The Great Winter Break North Island Road Trip

Although I have been living in the North Island for about 5 months now, I realized that I had yet to experience many of its acclaimed tourist attractions. So we decided to spend our Winter Break from school taking a road trip around the SE area of the North Island. The group consisted of myself, Chris, Johannes (from Germany, lives down the hall) and Winnie (from Hong Kong, lives 3 floors up) which ended up being just about the perfect combination. Johannes, who is slightly older and very German, was very insistent about doing certain activities which, although kind of annoying at first, was realized to be a good thing because we enjoyed everything he made us do and recognized that we would not have opted to do them had he not been with us. Winnie, on the other hand, is very free spirited and equipped with an incredibly shrill voice.  She definitely added to the spontaneity of the group and was always assuring us that everything would be alright. And I think thanks to Chris we visited and played on just about every play structure that we encountered. I like to think that I was the trip’s photographer- I took more than 300 pictures- about 100 of which are posted on facebook.

Day 152- 30 June 2010- Day 1 of The Great Winter Break North Island Road Trip

We began our trip by heading to Rotorua which is about 3 hours south of Auckland.  Immediately upon arriving in town we could smell the sulphur- warm, rotten egg fart sort of smell- a smell that would stick to my clothes for the remainder of the trip. As we were checking out some hot bubbling mud on the side of the road I thought I saw some monopoly money so I ran to grab it. Turns out it was real NZ money- 50 bucks in fact-which I used to go zorbing. Zorbing is when you and some friends are put into a giant plastic ball filled with a little bit of warm water and are pushed down a big grassy hill. Chris, Winnie and myself went together and it was one of the funniest, most awkward experiences of my life. It didn’t really feel like we were rolling down a hill, but more like we were in one spot with the ball rotating all around us. It was impossible to try and sit or stand up and we ended up a big tangled, giggling ball of limbs at the bottom of the hill. Afterward we went for a walk in the ‘Redwoods’ which is a forest of trees that were imported from California a long time ago. It felt so good to be out of the city and in a forest that reminded me so much of home, even though in a way it was all fake. The funniest part was when we ran into this tour group of older asian men and asked them to take a group picture of us and then they asked if they could take a picture WITH us. Nice at first, but then super creepy when it seemed like they were following us around the trails in this miniature forest. That night we slept next to this park by a lake – Chris and Johannes both in their own tents and Winnie and I in the car.

Day 153- 1 July 2010- Day 2 of TGWBNIRT

Winnie and I awoke screaming and crying loudly because we had barely slept because we were so friggin cold. The sun wasn’t even up yet so we were running around trying to get warm. We packed up and went for a walk around a nearby lake and just as we got to a little lake beach the sun came out and we all laid down on the beach like lizards soaking up the rays. We then went to another playground but left when about 50 kids from a nearby school showed up and scared us away. We then hiked up Rainbow Mountain, so named because of all of its different colored rocks resulting from all the geothermal activity. The view was pretty epic, we all agreed that it was like looking out onto Hobbiton with Mordor to the south (really Ruapehu)and Winnie noted (as she would do many more times throughout the trip) that “omg this is soo lord of the rings”.  We spent the remainder of the daylight looking for Kerosene Creek and then decided to camp there because it was too dark to go anywhere else. This creek is naturally heated by geothermal activity but because it was so cold outside the water wasn’t boiling hot, but more like bath water that has been sitting for a bit. Nevertheless we got in anyway and then stayed in for an hour even when it felt cold because we knew getting out would be much colder. Afterwards we had to huddle in the car for a bit to get dry and then camped next to the creek.

Day 154- 2 July 2010- Day 3 of TGWBNIRT

Although Winnie and I had slept in a tent with Johannes to try and utilize all our body heat to stay warm, we still woke up cold and decided to get up and out of there quickly as if leaving that spot would make the whole day warmer. But it ended up actually being a slow start to the day as we drove Johannes to Wai-o-tapu thermal park and waited for him to pay 30$ to see a geyser and some multi-colored hot pools. We then drove the short bit to Taupo where we saw Huka falls and went swimming in another hot stream that was actually hot (same one I went to on my trip to Taupo earlier this year) after that it was almost dark again so we cooked some dinner in the park while cursing about the short amount of daylight hours in the winter. That night we camped right next to the shore of Lake Taupo.

