then went to a sheep ranch to get the Christmas mutton. The dogs were amazing to watch bring in the sheep, 50 fat ones were cut out and with some difficulty we moved them to one pen and then moved six into the killing pen. Each move seemed to take hours as the sheep freaked at all these big people trying to get them move (the sheep wrangler, whose main command to the dogs was “fuck off boss” said each move would have taken a few minutes using the dogs. They eventually killed and butchered 4 sheep, something I had never seen before.
Then next AM, I was driven to the start of the Waikaremoana Track. Starting the 46km trek, I climbed from Onepoto up the spectacular Panekiri Bluff, high above the lake. The walk went along the ridge through an old growth beech forest with gnarled trees dripping with moss. The Panekiri Hut was perched on the edge and was a cool night. After 3 more days and two huts, I had descended the ridge and walked around the lake and was picked on Christmas Day to return to my friend’s house and Xmas dinner. He had prepared a hangi, a traditional Maori meal cooked over stones in baskets under leaves – it was my best Xmas dinner since being on the road. After sleeping on his front lawn, he drove me back to Wairoa.
Bussing east to Hawkes Bay, I stopped for a few days in Napier (pop 55,000). Totally rebuilt after a deadly 7.9 earthquake in 1931, it has a unique concentration of Art-Deco buildings. This architectural style first seen at the 1925 Paris Exposition has zigzags, lightning bolts, ancient motifs, soft pastel colors, plastered walls and arched windows. I took a walking tour. Along Hawkes Bay, there are literally hundreds of wineries.
Wellington (pop164,00 city, 424,000 region), the capital, is known as ‘Windy Welly’. Hemmed in by hillsides around a magnificent harbor, it has the worst weather in the country. It is known for its cafes and arts scene and for Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. It has a huge Maori collection, and everything else. I did not make a reservation on the ferry to the south island (who would have thought that was necessary as a walk-on?) and waited another day to catch the boat to Picton (pop 4,000). It was New Years Eve and a great place to spend it. The beach was crammed for the fire works. On Marlborough Sound, there is a great trek, the 71km Queen Charlotte Track along its shores. I didn’t do it. The sound is an omelette of inlets, headlands, peaks and beaches, and boat drop off and pack transfers can be arranged at many beaches. But I saw the aquarium and “The Girl with the Dragons Tattoo” in a tiny theatre in the aquarium.
Nelson (pop 43,000) with its well known Jazz Festival was on and I enjoyed 3 days of great music. Arranged on Tasman Bay, it is the geographic center of the country. Like Nelson, BC, it boasts itself as being an alternative lifestyle epicenter but it does not come close to our Nelson. Close by is Nelson Lakes NP, with glacial lakes, beech forest and forested mountains, a popular hiking area but I had my permit for the Abel Tasman, so did not go. I mailed my tourism affects onto the post office in ?.
Motueka (pop 4,000) is the jumping off point for the 51km Abel Tasman Coast Track, possibly the most popular of all the Great Walks. The actual start is in Marahau. Every permutation and combination of water taxi, kayaking and day hiking is possible in this over commercialized park. There must be 15 kayak tour companies. This is the only tramp I camped on so carried a tent, sleeping pad and stove. Avoiding the crowded huts and some camping areas for isolated beach camping was worth it. This was basically a walk in the woods with occasional hiking on a beach. We swam every day in the cold ocean. On the first two days one passes hundreds of day hikers and my second campsite was an unloading beach for day hikers. After I set up my tent, 75 day hikers walked in front of my tent. With 6m tides, some planning is necessary to negotiate 2 sections where the only route is the beach at low tide. Recommended beaches for camping are Te Pukatea Bay, Tonga Quarry, Awaroa Bay, and Mutton Cove (the last possible camp to do Separation Point and catch the shuttle at the Wainui car park at 11:20 am).
I mailed my tent and thermarest back to my cousin in Auckland in Takaka (pop1230) as I planned on staying in huts for the rest of my treks. After one night, I moved on to Collingwood, the end of the road and jumping off point for the next Great Walk. In the one day off between the Abel Tasman and the Heaphy, I hitchhiked to Farewell Spit, a renowned bird sanctuary with 26km of beaches, dunes, sea lions, and rock islets on the north shore of the south island. I did a tremendous 3 hour hike out along the spit, across the dunes to Fossil Point and then along the cliffs to Wharariki Beach. This hike was at the limit of flipflops. The sandflies were getting progressively worse and I was looking forward to carrying less weight. Sandflies are actually a small black fly similar to, but smaller, than the small black fly we get in the alpine. They don’t bite when you are moving but can be merciless with a predilection for your feet and ankles.
