New Zealand is unbelievably beautiful. There wasn't a day where I didn't find myself remarking on the crazy landscapes, or the gorgeous weather, or the lack of people, or any other selection of equally banal observations. As a result, when I returned to the UK, I also had a lot of pictures from the trip.
I've tried to condense these down, and provide only my favourites, along with a little surrounding information about my experiences on the road. Unfortunately, there were still too many days to cover in one post, so I'm going to split this into two sections...for your attention span, and for your bandwidth. I hope you enjoy what follows, and return for part two at some point in the future.
We landed in Aukland at the start of the trip, and took a couple of days to travel around and see the sights. Many of the cities in New Zealand are close to the sea, and Auckland is no different. The city enjoys a wonderful coastal view, and the harbour-front is great for a walk in the sun - which is just what we needed to give us a gentle reminder of life outside of an aeroplane fuselage.
After wondering around for a little while, we popped over to Devenport (a suburb of Auckland positioned just across the bay) to take in the unusual architecture, and the superb views of Auckland. In the evening, we took a bus over to Mt Eden, and enjoyed the sunset from the top of a volcano on our first real day in NZ.
Coromandel Peninsula and Cathedral Cove
The next portion of our trip was a long drive around the Coromandel Peninsula. The peninsula sits to the east on Auckland, and is famed for its coastal beauty and range of natural sights. We only had a short period of time to visit, so we tried to fit in as many as possible - but I'm sure there were tonnes that we missed!
One of my favourite areas from the whole trip was our day at Cathedral Cove, where we walked for around 45 minutes over undulating terrain in order to find the path down to the beach closed off due to damage to the steps.
Fortunately we saw some people coming back up beyond the hazard tape, and chanced the final descent. When we negotiated the splinters of wood at the bottom (destroyed by the recent storm), we found a beach full of people chilling out on the golden sand...so much for paying attention to signs!
I love the Lord of the Rings Films, and shortly before visiting New Zealand, I listened to the entirety of the books on my cycle rides to-and-from work. Indeed, while we were in the country, I subjected my long suffering Girlfriend to all 11.4 hours of the extended directors cuts of the films while we were parked up in campsites. Visiting Hobbiton was therefore a foregone conclusion. The whole site is faithfully maintained by a large team of gardeners, and the tour guides were full of interesting tidbits of information!
The North Island of New Zealand (Te Ika-a-Māui) is the most thermally active of the two islands that make up the country, as well as being the homeland of the Maori culture.
Rotorua - on the shores of the eponymous lake - is at the centre of this activity, and the unmistakable smell of sulphur fills the air as soon as you are within the city limit. Driving around the city, you can see frequent plumes of vapour rising through the air and if you stop to walk around the local parks then you'll find the sources (barely fenced off).
Tamaki Maori Village
One of the must do activities in in Rotorua is to take an evening out, and to experience some of the Maori culture. We asked around at the frequent i-sites and were advised that if we wanted a 'hands on' experience - then our best choice would be to visit the Tamaki Maori Village.
After being driven over on a tour bus (and being selected as tribal chief) I led my tour group around a wide array of activities - including Haka, Poi, Children's Games, Tattoo lessons.
Once we had seen all the sights, we moved inside to watch a wonderful show of Maori heritage - with traditional music, guitar playing, dancing, and a singer who wouldn't have been out of place in any opera house around the world. To wrap it all up, we were then offered a fantastic meal cooked in the traditional Maori 'Hangi' style.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19 kilometre section of one of the 'Great Walks' in New Zealand. It is definitely justified in it's claim as the premiere one day hike on the North Island. The walk itself, despite taking in around 800m of height gain, the walk is fairly gentle and well marked out. In fact, I was amazed by the number of people that were on the trail - the first image below shows the long line of people in front of us, there was a similar group in front of them, and again in front of that group. Indeed, the line went all the way to the top of the pass, and halfway down the other side - walking in on Kilometre 1 you really have to wonder what they were all there for.
All the questions are answered as you reach the top of the pass. The terrain opens up and you walk through craters, and take in the views of the blue and emerald lakes that the walk is famed for. We hung out there for a while taking pictures, and headed down the other side as the sun started to make its descent. The long walk down offered some stunning views across the plains towards Lake Rotoaira, and the golden light setting over the hills created some wonderful images of the mountainous horizon.
Driving to Wellington
Our drive down to Wellington took in the majority of the Whanganui River road, and then continued down the coast via Palmerston North to the lighthouse at the tip of Cape Palliser.
One of our plans in NZ was to try and get a feel for some of the major cities, and have an idea of where (if anywhere) we might like to come back and stay for a while. Despite being blessed once again by incredible weather, we unfortunately entered Wellington on Anzac Day (the national day of troop remembrance in Australia and New Zealand) and once again we were met with a town that was largely quiet and quite different from its usual self. Nevertheless, the atmosphere here largely reminded me of Bristol in the UK. Coffee shops, the dock area, the people, and a light feeling to the place seemed to create a general atmosphere of modernity, lightness, and progressivism which was very pleasant after so many hours of living in a van.
The Island Crossing and Arrival in Picton
We timed the Island Crossing from Wellington to Picton to vaguely coincide with the sunset - and boy were we lucky. After a fairly gentle crossing (which I understand can sometimes be fairly horrific) we weaved our way through the array of coves and inlets that make up the approach to the South Island and the Sun was literally perfect.
Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman National Park (along with almost everything we saw in NZ) was absolutely breathtaking. Unlike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing however - it was also practically empty. It does seem that if you take a short trip from the beaten track in New Zealand, then you very quickly leave the crowds behind, and can find yourself (in this case at least) with a private beach for an hour where you can mess about taking some pictures! We also came across the Silver Fern for the first time in our trip - which you can tell was very exciting.
Castle Hill Pt.1 (Pt.2 in an upcoming video)
Our first trip to Castle Hill - THE climbing location in NZ, and a spiritual centre of the universe (according to the Dalai lama) - was certainly a flying visit. We walked around the rocks and did a little bit of climbing without pads in order to get some pictures - but the real climbing was done right at the end of our stay.
Stay tuned for more as they come - I've still got Glaciers, Jungle, Aerial, Cliche, and some Stunning Skyscapes to come.
Cheers for reading!