South Island Baby

I took off…..a while ago from Taupo and decided to head to Wellington, which ended up being my longest travel day thus far. Most the towns are nice and close and travel days have not been more than two hours in the car. It’s nice because it doesn’t take up a day, you can arrive somewhere and still have the afternoon to explore. The drive from Taupo to Wellington cut through some military training grounds where signs were posted saying to keep moving and that live ammo and explosions could occur at anytime. Made me kind of nervous, but at the time I was hoping I’d see a cadet lob a grenade into a vacant building and watch the thing torch down.

Wellington proved to be another big city to me, and I got to experience all those nice flavors that come with it. I got caught up in rush hour traffic, got lost, and even got a parking ticket. I tried to meet up with Ash’s Mom and Sis (a friend of mine that I worked with back at the YMCA from NZ), but when that didn’t work out I decided to get out as fast I could. This meant taking a ferry at 3:00 in the morning to the South Island, and only catching a couple hours sleep on a sofa half my size onboard.

Picton is the small gateway town the ferry drops you off at. It’s pretty with the Sounds being the main attraction. Apart from that though I felt the scenery was much the same of that in the North Island and only spent a couple days there anxious to see something new. So yesterday I headed further south and watched
the crowded hillsides become more populated by trees, less by thick bushes and shrubs, and at one point nothing at all until reaching a small town called Kaikoura. Kaikoura is where the ocean meets the mountains. Who knew you could have the best of both worlds in such close proximity to one another. Like I did a hike around a peninsula where I encountered a fur seal colony and at the same time was able to turn around and see and snowcapped mountains. Pretty incredible. I plan to summit one of the mountains before moving on assuming, as always, the weather clears since the rain decided to rear its ugly head once more today.

E-Mail Message

October 26, 2005 

Hi Everybody,

Just wanted to write a quick note and let everyone know how I’m doing.

It’s been nearly a month since I left the States and came to New Zealand. So much has happened between now and then I don’t know where to begin really……

Then I first arrived in the country I was greeted by a New Zealand family (Kerry, Darrell, and daughter Paige) that I was put in contact with from a friend back home. They were great by taking me and giving a very warm welcome to this great country of theirs. They helped me setup a bank account, get my Visa paperwork situated, showed me around, taught me about their culture and country, and even helped me buy a car.

That’s right; I am also the proud owner of two vehicles now. I purchased a 1991 Toyota Corolla to travel around in while I’m here. It has fewer miles on it than my car back home. Before I purchased the car I traveled around up North a bit by bus. It helped me decide if I wanted to buy one or not. By the end of it I knew it would make all the difference because it allows you to have so much more freedom and capability to do more. Once the bus dropped you off you were on your, and although I don’t mind walking places it was a bit excessive. I remember walking to a 10K hike, which took me an additional 10K or more just to get to it by foot. And then you have to walk to the store, the post office, the backpackers, blah, blah, blah…

I’ve traveled a descent amount around the North Island and at the moment am waiting for the 3:00a.m. ferry to arrive in Wellington to take me to the South Island. On the North Island I’ve stopped in towns starting from the top Paihia, Orewa, Auckland, Waitomo Caves, Rotorua, Taupo, and Wellington. I won’t go into detail on all them, but have kept busy by doing numerous hikes in and around all the areas, visiting cultural hot spots, viewing thermal activity, learning about the history and environment, and mingling both with local ‘kiwis’ and other travels passing through New Zealand all the while trying to drive on the left side of the road. A few of my favorite things included exploring the caves of Waitomo, hiking the Tongariro Crossing around two active volcanoes south of Taupo, chasing Wallaby’s in Rotorua with a local couple named Simon and Ralene, and just viewing the natural beauty all around.

There are definitely pros and cons to traveling alone. It’s hard at times for sure, especially when you’re sick, but you meet so many people along the way. Some I’ve came to know over the course of a few days and others just over dinner. Some of them are locals to New Zealand and others are traveling abroad just as I am from all over the world like the UK, Australia, France, and Sweden. A few are even traveling around the world and make me extremely jealous. I’ve only met one other American. She was selling snacks out of her van at the end of the Tongariro Crossing and had “Go Sox” written on the bottom of her sign. I knew right away she had to be from Chicago. Most others seem to be from Germany. People running the backpackers and campsites here say it’s the year of the German. At other times it’s been the year of the Australians, the Brits, the Americans, etc…etc….