Day 155- 3 July 2010- Day 4 of TGWBNIRT

Despite having put on every layer of clothing on that I owned I was still cold in the night, which made sense when we woke up to find that everything around us was frozen. We had left water in a pot outside and had to let it thaw before we could clean it. But even though we were cold and cranky from lack of sleep we trudged on to the next town to find something to do. At this point most of us would have been fine getting a motel room for the day and just sitting inside watching tv with the heater up full blast, but Johannes wanted to go for a hike and although at the time we hated him for it, in retrospect that was the best thing we could have done. We did a hike from Whakapapa village (pronounced fuk-a-papa in case you were wondering) to Taramaki falls. Although we were below snow level, we were just at the base of a mountain that was covered in what looked like pristine untouched white snowy bliss which made for some awesome pictures. Hiking got our blood flowing and warmed us up and we decided we should go check out the snow. After trying to use a dining common tray as a sled we sucked it up and pitched in to rent a real plastic sled which we used to terrorize the surrounding parents as they repeatedly watched us fly out of control down the ice and almost barrel into their slow moving children. But don’t worry we didn’t actually hit any of them, although im pretty sure I popped a lung by crashing into Winnie and then laughing uncontrollably with my face buried in the snow. On top of being already cold and tired we were also all wet so we decided to stay in a hostel for the night and make it to Wellington the next day. We ended up staying in Palmerston North (I tried to get everyone to nickname it Palmy but failed)at a little bed and breakfast sort of place that was run by a little old lady who loved in the upstairs. It was a very simple place but in comparison to a freezing tent it was the coziest house id ever been in. We cooked up a big dinner and watched some vampire show and then turned on our electric blankets and went to sleep.

Day 156- 4 July 2010- Day 5 of TGWBNIRT

Woke up feeling super duper, packed the car and set off to Wellington. Our friend Jake from ihouse lives with his family near the city so we picked him up first so that he could show us around. I asked him to take me to the best coffee place so we went to Cuba Street which is the young, hip part of town.  It was beautiful weather which is abnormal for Wellington so we spent the majority of the day walking around in the sun.  When it got dark we went to the national museum, Te Papa and explored the first floor. When the museum closed we walked to a bar and watched a rerun of a world cup soccer game and then we walked all the way up this massive hill to visit our friend Bronwyn, also from ihouse.  We had planned to celebrate 4th of July at her house so she invited some of her friends and her mom baked us an apple pie and bought us American beer- Budweiser. Some other friends from ihouse were in the area so they came over too and we ate brownies, apple pie, ice cream and beer and talked about how much better Wellington is than Auckland. We then walked to a park by her house and set off some old fireworks she had, yelling “happy fourth of july, wellington!” after each one. I think it was the most appropriate way to celebrate the American holiday, indeed. We then went to our friend Emily’s house, another EAPer, who most kindly let us sleep on her living room floor at last minutes request because our original couch surfing deal had sort of fallen through.

Day 157- 5 July 2010- Day 6 of TGWBNIRT

We had to wake up early to move our car out of Emily’s neighborhood because parking in the city is quite expensive. We drove up the hill and then walked back down through the botanical gardens. After exploring these for a couple hours (and visiting the playground) we took the historic cable car down to the main city area. We then took a tour around parliament and learned a little bit about NZ politics but probably more about the architecture of the buildings they operate in. And this is where all my hard work at school paid off- the tour guide asked the crowd what style of architecture the last building was and I cooly replied, “Neo-Gothic” and he complimented me saying I was a smart lady and told all the youngsters around to stay in school so they can learn heaps of unimportant trivia just like me.  At this point in the trip our group was a little bit tired of each other so Johannes split off and said he’d meet up with us in an hour or so. So Chris, Winnie and I went to some tourist shops and then an Art Gallery and then a bar. We met up with Emily and Johannes again and we met our couch surfer- a guy named mike who just finished studying environmental management at the uni in Wellington. That night we cooked dinner for Mike in exchange for his letting us sleep on the floor of his flat which was at the top of the hill, overlooking the city with an amazing view.

