New Zealand: North Island

Our flight to Auckland from Tahiti was a sleepless one. We only left at 01.30 in the morning, and the 6 hour Air New Zealand flight was spent pressed into each other. Let’s just say we had a person sitting next to us, who should have booked the other seat as well…

Sleep deprived, we landed in Auckland, and picked up our car. We drove to Auckland, and went on a walk in the city centre. On the main square, we ran into a Taiwan cultural festival, with dragon dancing and all!

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After some breakfast, we continued on to Otorahanga. We made a stop for lunch in Hamilton, and found a 1kg pot of fresh NZ mussels for only 10NZD (5 EUR). New Zealand is really kind on our budget it seems:) We walked through the town afterwards, and discovered it had quite interesting statues…

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Wow, ok!

We drove on, and arrived in Otorahanga in time to visit the Kiwi House. This is one of the best places to see NZ’s national bird. In the large dark enclosure (kiwis are nocturnal), we spotted 3 kiwis! Pretty nice!

From there it was only a 5 minute drive to our lovely AirBnB for the night.

After a long night of sleep, we started our day by driving to the Glow Worm Caves. The visit starts by walking through the caves and learning all about the tiny animals. Then, you’re put into a boat, and silently float below what seems like the brightest night sky you’ve ever seen. It was truly a magical experience! No photos were allowed inside the cave unfortunately, but this is an experience we won’t soon forget!

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The exit to the Glowworm caves

From the caves, we left for Rotorua, stopping along the way at some scenic spots.

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View from a bridge onto the forest below
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Beautiful rocky grasslands

In the afternoon, we arrived in the village, and decided to check out Kuikua park. Our walk started off like any typical park…

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Pretty lake
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With pretty bridge and wisteria

But then, we smelled sulfur, and suddenly we walked through clouds of steam. This came from lakes boiling from thermal activity.

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Ghostly Jos
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The yellow colour is due to the sulfur

This also meant we could take a thermal foot bath:)

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Relaxing after a long walk through the park

From there, we drove to Rotorua’s lake, where there’s a Maori village.

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Viewing the village right before the rain starts coming down

The next morning, we went to Wai-o-tapu, a half hour’s drive. Here you can find Geyser park, with an active geyser and more thermal lakes and pitts.

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Jenk with the erupting geyser
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Yellow, green and orange in the largest lake of the park

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Green layers of volcanic stone
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And glimmering wet tree bark from all the rain we had
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Champagne Pool (no clue why it’s called like that)
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Legend says this is where the Mask was born…

After a short but wet visit to the thermal park, we went on towards our next destination: Tongariro National Park. This park is used as the land of Mordor in Lord of the Rings! Here we’ll do the Tongariro crossing, a long hike which also comes past ‘Mount Doom’…

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Scenic stop along the route to Tongariro National Park
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How cool is this dam? This is before it was opened…
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And this is 5 minutes after. The water is still rising! They open this dam several times a day.

When finally arriving in the Park after driving many hours, seeing below sign is priceless!

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If you look closely, you can spot a skiwi!

We were supposed to do the Tongariro crossing the next morning, but as the weather forecast was horrible, we moved our hike to the next day. After reshuffling our program, we went out to see the area by car instead.

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Driving up Mount Ruapehu, the largest active volcano in NZ, and also a ski area (not now though)
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At the top of Mount Ruapehu lies the ‘wall’ where Frodo & Sam got lost in Lord of the Rings!
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View from another short hike we did that day near Gollum’s Pool
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Mangawhero Falls / Gollum’s Pool

The next day, the weather indeed looked much improved. We got up early, and after 45 minutes, arrived at the start of the Tongariro Crossing hike. The hike is quite tough, as it has 1100 meter elevation gain, and is 20k in lenght. To top it off, the temperature would be around minus 10 at the summit today… Fortunately, we stocked up on thermal gear while in Rotorua:) Let’s go!

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View from the start of the hike at 7AM into the valley
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Mount Ruapehu looking good
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About halfway into the climb. We came from far below…
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Mount Ngauruhoe / Mount Doom! See also the steam coming from the top!
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Steep, slippery, frozen path to the top of the crater

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Even the grass is frozen!

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Almost there!

We made it! Gosh what a hard climb… In this lava gravel, taking one step up means taking half a step back again, really tiring.

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Amazing views from the top. When the clouds shifted, you could even look all the way down into the valley
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And then down hill again on the extremely slippery lava gravel. Jos even fell!
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Emerald lakes, coloured by the sulfur vents surrounding it (it smelled!)
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The view from behind, with in the middle the top of the crater we climbed. Left is steam from the volcanic vents

After one final crater edge climb, we made it across and we standing at the other side of the mountains, looking into the valley below.

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Pretty views all the way down to the lakes
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Volcanic vents on this side as well
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Extreme visibility: we could see all the way to Rotorua from the top! That’s at the end of the lake all the way in the back!
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And we’re back into the forest again. But such a different looking forest than what we’re used too!

Back in the bus to National Park, we agreed this was one of the best hikes we’ve done so far. Happy, we got in the car to drive to Wellington, where we will take the ferry to the South Island.

Couldn’t leave you before showing this picture of a MacDonalds airplane we found along the route in the middle of nowhere!

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Up next: the South Island!

2 thoughts on “New Zealand: North Island

  1. A great read. We walked the Tongariro Crossing many years ago and really enjoyed it. Didn’t climb Mt Ngauruhoe though. By the time we had got up the first climb we were had it. So well done. Watched some others climb it though and it was three steps up and two down. Looking forward to another post of your South Island trip.

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