I don’t have any plans for the South Island as of yet. My routine so far has included doing all I find of interest in a town and then moving on to the next. From what people have said I have a feeling I’ll find a lot of interest in the South Island. That’s why I’ve kind of skipped over part of the North Island to have a full month there by myself until my parents and Rachel arrive later on. There’s still things I hope to do in the North, like zorbing, bungy jumping, etc…, that’ll probably be better with them. It’ll be nice to see my family and girlfriend again, and it will hopefully create a whole new type of experience in New Zealand by traveling with them.

Some of you might be wondering what my lifestyle is like. Occasionally I sleep in my car when I’m feeling extra cheap, but for the most part I live out of a tent. The campsites are pretty nice and include amenities such as a communal kitchen, bathroom/showers, and at times a pool and hot pool. My diet consists largely of Wheet-bix for breakfast (a local wheat cereal in biscuit form), peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (sometimes toasted and dipped in milk =)), noodles (much like the Ramen noodles found back home), and water and juice to drink. It’s not the most healthy and I try to throw in some bananas, kiwis, potatoes, and carrots when I think of it. And meat is a luxury I haven’t splurged on yet. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back a vegetarian! But then again, prolly not, I like meat too much. I miss it.

Anyway, hope everyone is doing well back home! I should get going as I can barely keep my eyes open and need to load my car up on the ferry here pretty quickly. If anyone is interested in more details on what I’ve done or seen be sure to check out my Blog and Pics sections on my website www.andyjcollins.com. And be sure to sign the guest book if you get a chance, I enjoy hearing from people back home!

Take Care and Miss You All, Andy

Tongariro Crossing

I’m feeling better and have been in Taupo for nearly a week. I’m getting caught up on a few things and figuring out where I’m headed next. It looks to be Wellington at this point where I will crossover on a ferry to the South Island. I hope to have about a month down there with good weather (fingers crossed) before my parents come at the end of next month with Rachel following shortly behind. Despite being sick I still managed to get out and do a few things, including the Tongariro Crossing(!), all of which can be found below. Oh yes, and I took some nice 360’s while on the Tongariro Crossing so check those out!

Tongariro Crossing – With the weather clear, the sun shining, and my cold almost gone I was able to hike on this magnificent trail. The crossing is just south of Taupo in NZ’s oldest national park and is easily accessed by bus. Since the trail is 17km (6-7 hours) one way it’s really the only thing you can do. The trail starts off easy with little uphill and plenty of boardwalks over rougher terrain, which was nice because all I did for the first half hour was stare aimlessly at Mount Ngauruhoe, an active volcano to the south with a near perfect cone. After an hour passed we reached the first rest area with a side track to Soda Springs. I chose to do the sidetrack while everyone else began the rigorous, steep climb up to the first saddle. The ascent is difficult and taunting. You look up to the next ridge, think you are there, and pull yourself up and over it only to find another ridge in your way over and over again. The pain in your legs subsides though once you reach the first saddle that crosses between two active volcanoes, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, and through the South Crater. It also gives you a chance to take in the scenery and catch your breath until the next, but much smaller, ascent is reached stretching up to Red Crater. Although, the second ascent was less strenuous it did prove too much, or perhaps it was the altitude, for an older gentlemen who decided to project food from his mouth onto a neighboring boulder. From there you reach the highest point on the track, 1886m and have nothing but downhill ahead of you. The view from the top is spectacular as you can clearly see both volcanoes, the deep red in Red Crater with steam rising around its rim, emerald lakes below you, Blue Lake to the north, and Lake Taupo in the distant horizon. And was a nice place to have lunch and snap some photos. On the descent you practically fall over yourself on the lose ground and skid into the 3 emerald lakes below that are actually a group of water filled explosion craters. Once past these you walk through the snow covered Central Crater to Blue Lake where you can look back on the best part of the trail before it fades into the background as you slide around the North Crater, pass by an over night hut, and walk through alpine grass overflowing on to the path before plunging into the native forest and eventually reaching the end of the trail. The Tongariro Crossing was great in that it showed you a little bit of everything New Zealand has to offer. I don’t know if its New Zealand’s “Best One Day Hike” but is definitely one not to be missed.