The 82 km Heaphy Track crosses the mountains ending on a spectacular walk along the ocean. Taking 4 days, I stayed in the Perry Saddle Hut (climbed Mt Perry for sunrise and great views of Farewell Spit and Taranaki), James McKay Hut (can see 20 km down to the ocean from the hut) and Heaphy Hut. Many added a fifth day by staying in the Saxon hut between Perry and McKay. The last 17 km along the wild west coast just inside a mature nikau palm forest was one of the highlights of NZ. On this last day, I met Josh, a 20-year-old from Colorado and a true freegan. Everything he had, including his food and all his clothes was found in a dumpster. He offered me the $20 he had made on the beach for juggling, stating “its way more fun with no money”.
From the end of the tramp, I caught the bus to Karamea (pop 690), another end of the road town. I picked up my traveling cloths that I had mailed to my reserved hotel. North of town is the Oparara Basin with spectacular limestone arches and the unique Honeycomb Hill Caves. On the tour, we saw the bones of nine different moa species and the extinct giant Haast eagle. I bussed down the west coast through Westport to Greymouth, billed as one of the worlds best road trips. On the way is the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. Through a layering-weathering process, the limestone is formed into what looks like piles of thick pancakes. The sea surges nto caverns and booms through blowholes. A long day walk is the 27 km Inland Pack Tramp near Punakaiki. It goes up the scenic Pororari River and descends the spectacular Dilemma Gorge and Fox River arriving back at the highway 12 km north of Punakaiki. There is a hut 19 km into the hike.
Greymouth (pop 13,500) has a proud gold mining history and now is a center of jade carving. There was a cricket game going at the local pitch. I sat down with one of the teams, and as they were one man short, they invited me to play. This was the first time that I actually learned the rules of the game. For some reason, they didn’t let me bat. I continued down the coast through Hokitika to Westland Tai Poutini NP with one of the south islands major attractions, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. Nowhere else do glaciers come so close to the ocean because of the endless rain of the west coast. High up the snow falling in the glaciers broad accumulation zone. The steep glaciers move at an astonishing pace. A plane that crashed into Franz Josef in 1943, 3.5km from the terminal face, made it down to the bottom 6 ½ years later, an average of 1.5m/day. These towns get heavy tourist traffic as all the city types want a glacier experience. Guided walks with some ice climbing and helihikes are hot tickets. Having walked on tons of glaciers, I opted for the Mt Fox walk, a vertical, grueling hike for masochists. Views of the Fox Glacier are rarely had because of all the cloud. South of Fox is the scenic Copland Track, a 17 km climb to Welcome Flat where there is a hut and hot springs. Most stay 2 nights day hiking up to the Douglas Rock Hut in the middle day.
I returned to Greymouth to catch the train to Arthur’s Pass NP in the southern Alps. This was supposedly one of the worlds great train rides but had poorer views than the road and was very expensive. Arthur’s Pass (pop 64), at 924m is NZ’s highest altitude settlement. After a short day hike to Devils Punchbowl, the day hike up Avalanche Peak is a must. With panoramic alpine views very reminiscent of the West Kootenay and a flock of keas (only alpine parrot in the world – one of them stole my plastic lunch box and dropped it off a cliff) to keep you amused, this is the premier day hike on the south island. Luckily the train was not available to Christchurch and I took the bus.
