Almost nine and a half hours -that’s how long it took us to do the 19km long Tongariro Alpine Crossing – with a sidetrack up to the mighty 2291m high volcano Mount Nguaruhoe (or Mount Doom as it was called in Lord of the Rings). We arrive at the car park a bare ten minutes before the last shuttle will take us back to National park village, muscles sore and feet hurting.
The Tongariro Alpine crossing, on New Zealand’s north island, is claimed to be the most beautiful – and is definitely the most popular – one day hike in New Zealand and it’s not hard to understand why. The track takes you through barren landscapes, up volcanoes (if you want to do any sidetracks) and ridges with stunning views, past a flamingly red crater and the three beautiful emerald lakes, and in the end you get a fantastic view of lake Taupo.
Nancy laughs when we tell her about our unsuccessful attempt of catching a free ride to the thermal pools at Wai-o-Tapu (where the smell of rotten eggs are even more overpowering than in the city center) a 20 minute drive from Rotorua. She has just picked us up at our hostel with the shuttle-van “Pretty”, which is pretty slow, pretty weird, and generally pretty different.
“Let me get this straight, you did use the international standard hiking sign, right?” she asks, with a distinct kiwi accent, while turning her thumb up. We nod and say “yes, yes, of course”, and explain that we probably were standing at the wrong spot or something – how else could we fail so drastically, when everyone else says it so easy?
The limestone walls tighten around me, as I slowly rappel down into the Ruakuri cave in Waitomo. If my hands were free and not busily occupied contradicting each other (one hand loosening up so I can go faster, while the other one tightening behind my back so I brake harder) I could easily have touched the walls on both sides. Below me is just a black hole, and the light above me is narrowing, but then, when things are starting to get slightly claustrophobic, the cave opens up like a cathedral of darkness in front of me – only barely lit by my helmet torch. I turn around, feet facing the steep wall, and continue down. A few meters before I land at the cave ground I finally loosen up, and slide and jump down more or less effortlessly to the end, looking a tiny bit more like those action heroes in the movies.
Before I went to Ahipara to surf I met Sarah from Germany and Jonas from Switzerland, they were going north as well, and we decided that when we came back to Auckland, we would travel together (Andy, also German, joined us as well). And so we did. We set of in Jonas’ awesome, newly bought, old car (making all kind of funny sounds) to Waitomo and the limestone caves (Waitomo meaning something like water passing through a hole in Maori).
And there, next to our cute little ten bed hostel, was an ostrich/llama/sheep/donkey/all-kind-of-animals farm, set in this wonderfully hilly grassland. The llamas were boring and completely uninterested in us (not a good combination for the wide-angle I was carrying). The ostriches on the other hand came all across the field to us, and they were huge – like really, really, really huge (the wide-angle didn’t feel like a good idea then either, the ostriches with their long necks stretching far out over the fence…)
I read a blog once about someone doing a surf camp in Australia and it made me want to do the same (just not in Australia). It seemed like fun, and I’ve “always” wanted to try surfing, so I booked a 5 day surf camp trip in the Northland of New Zealand, and four days after arriving in Auckland, me and my group got picked up “Under the big boat” at Viaduct harbor. We were a strange group of people. There were the two young German exchange students Lucca and Vicky (high school). Alexa; a hyperactive and completely penis obsessed (the last day she even made a penis shaped pizza) film producer (also from Germany). Caroline; a French doctor interested in photography, travelling with an old camera she’s had since she was a kid (I’d like one of those, but I’m generally too lazy to work with film). Kai, a ginger boy from England. Marek; a slightly hypochondriac German, right out of med school. Ruth and Brenda, two Kiwi army girls, and a Canadian called Stew. Having just left an amazing group of people at Verandahs in Auckland I really wondered what I’d thrown myself into. I didn’t need to worry; we’d end up having an amazing time together, and even learn to surf a bit in the process.
I’m not overly fond of Auckland. The city is mainly just one huge suburbia filled with small villas; some small, old volcanoes popping up here and there, and the Sky Tower (which I didn’t go up to, by the way). It is twice as big as London (square meter wise) and has about 10% of the population, which pretty much explains everything. The city doesn’t have much charm, it’s pretty ugly actually, and still I managed to spend 4 days there, somehow.
I didn’t really do much of the touristy stuff, just walked around the city for hours, getting pretty sun burnt on the sunny days (the sun is so strong here that they don’t sell any sun screen with a sun factor less than 30), and quite soaking on the rainy ones. I bought all the things I didn’t bring from home – like sandals, and sun screen – and suddenly my bag was pretty stuffed (I with my big plans of travelling light (if you don’t count the the computer, camera, lenses, compact camera and waterproof casing for the compact camera…))
I’ve just gotten off the Airport Express bus, going from Auckland airport to the city center, when I realize that I probably got off a little bit too early. The Sky Tower looms faintly over the city in the distant, far, far away – a little bit too far. Less than an hour on New Zealand soil, and already lost.
I had been talking with a slightly crazy-looking, but cool, middle-aged Japanese woman and a Norwegian guy on the bus, probably distracting me from my one and only task of getting off the at the right stop. It shouldn’t have been that difficult, the woman in the ticket counter gave me a nice little map with all the bus stops on it, and mine was supposed to be the first. I guess the bus driver made an extra stop for a kiwi guy, and I rushed out right before the doors closed again, noticing my mistake a bit too late.