Cheers to Yen, a German Chinese girl that I met on the trail, who took photos of me! Good luck to you on the rest of your around the world travels and I hope you enjoy South America as much as I did.

Craters of the Moon – A nice, short loop around a very active thermal area with plenty of steam rising up everywhere and that foul sulfur smell in the air.

Huka Falls – A good walk around the teal colored river taking you past a hot river that anyone can freely enter, through native forest, and ending at the falls. The falls were impressive because the river which normally runs 70-100 meters wide is forced into about a 10 meter wide rock channel. The force you feel by standing over the falls on the bridge is incredible and makes for a nice waterfall as it shoots out into a wider body of water.

Aratiatia – Taking off where the Huka Huka Falls trail ended the Aratiatia Trail begins. It doesn’t take you through anything epic or unique not found anywhere else in the northland besides what I call ‘dead forest’. But according to a couple I met coming back on the trail they said it was living and the trees were purposely planted too close to each other. This made them grow straighter and faster by reaching up for the sun and of course easier to cut down when the time was right. Anyway, the trail lead to a hydroelectric dam. Normally the water is diverted elsewhere, but four times a day is allowed to freely run its natural course. So from a few vantage points you can watch the dam gates rise to the fall of water which quickly pools up and cascades down the mountainside.

To Taupo From Rotorua

Red Woods – This was a descent hike with the highlight being able to view the Whakawhara thermal park from above. It also takes you through a large forest of California Redwood Trees, which were introduced nearly a hundred years ago, but don’t grow to their enormous size as they do back in the States. I was also
able to see NZ’s timber mills hard at work as they cleared mountain sides and feverously replanted trees back again into nice neat rows so they can come back and do it all over again.

Wallaby Spotting – I came to know a local couple staying where I was until they got their own place named Simon and Ralene. They were curious of all the different animals from back home and took a liking to squirrels, bears, and chipmunks. Plus they told me of all theirs here. They mentioned a wallaby and I thought they were joking and were only made up animals that only existed in children’s books. I was wrong as they took me out one night to spot them. Wallabies are nocturnal animals and come out into grassy fields to feed at night. So we went to a small airstrip on the outside of town with a high power ‘torch’ in hand. We went in on foot stopping periodically to spot the area around us. But nothing was found…..we continued on…..with the same result…but then wait! It was a wallaby!….No, no it was only a couple of possums. With a full moon in front of us, large clouds hanging still in the sky, and only the brightest stars shining through we moved closer to the edge of the field…..Spotted again…and Yes! Ha Ha! A real wallaby! We thought it was another possum at first but as soon as it started hopping away like a little, tiny kangaroo we knew it wasn’t. Simon and I darted after it getting nowhere except scaring it off into the bush lining the outskirts. Spotlighted again and saw another and several more hiding in trees and bushes. We didn’t chase this one, just watched it hop along and
eventually go out of site. Simon then took us to one other spot. It was a little dirt road leading down to a nearby lake. Nothing was seen…..until we reached the end of the trail. It was a lone wallaby. I ran after this one hoping to get a single photo of it, but the little buggers are much quicker than they appear as it easily escaped away. We returned back to the motor lodge chasing possums along the way in the car. They really spazz out when you honk at them. You’d think they’d be smart and quickly hide in the nearby shrubs, but no…..No, no, no……They jump into the middle of the road jumping and skipping from side to side in the most peculiar manner for a good 20-30 yards before taking to safety. It was a fun night and I returned back to my tent having seen my first wallaby.

Before hand Simon also took me to his Dad’s house to get the torch, but to show me all the pigs they had hunted in the past. Apparently, his Dad has gone out nearly every weekend since he was 15 to catch them. There were photo albums stock full of all their catches with the date and poundage of each pig. Simon seemed to be able to recall a storey for nearly every photo. He then took me into the garage where the ceiling was lined with the jaws of all the pigs they caught. It was kind of creepy at first and reminded me of the movie Predator.