The World Buskers Festival was on in Christchurch (pop 344,000) and I had timed the trip to be here for a week and see as many performers as I could. Founded in 1850 to be a slice of England, wool made the town wealthy. It is compact and easy to walk and has the sleepy Avon River flowing through the middle of it. Cathedral Square is the cities centerpiece. Christ Church Cathedral was consecrated in 1881 and has an impressive rose window and tile floor. It is a nice climb up the 63m spire. The 30 hectare Botanic Gardens have 10,000 specimens. The former Canterbury College, an old stone building, is the Arts Center and the absorbing Canterbury Museum has the usual including Maori jade work and an array of stuffed birds. Instead of taking the gondola 500m up Mt Cavendish, I walked up with stunning views and great hikes along its length. Then walk down the other side to Lyttelton (try to time it for the wonderful Saturday morning market). I then went back over the mountain to Sumner and its fantastic beaches. This was a very long day in flip flops. Many people recommended going to Banks Peninsula with the French town of Akaroa and the private 35 km Banks Peninsula Tract. I tried to see as many buskers as I could and came close to seeing them all. It was a great show as they were from all over the world. Unfortunately, most of Christchurch was destroyed in a 6.1 earthquake in February, 2011. This quake was particularly destructive as it was relatively superficial and had severe vertical and horizontal movements producing a 1 in a 1000 years event. 185 people were killed including many tourists most from Japan and China. 10,000 homes had to be demolished and the spire was knocked off the cathedral.
I was lucky to obtain my permits for the Milford tract by going online daily for months hoping for a cancellation in the right time period. The Milford books out usually in July and is the only one that must be planned long in advance. With that one booked, I made my bookings on the other premier walks in the south island, the Routeburn and the Kepler. I decided to bypass the Mt Cook area because of timing of my booked tramps (and this is the only area I did not see well in the whole country) and headed for Queenstown (pop 8,000), the adventure capital of NZ and in the view of most Kiwis, of the world (with many ways to separate you form your money). Surrounded by the peaks of the Remarkables and on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, it has it all. Skydiving, river swimming, hang gliding, seven bungy jumps and any other adventure is possible. The Skyline Gondola gives fantastic views and access to the skydiving. I did the Nevis Highwire and the 5 second drop was not worth the $130 fee. Everyone in our group did second jumps and bought the videos of each. Fergburger is not to be missed.
Queenstown is the access point for the Routeburn and I mailed my travel pack on to the hostel in Te Anau so that I would not have to backtrack. This 3 day, 32.1 km tramp is popular as it leaves the trees for the alpine for one whole day (most walks in this country are in trees and can get tedious). The Routeburn Falls Hut (no camping allowed) has tremendous views and is right below a series of falls and gorges with great swimming. On the second day, I was hiking before sun rise, in the cool, to get over Harris Saddle and climb Conical Hill, with its panoramic views down to Harris Lake, the Hollyford Valley, Darran Mountains and the Tasman Sea. The third day, from Lake Mackenzie (nice swimming) to the divide, passes the 80m Earland Falls and climbs Key Summit. Instead of finishing at the Divide, many people continue on and do the Greenstone and Caples track right after the Routeburn.
I was then in Te Anau (pop 1785) five different times as it is the base for most adventures in Fiordland. I went on an overnight cruise to Doubtful Sound, a multiarmed 47 km long fiord (3x the length and 10x the area of Milford) southwest of Te Anau that was very nice. The water was 22° and everybody jumped off the back of the boat several times. On the way back, we had a pod of bottlenose dolphins jumping in our wake. Te Anau Glowworm Caves are an impressive visit across the lake by boat. The 200m long cave is magical with sculpted rocks, waterfalls, whirlpools and a glittering glowworm grotto in its inner reaches. One boards small boats to float just under the low roof, quite spectacular.
The 60.1 km Kepler Track is a loop that begins in Te Anau itself. Many skip the walk from town to the control gates and the 4 kilometres along the lake by taking the $25 water taxi across Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay. The first hut, Luxmore, has enormous views of Lake Te Anau and beyond. The second day follows an exposed ridge with top of the world views all day ending in a knee crunching descent. The walk out on the third day is in trees with many trampers bypassing the Moturau Hut and catching the shuttle at Rainbow Reach, 11 km from the control gates.
