As you might have read from our previous post, we got our caravan pretty late. So, on the first day, we had a tight schedule if we wanted to see anything on the north island. The Estonian girl who worked in the rental company advised us to travel to Rotorua definitely. Jaanus got used to with the right-hand traffic quite quickly and so we arrived before the dark.
Rotorua is famous for its so-called rotten egg smell and boiling ground. There can be hot water springs and geysers and ponding mud around every corner. Our first stop was the Kuirau Park in Rotorua. Of course, the stench of the stink made us feel a little sick, and we did not want to spend much time there. We walked in the park, we observed the mud bonds and soaked our feet in the water that was warmed by nature.
Since it was late, we were unable to visit the famous Waiotapo Nature Park and the Lady Knox Geyser. However, we found a source of natural hot springs that was out of the park area and was available for free to everyone. The water was surprisingly hot. Cooling was provided by one spot where the hot water mixed with colder river water. There were many people and a lot of Chinese, who also did some mud treatment to themselves. The braver ones also put the head under water despite warning labels. It is said that there may be a bacteria causing meningitis which could get you if put the head underwater. However, we wanted to play it safe and kept our heads up, despite locals saying its safe.
Pleasant evening bathing tired us quite a bit, even though we still had a lot to do. We needed to get to Tongariro National Park by night to get there early in the morning. We reached Tongariro in the dark, but there was nowhere to park. Everywhere there were outdoor signs that overnight parking is not allowed. So, we had to drive back and we decided to spend the night just beside the road. There was a lot of lack of sleep, as the passing trucks shake our van properly. But we could only blame ourselves for not having been able to do better homework …
The next day we woke up early and made ourselves ready for a long trip. The Tongariro hiking trail is probably one of New Zealand’s most famous. It is about 20 km long and more difficult than average, as there are several ascents and descents. When going through the Tongariro hiking trail, there is one worry and this the track is not a loop. Instead, the hike takes you from one end of the nature park to another and you have to get back by bus that has a fairly high price (at least for our budget). In order to save money, we started the hike from the wrong end (Ketachi car park) It is not that it is completely wrong, but rather it is advisable to start hiking from the other end because in that case, it is easier to take the hike. We hoped we could hitchhike back to our car from the other end of the hike and save some money.
At first glance, the hiking trail didn’t seem like anything special to us. We hiked inside the forest and at times we found a small waterfall beside the trail. Of course, the forest was special and with a very different from that in Estonia, but it didn’t make the trip much more exciting for us. After a couple of hours of climbing up the hill, we reached out from the forest and on top of the hill. We both were stunned because the wind that was up there was just unbelievably strong. We were still trying to be strong and continue. Soon, the wind became so brutal that there were difficulties even with breathing and standing up – so it wasn’t a great hike. We suspected that the strong wind might have been caused by the storm that just a few days ago in Auckland. We took some time out to discuss what to do and whether it is still worth the effort, but luckily the sober mind got on. We had walked about 7 km when we decided to go back on the same road.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see the lakes and volcanoes. Later, of course, we heard from a friend Mikk that we probably made a wise decision, because one hiker had recently died on the same hiking trail. In addition, he said that with the cloudy weather we wouldn’t have seen anything anyway from the top. Thereby sometime in the future, we have to come back for this hike.
Positive in this was the opportunity to see more than just a hiking trail in Tongariro National Park. We drove to the nearby waterfall, which was perhaps the most beautiful we had ever seen. Although the weather was rather chilly, though sunny, Jaanus still was brave enaugh and jumped into the river.
This time we had more time to look for a beautiful place to stay for the night. We stopped at Foxton beach, on the north shore of the island. There was an empty parking lot right on the beach, where there was no sign of prohibition of camping. With a better car, we could have even ridden to the beach, as the labels explained that the beach strip is the official road in this area. So we enjoyed a wonderful sea view in the evening and we cooked in the light of the sunset. Our usual dinner was potatoes, sausages and, of course, the very Estonian thing – sour cream tomato and cucumber salad. That night we could sleep well.
The next day we had planned to discover Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. However, with a large bus, maneuvering in urban traffic was rather complicated and we had to accept mostly discovering the surroundings of Wellington. However, we got to see Wellington in one of the mini lighthouses.
There was also a famous memorial nearby, which we had difficulty to understand. We climbed up the hill in the hope that we could see the surroundings of the bay, but unfortunately, the tall trees hid the beautiful view. However, there were many artists at the memorial who painted this on a paper.
We also saw Mount Victoria in Wellington, which has a wonderful view of the city. Among locals, this area seemed very popular for sports. We reached the top of the hill together with the runners, who were likely beating each one another while running up the hill. So we were forced to run away from the sweat smelly and went on to explore the beaches around Wellington.
The coastal area was beautiful and we could even see the south island. We stayed overnight along the coast. But we did not succeed to sleep well again because at night there was a frantic storm and we both held our breath so that the car would not fly away.
In the early morning, we were waiting for a ferry ride. Due to the storm, the ferry was late and we traveled longer than expected. But we didn’t mind it, because the ferry ride through the New Zealand Fjords was very beautiful. To get a ferry from the North Island to the South Island with this vehicle, you need lighter your wallet about 200 Euros. The ferry was more or less decent, but there wasn’t much room and food prices were also very high. The constant whining of our Estonian people over the ferries and traffic of Hiiumaa or Saaremaa is nothing compared to this
Before lunch, we were already on the South Island and started off along the east coast towards Christchurch. We were immediately greeted by the huge vineyards and one plantation seemed to follow the other. Grape fields alternated with pastures, where huge beef cattle ate grass and, of course, sheep. Who did not know yet, New Zealand is a country with more sheep than people. The locals told that most of these sheep were exported abroad. Since the New Zealand sheep is a delicacy elsewhere in the world, then this means that also locals who want to buy a sheep or meat must also pay considerably more than they used to.
Soon the high mountains began to appear on the horizon. We had reached the coast and on left there were the white mountain peaks of the Kaikoura mountain range and, on the right, the deep blue sea. We had a long time discussing how the sea can be as bright blue as the glacier lakes in Patagonia. We had never seen the sea so blue anywhere before. Soon we saw several cars stopped by the road and decided to stop. It turned out we found a colony of famous Kaikoura seals. Bunch of seals was laying on the rocks and the small ones played with water and waves. New Zealand’s fur seals are said to be among the rarest in the world. These seals were undoubtedly much smaller than what we saw on the US South Coast. However, they were at least as fun to watch since the tiny seals were quite active and played with each other.
Our next stop was Kaikoura. We plan to stay overnight in this small resort town. Kaikoura is quite popular among tourists because there are many seals, dolphin, and whale watching trips. Kaikoura is also known for being able to take an airplane to fly over the sea for a reasonable amount of money, as well as search for whales. None of these fun things were included in our budget. Nonetheless, we enjoyed Kaikoura, as the views of the blue bay, with white mountain peaks in the background, were quite extraordinary.
Our next stop was already at Christchurch. We had to return the car by noon at the latest. It meant an early waking and we also had to clean the car to avoid cleaning fee. In Kaikoura, we also had a small incident since Jaanus accidentally backed onto the stone, resulting in a small dent on the bumper. Jaanus was skillful enough to push it out. Fortunately, the rental company did not find it. Strangely enough, more attention was paid to ensuring that the roof of the car was undamaged. Anyway, we got the car nicely returned and Jaanus friend Mikk picked us up so we save taxi money.
From now on we know that the chemical toilet tablets smell terrible and that nothing comes out of sleeping in the windy place! We both agreed that in the future we would prefer a sailing boat instead of the camper van.