Day 158- 6 July 2010- Day 7 of TGWBNIRT

We woke up to typical Welly weather- cloudy, rainy and lots and lots of wind. So we decided to go back to Te Papa to try to see the rest of it, along the way stopping at the national art gallery. We all went our own way in the museum but afterwards met Jake again and went to the national film archive. This place has every film that has ever been recorded in New Zealand including commercials from as far back as the 30’s. I ended up watching a lengthy commercial from the 50’s that described how best to keep your pastry dough. It was old, cheesy, sexist and absolutely hilarious. We then said good bye to Jake and went to our friend Emily’s again to stay the night. The next day was her 21st birthday so we stayed up late playing drinking games and we “baked” her (more like heated up for her) a frozen pie we had bought at the grocery store.

Day 159- 7 July 2010- Day 8 of TGWBNIRT

We left Wellington in the morning and headed up the coast towards Napier/Hastings. This was an especially quirky part of the trip because it has relatively few tourist attractions compared to the rest of the country and it allowed us to get a better feel for real NZ- that is, one of down to earth farmer types. Also, because it is winter we were probably the only tourists within 100 miles and when we stopped at in isite in a little town called Carterton just to use the bathroom, the lady working there admitted that we were the first tourists she’d talked to in weeks.  We also stopped in a town called Masterton where we got fish and chips and Winnie talked to the owners who were also from Hong Kong. Then we stopped at the Tui Brewery where Chris, Winnie and I shared a tasting and looked around at all of the ridiculous merchandise. By the time we got to Hastings it was getting dark and we had planned to just camp at a road or beachside park but they were all pretty exposed to the wind (and the cops) and we couldn’t figure out how to get to cape kidnappers because it is possible that the road shown on my map doesn’t actually exist. So after sitting frustrated in a cold and dark car outside the only lit building we could find (which happened to be a liquor store) we decided to call our friend Andy from ihouse who lived in the area. I was reluctant to call him even just to hang out because I think he is sort of pretentious and sexist and he was quite mean to Winnie at the start of the year, but we hoped the least he could do was let us camp on his lawn. We knew Andy had to be rich because he has 8 siblings and his dad is a doctor and has his own car dealership specializing in Jaguars and Porsches (in fact the youngest daughter is named Porscha how cheesy is that?). Pulling up to his house our jaws hung open as we drove past rows of sculpted hedges and up to this grand adobe mansion with no less than 6 gleaming sport cars sitting in front. I guess we drove too quickly because we arrived just as the family was sitting down for dinner. We should have lied, but instead admitted to not having dinner yet so the dad fixed Winnie and Johannes a plate of the meat spaghetti and Chris and I ashamedly admitted that we are vegetarians. So while the rest of the family began to eat we stood in the kitchen with the Dad while he asked us what we DO eat. “you eat corn? You eat carrots? What about cauliflower? You’ll eat that won’t you?” He ended up fixing us the most bizarre vegetarian dinner I’ve even had consisting of steamed cauliflower and carrots, canned corn and canned garbonzo beans (which we had fetched out of the car as a result of our trying to insist that we could just eat what we had brought). All the while he was cooking he wouldn’t let us or his son help so we just stood in the kitchen while the rest of the family ate and peered at us. After we had finished eating, THEN the dad sat down to eat his meal so we were forced to watch him eat as he interrogated us about where we were from and what we were thinking trying to sleep in a tent in weather like this. He finally asked us what are sleeping plans were for the night and when we just stared at him blankly he decided to call up some patients of his to give us a good deal on a hotel room. It was actually very nice of him to do so, but the way he did it made us feel like trash, especially when he commented that we could each have two towels if we liked and implying that we needed to bathe multiple times. When we finally got out of there we were all cracking up at how awkward the whole situation had been and that people like that continued to live on, past the feudal era. The motel wasn’t as amazing as we’d expected but it was only 50 bucks for two bunk beds and lots of clean towels and we reasoned it was probably the cat’s pajamas back in the day when Andy’s Dad used to stay there.