The 53.5 km Milford Track has been billed as the greatest walk in the world. I wouldn’t go that far but it is a wonderful trek and has the continuously best scenery of any great walk. Camping is not allowed and all 40 people move together each day. People book this in July so most were older, more likely to be kiwi or American, less experienced and this was their only tramp. It is expensive with total fees of $270 to cover the bus trip from Te Anau to Te Anau Downs, the boat trip to the end of Lake Te Anau, $45/night for 3 huts and the boat ride at the end from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound. The first day includes the bus and boat ride and it is only an hours walk to the Clinton Hut. The second day follows the Clinton River (clear green water with fish and eels) through a sheer walled valley, a few permanent waterfalls, and hundreds of dry watercourses hinting at what this place must be like in rain. Rocky glacier scoured granite knobs and peaks often had small clinging glaciers. Day 3 is the alpine day over MacKinnon Pass. After big views around to the surrounding peaks and down to our days destination, the trail descends beside a mountain creek with multiple waterfalls and pools. A must is the 1 hour detour to the huge 580 m high Sutherland Falls, the highest waterfall in NZ. The last day follows the river and passes several very pretty waterfalls before catching the boat. I finished the day with another NZ icon, a Milford Sound cruise. Mitre Peak (1692) and many nice waterfalls (off every cliff in the frequent rain) add to the majestic scenery. The 119km drive back to Te Anau passes through some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the world.
The day after finishing the Milford, I took the bus to Invercargill and Bluff and then the ferry to Stewart Island. After a quick lunch I started day one of the 3 day, 36 km Rakiura Track. Its first and last days are the same as the 8-10 day Northwest Circuit where virtually everyone sees real kiwis (nobody else in NZ has ever seen a kiwi – these are a subspecies that is not nocturnal). Day one follows the nice coast with many pretty beaches. Day 2 crosses the peninsula on heaps of boardwalk and stairs. After another walk in the woods on the last day, I caught the afternoon ferry back to Bluff. This was my eight Great Walk.
Then it was through the Catlins, on the SE coast. With lush farmland, native forests, rugged bays and lots of wildlife it was a nice diversion from all the walking. The only practical way to see it is with a bus tour and we hit Slope Point (the most southerly point on the south island), petrified wood at Curie Bay, blue penguins, McLean Falls and the most southerly railway tunnel in the world.
It was then up the east coast of the south island stopping in Dunedin (pop 110,800). My oldest brother had been Dean of the school of Pharmacy at the University of Dunedin back in the 80s. I stayed at Hogwartz, the Catholic Bishops residence since the 1870s, and slept in the grand old dining room. The Cadbury World tour was disappointing, but the short Tunnel Beach hike had sea stacks, arches and unusual rock shapes.
Heading north along the coast, the Moeraki Boulders, a collection of large, spherical boulders sit on a stunning beach. These were of particular interest to me as there is a similar boulder field at Red Rock Canyon near Medicine Hat, Alberta, my hometown (and another in the eastern Sahara in Egypt). They are concretions and are formed by successive layers of sand forming around a nidus of organic material that slowly grow over millennia. They are unusual as they are so round and so large. Oamaru (pop 12,000) has a large blue penguin colony in November and December and a yellow-eyed penguin colony. I bypassed Christchurch and headed north to Kaikoura (pop 3850), wildlife central with whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and seabirds. They congregate here because of ideal ocean current and continental shelf conditions. Tours are big business with swimming with dolphins the main draw. I wonder if the dolphins are as thrilled as the humans. Returning to Picton, I caught the ferry back to Wellington and the north island.
I rented a car with a Swiss woman and was able to explore the rest of the north island in considerably more detail, a much more gratifying way to travel. Driving on the wrong side was occasionally an adventure. East is Cape Palliser, remote and utterly scenic. We walked to the Putangirua Pinnacles, shaped like giant organ pipes. We then headed north-west along the Kapiti Coast, a 30 km stretch of beach, to New Plymouth (49,100), the main town on the Taranaki Peninsula. It is the west coasts only deep water port. Mt Taranaki in Egmont NP is a classic volcanic cone (2518m) and starred as Mt Fuji in “The Last Samurai”. Supposedly
the most climbed mountain in NZ, it has claimed 60 lives as the weather can change in an instant with snow not uncommon. It was a hard slog up the scree slopes to get panoramic views.