Rainbow Mountain – Was a relentless uphill battle up until the very end. The trail keeps you mesmerized though as it shifts in a mixture of colors varying from reds, whites, browns, yellows, and blacks and takes you by numerous steam updrafts and two emerald crater lakes. It left me winded and quite sweaty after reaching the summit, but the view more than made up for it. Next time though, I might drive up the service road on the backside of the mountain.

I left Rotorua yesterday in hopes of hiking the Tangariro Crossing while the weather was holding. But as soon as I arrived here the weather went south as did my health. Hopefully it will all clear up by this weekend as well as my cold so I can make the trek across NZ’s acclaimed “best day walk.”

YMCA – Incase You’re Having Trouble, Try This….

I recieved this email recently and thought I’d share incase anyone was having problems….

“So, funny story for you. You know how we would always joke that stuff didn’t work and then just having you walk into the office would miraculously fix everything. Well, I’ve got one better than that. Our printer has been on the fritz. So we are in the middle of printing stuff off and it had JUST been working perfectly fine, and then all of a sudden it freaks out and stops working. Like, the green light wouldn’t blink and it was just dead. So the person I was printing stuff for was like, should I come back? And I was like, well, I wish it was the easy because now that Andy took off to NZ, and yadi yada yada…….. Ok, so here it comes. The SECOND I said your name, the printer kicked into gear and started printing. I mean, are you freaking kidding me? It was really weird, but really funny too. So our new policy is to just yell your name at the computers and printers when they stop working.  So, you still have some freakish connection with these machines even half-way around the world.”

From the Caves of Waitomo to the Volcanic Plateau of Rotorua

October 16, 2005 

In my new set of wheels I set off again from Orewa this time heading South to a little village called Waitomo where I spent a few days. For being so little it had a lot to offer and see. I was a bit of an idiot in the Peri Peri Caves, but other than that had a great time there. Listed below is what I did.

Ruakuri Trail – This trail was a definite highlight. It can be completed in as little as 30 minutes, but has so much to offer it takes much more than that. There are caves/tunnels throughout the trail to explore, and even one that is off the trail that you have to climb up into. Don’t know if I was allowed to go in it or not, but did anyway. The trail is even better at night as it lights up with glowworms along the face of the rock walls and along the rivers edge. It was a great experience as I found a little rock to climb out on the bend of the river, turn off my flashlight, and watch the glowworms light up the river as they clung to rock face hanging over. Then it was back to the car for a good nights rest. =)

Piri Piri Caves – These were the biggest of the caves that I explored, and may be the last as well. They were located on the outside of town about 30k and only a short jaunt up the mountainside brought you to the entrance. No one else was in the area judging by the lack of other cars in the pull off. I was amazed by the caves sized when I reached the entrance. These made the caves I explored previously look like mere tunnels. With a headlamp on and flashlight in hand I began my descent into the cave. Being by myself I knew I shouldn’t go in so far incase something should happen. But I once I went in a little ways, I went a little further, and then a little further….and soon came to a crossing between one cavern and another. To my luck it was the lowest point of the cave and all water seemed to run to it willingly making for a very muddy and slippery spot. Nonetheless, I decided to carry on and clinched the sides of the walls to keep balance as I maneuvered through. Halfway across I slipped, tried to catch my balance, but ended up catching a stalactite to the head instead. I dropped the f-bomb as I grabbed my head to try and control the pain, and at the same time keep from losing my headlamp. It was awful. I recovered though and of course  ontinued on like a complete idiot into a few more caverns. Luckily nothing particular happened in these and made my way out. I hiked back down to my car and began driving to the next destination. As I was doing so I reached up to scratch my head and ended up with a palm full of blood…..Great…..I think I scraped my head more than I bumped it and didn’t know what else to do besides let it bleed and clean itself. Plus I didn’t want to go back to town and have to drive all the way back to see the falls and natural land bridge. So I carried on to those two destinations before checking into a local campsite where I could get a hot shower. There’s only one word that comes to mind when thinking of my actions, and that word is dumbass.

