The plane to Auckland started in Papeete (French Polynesia) on Thursday night and I arrived Saturday morning at 6AM. I crossed the date line and lost therefore one day, making it really difficult to keep track of the weekdays.
Directly after arrival I picked up my Campervan, a custom built 15year old Toyota Townace with a bed, two LPG gas-stoves, a 15l fresh water tank and a small sink. According to the Freedom Camping Act 2011 it´s allowed to camp on every public place, except it´s a designated No camping area.
After a short drive to the inner city of Auckland (where 1/3 of New Zealand´s 4 million inhabitants live) I rented a mountain bike and visited some point of interests, such as the Quay road, the museum area and Mount Eden with spectacular views over the city. A pleasant spring day, around 20C warm, sunny and various blooming flowers scented the air.
Diving Poor Knights
Later on, I parked the Van and drove with Warrick, a local dive instructor whom I met diving in Easter Island, up North to Tutukaka. This sleepy village is the gateway to the world famous Poor Knights Islands lying 23km offshore. The diving is completely different to a tropical reef dive, but as interesting. I fought against the cold water, had some equipment issues (leaking inflator and a dive computer with an empty battery), but really enjoyed the colorful cold-water anemones, sponges, kelp and nudibranches. After returning to the port, we drove back towards Auckland, I picked up my Van and moved during the night to the Coromandel peninsula.
One of the hidden gems is the New Chums Beach, rated as one of the world´s best beach, but seldom visited by locals or tourists. How comes? It might be the slightly difficult access, as you need to cross a knee-deep fjord and walk half an hour one way. But it´s well worth going, amazing cliffs, palms, white sand and contrasting red rocks provide terrific photo opportunities. Later in the afternoon I visited one of the highlights along the cost, the Cathedral Cove bay area. A huge natural tunnel connects two fabulous bays. As I arrived at low tide, the still wet sand mirrored some of the cliffs and pinnacles. Final stop of the day was at the Hot water beach. At low tide you can dig your own thermal pool at the beach. The deeper you dig, the more warm underground water fills your pool. This was quite a disappointing place, very touristy and the water at the utmost lukewarm.
The next day I hiked 20km through the Coromandel forest park to see the old Kauri logging operations (huge local trees used preferably for housing and ship construction in the 19th and 20th century) and the rock pinnacles at the mountain top.
The next day I joined an excursion starting from the harbor of Whakatane to the White Island laying 50km offshore. The active volcano just slightly above sea level is easily accessible. Beside the typical mud pools, yellow sulfur structures and volcanic steams also the remaining from the early 20th century sulfur extraction can be seen. Sulfur was used as a fertilizer in agriculture, but the sulfur mining wasn´t profitable enough, the company went bankrupt and left buildings and tools behind. Due to the acid environment the gear deteriorated much faster as one would expect and nowadays the buildings are mainly collapsed as the steel in the reinforced concrete rusted.
My highlight tour followed the next day, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing TAC. On a fine summer weekend day over 1´000 hikers fill the well prepared path. Fortunately I did it in spring on a weekday to avoid the big crowds. As I was to reluctant to pre-book a shuttle from the camping ground to the start of the track and I couldn´t organize one onsite on the morning of the hike, I had to walk another 9km in the beginning just to reach the starting point. Around 100 hikers started earlier and as I wanted to catch up and reach as early as possible the crossing ridge with the amazing Emerald lakes I basically raced uphill and overtook almost all others. I was just able to get some amazing shots at the top before the first clouds at 11.30AM obscured the sky. The entire hike (29km, 1200m ascent and 1600m descent) took me only 6 hours including breaks (indicated walking time between 9h30 and 12h). Instead of waiting a couple of hours for the shuttle buses I tried hitch-hiking back to my Campervan. The road is not too much frequented and I suspected long waiting until getting a ride. But already the second car stopped and offered me a ride to the junction to the village. And then again the second driver passing halted and brought me directly to my car! Incredible friendly and helpful people in New Zealand!
Regrettably that was also the last pleasant spring day, from now on clouds, rain and fog were prevalent. Therefore I couldn´t go anymore for longer hikes and bike rides and a spent a couple of days with short hikes in Tongariro and around Lake Taupo, shopping (as always during longer travels I lost already some weight and needed new fitting shorts) and doing administrative stuff.
As a fantasy books and films fan the visit of the Shire was a must do The film set of the hobbit village was built for the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies, but after the filmtakes the installation was removed, in line with the contract with the land owner. Due to a storm the deconstruction was slowed down and already then few people started to visit the sparse remaining of the film set. When six years later the “Hobbit” was filmed, the set was rebuilt and extended. This time, all constructions were solid workmen craft and the set was left fully intact to serve as tourist attraction. Over 100´000 persons visit annually the shire with the Hobbit holes and drink a Hobbit ginger beer or pale ale in the “Green dragon”. Very touristy, but also a nice daytrip if you like LOTR and the Hobbit.
Also one of the quite expensive, but unique excursions are the Waitomo caves or rather the glowworms in there. The word glowworm is misleading, as the glowing animals are actually larvae of small flies. They dangle from the top of the caves, part of the body illuminated and lowering several centimeter long sticky “fishing lines” to catch other insects attracted by the light. Some mix of deep see angler-fish and spider! Gliding on the boat silently through the dark cave only illuminated by thousands of glowworms is an amazing experience!
After more than 1´700km left side driving I returned without accident to Auckland and I´m ready to board the plane to Fiji for some live aboard diving!
Previous destination: Tahiti
Next destination: Fiji