The drive between Stratford and Taumarunui (SH43), is known as the Forgotten World Highway. Winding through hills and bush country, it took us 4 hours and lots of stops. The town of Whangamomona declared itself an independent republic and we got our passports stamped. It has had interesting democratically elected presidents including Billy the Goat and Tai the poodle who stepped down after an assignation attempt. It was then on to the Whanganui Journey, a river trip and my last of the nine Great Walks. The river curls 329km from Tongariro to the Tasman Sea and is the longest navigable river in NZ. We drove the scenic Whanganui River road form Wanganui to Piririki where we rented a canoe and 4 watertight barrels. The company shuttled us to Whakahoro to do the 88km, 3 day/2 night version of the trip, with nights spent in huts. This section of the river is roadless and is grade II, easy enough for absolutely inexperienced canoeists like us. Beside the scenic canyon, there is a 40 minute walk to the Bridge to Nowhere. The canoeing was exciting and we dumped it twice.
We decided to miss Waitomo Caves even though they are one of the premier attractions on the north island. We had both seen lots of glowworms and limestone caves. Maungatautari Ecological Island has a 47km long pest proof fence around 3 peaks. Pests have been eradicated and native species reintroduced. It is amazing to what lengths they have gone to try to beat this seemingly impossible problem. We cruised by Hamilton and Auckland to head north. Te Henga (Bethells Beach) has a raw, black sand beach with surf and windswept dunes. Heading north, near Warkworth, is Parry Kauri Park, with a couple of giant kauri trees including the giant 800 year old McKinney kauri with a girth of 7.6m. The kauri Coast is an undeveloped 110km between Hokianga and Kaipara. The Waipoua Kauri Forest is the largest remnant of the once extensive kauri forests of northern NZ, and runs 18km through huge trees up to 60m in height and 5m in diameter. Tane Mahuta, at 51m, a 13.8m girth and wood mass of 244.5 cubic meters is the largest kauri alive. It is between 1200 and 2000 years old. Te Matua Ngahere, at 16.4m has the widest girth. The Four Sisters is a graceful stand of four tall trees that have fused together at the base. Trouson Kauri Park has a nice loop walk through a beautiful forest.
The long, thin Aupouri Peninsula extends 108km along Ninety Mile Beach, with high sand dunes, extends to Cape Reinga, the north tip of the country. The Cape Reinga lighthouse and a 800 year old pohutukawa tree are two sites. Kauri forests covered this area for 100,000 years leaving ancient logs and the much prized gum buried beneath. Gumdiggers Park showcases the regions main industry from the 1870s to the 1920s. Wairere Boulders Nature Park has massive basalt rock formations eroded into odd fluted shapes. On our way south to the east coast, we stayed at Kahoe Farms Hostel, an old kauri farmhouse with the best pizza in NZ. On his land we went to some great hikes on his property. He holds the first soccer tournament in the world starting at midnight.
Whangarei (pop 40,000) has Abbey Caves with glowworms and limestone, the 26m high Whangarei Falls and the Parihaka Reserve with a pa (a fortified village) site. At Waitangi, the Treaty House is the birthplace of NZ where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The magnificently detailed whare runanga (meeting house) has fine carvings representing the major Maori tribes. The 30 minute cultural performance was wonderful as we got up and performed the haka or war dance.
The town of Kawakawa commissioned the Austrian architect, F. Hunderwasser to build the most amazing public toilets in the world. With a natural grass roof, not a square corner in the place, wavy ceramic tile work, and bottle walls, they are worth a visit – I went twice. We returned to Auckland to drop off my Swiss friend and I caught the bus back north to go sea kayaking in the Bay of Islands with New Zealand Adventures run by an American expat who has lived here for 25 years. He was 60 going on 16 and addicted to kayaking in the surf zone and swim snorkeling. Rather than kayaking, the strong swimmers routinely snorkeled up to 4 km while I kayaked. In the Cavelli’s, after kayaking through islands with huge sea caves and over the sunken Rainbow Warrier, I gave my kayak to one of the swimmers and hiked the length of Motukawanui Island. In the Bay of Islands, we kayaked around Moturua Island, out to the open coast and enjoyed gourmet food cooked using his Outback oven.
I spent 5 days in Auckland at the very end and cycled through many marinas (Auckland has more boats per person than anywhere else), to St Heliers beach and over to Devonport and cycled up to my cousins to pick up my camping gear. I spent most of one day doing the Coast to Coast Walk that traverses Auckland from south to north. There are great views from One Tree Hill and Mount Eden and great walks through many Auckland neighborhoods.
I then flew home with a stopover in Sidney (but could not entry the country as I did not have a visa during my 4 hour stopover). It is an exhausting 14 hour plane ride.