Marakopa Falls and Mangapohue Natural Bridge – Both nice short hikes that are worthwhile. Marakopa Falls are supposed to be some of the nicest in New Zealand. The natural bridge trail was well done with numerous boardwalks following the river that passed underneath the bridge, and looped around into the
countryside so you didn’t have to back track. And if willing you could climb to the top of the bridge as well. It’s fenced off, but a step helping you over it more or less encourages it as long as you pretend you don’t see the “Danger – 24 Meter Drop” sign.

Waitomo Walkway - The trail starts out on the edge of town and is within walking distance of most all accommodations. After passing a heavily forested area you reach a stream that joins the trail on and off again the whole of the walk. The beauty of this tramp though, and my personal favorite, is that it is cut through reserve and private cattle and sheep farms. The landscape is largely green, rolling hills with fortress like limestone formations dotting their sides. The path is that of the cows, making for an extra muddy experience apart from the gaze of the livestock watching your every step until the next bend is reached. Both going and returning on the trail I was able to observe the farmers round up their herds and move them to another location. One man did it with him on his ATV and three dogs running alongside the cows nipping and barking at their heels until the desired direction was reached. The cows mooed feverishly, but in the end succumbed to their demands. Another group of men took to horseback to move their herd in a much similar fashion as before. The trek ultimately ends at the car park for the cave/glowworm trail I did two days prior. I watched tourists in wetsuits guided by a local company fit their rears to an appropriately sized tube before splashing into the river and off on an adventure. I quickly looped the Ruakauri Trail once more before heading back when it began to rain and eventually pour. This left me to seek shelter in the bush until it subsided so I could get back to my campsite 20 minutes away. The Waitomo Walkway was unique and had a certain flare that would bring me back to it. Only of course after a heavy rain that is. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention a duck hissed at me several times. Yeah, a duck. The tongue came out and everything. I don’t know if it was hurt or guarding eggs since it wouldn’t stand up, but one thing is for sure. It’s
lucky it didn’t attack because I would’ve had to pull out my 9mm and bust a camp in it.

Yesterday I headed out of Waitomo and took my time getting to the next stop of Rotorua. I was such the typical tourist along the way as I stopped to take photos here and there. But in the end made it and spent the day today exploring the California Redwoods forest and volcanic activity in the area, and trying to get caught up on all my emails as well. I’ll hopefully post more pictures in the next day or two.

Updates

I’ve managed to get some of my pictures uploaded into the gallery. So be sure to check out that and the 360 gallery as well because there’s some nice virutal tours of Harurua Falls trail and the Bay of Islands. Cheers!

Coming Full Circle

Back in the greater Auckland area again. Had a nice trip up North to the Bay of Islands where the weather was a bit nice.

I came to know quite a few other travelers passing through the area, but as all things come to an end we went our separate ways. I might meet up again with a kid named Alex from the UK later in Queenstown though.

Also did a few hikes up there which included the Paihia(Pie-here) lookout that takes you to an aerial view of the bay, the Haruru Falls trail which went through a great mangrove forest where the trail turned into an escalated boardwalk through the mangrove trees that are constantly in 1-2 feet of water, and checked out the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. The Treaty Grounds is where modern New Zealand was essentially born. There was s native Maori meeting house that decorated stunningly, a native Maori war canoe (the biggest one ever built supposedly), and great views of the area. I didn’t exactly plan on going to the Treaty grounds…just came upon it on the way back from the Haruru Falls trail trying to take a shortcut and ended up in the middle of it all, and some how bypassed the $12 dollar admission fee. =/

Now I’m back in Orewa looking for car at the moment. Decided I do want the freedom and flexibility that would come with it rather than sticking to a bus system. Stayed a backpackers called Pillows last night, but checked out this morning cuz it was kinda shady….and a man prolly in his 40′s looked to be living in the dorm I was in….and the other guy in there I never really met…he showed up sometime in the middle of the night mysteriously…I dunno, maybe it was the gloomy weather and the rain that put a damper on the place, but either way I didn’t feel comfortable staying around….and think we may have been treated pretty well at the backpackers in Paihia. So I’m back at Kerry’s house for the moment until I get a car and can continue on with the travels. They’re prolly regretting ever treating me so well since I showed up at their house again! =)

 

The magnificent view from the top of the Paihia Lookout trail on to the town and bay below.

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