Day 160 – 8 July 2010- Day 9 of TGWBNIRT

Another advantage to staying in the motel was we were able to wake up at 6:30 to watch the world cup match between Germany and Spain. Germany lost and if anyone else had been staying in that motel they would have known about it because we had turned into very passionately loud fans by the end. Afterwards we drove straight out of Hastings and stopped in Napier, the Art Deco capital of the world. Although it was a bit overrated, it was cool to see all the old buildings and we got to talk to an elderly woman who was part of the Art Deco society and gave us some special local details. We played on the playground for a bit and then headed to Gisborne to see our friend Beth from ihouse. Especially because of the experience of the previous night we were so excited to see a friend from ihouse that we actually really liked. We were also super excited because we had planned at the beginning of the trip to make homemade pizza at her house and discussing possible toppings had become a regular part of our road conversations. And we were not disappointed. First of all, Beth’s house is amazing.  It sort of resembles a mini-castle with turrets and rounded parts made mostly of dark wood with light blue trim. The house is made from old parts of local bridges and churches including huge beams and arched stained glass windows. Plus it sits RIGHT next to the river on about two acres of land in which they keep two goats, a sheep (which after a bit of chasing I go tot pet), 3 chickens, a dog and two cats. The first thing we did was pick up Beth and go to the grocery store to get pizza toppings. We devoted the rest of our night to making, and then eating A LOT of pizza to the point where I still feel full. We went on a little night hike but food coma set in so we went to bed kinda early.

Day 161- 9 July 2010- Day 10 of TGWBNIRT

The next day we slept in and then Chris made egg in my eye for breakfast (sunny side up egg in toast). Then, determined to walk off some of the pizza we had eaten yesterday we tried to find a good hike to do. We walked to the top of a big hill and then through the town and then drove out of town to another lookout. Then we went and got fish and chips and had another food coma/nap back at Beth’s house. We spent the rest of the day enjoying being inside with each other (and Beth has a ping-pong table, a pool table, a piano, and a play station) and then played some games with her family. Beth’s family is fantastic. They are the family that you envy in Disney channel originals, except better because they are not cheesy. After her smart little brother won in the dice game, Beth cooked us dinner and while we ate her Dad asked us about our lives and listened in a way that made me believe he actually cared what we were saying. Then her step mom calls over the dog yelling, “Douche! Douchey! Come here” as if it were the most common pet name in suburbia. Then we played Cranium in which Winnie and Beth lost horrifically, we found out that Johannes is the absolute worst actor ever and that Beth’s little brother does quite a good Michael Jackson impression. Oh and Chris and I won, btw. We then took a dip in Beth’s hot tub and got a chance to see some stars before it started to rain.

Day 162- 10 July 2010- Day 11 of TGWBNIRT

The next day Beth and I made waffles for the whole family and then we reluctantly packed up our stuff. Winnie was taking a bus back to Auckland the next morning so she go to stay and as Chris, Johannes and I waved goodbye I was sooo jealous. Not only had Beth’s house been the best part of the trip so far, I knew that without Winnie the group just wouldn’t be the same. But luckily, there was very good weather so although we were a more quiet group, we were in good moods and were being very nice to each other.  We took our time driving to the Coromandel, stopping a lot to get out and do little hikes in the sunshine. We ended up camping at a beach campsite next to a bunch of seasonal fishers and we got there just in time to take a walk on the beach and watch the sun set. I came up with the great idea to put my duvet blanket INSIDE my sleeping bag so, although I couldn’t move, I was much warmer and much happier.

Day 163- 11 July 2010- Day 12 of TGWBNIRT

The next morning we drove to Mt Manganui and did less than an hour’s hike up to the top. It was a Sunday and it seemed like the whole town was outside enjoying the good weather. We then went to the beach and I was amazed at all of the perfectly whole shells I found so, against my environmental studies morals, I took some home. We walked around the town a bit and then drove into the Coromandel to a free camp site. We took a little muddy hike up next to the stream and through a yak pen –despite their horns, yaks are so cute!

Day 164-12 July 2010- Day 13 of TGWBNIRT

It froze again that night and all the grass around our tent was crunchy with ice. I had been warm enough to sleep but felt really dirty and was not as ballsy as Johannes who decided to bathe in the freezing cold river.  We drove further into the Coromandel to do a hike in an area called Broken Hills. This was an old mining area so all the tracks were old miner’s tracks and they led us through old mining tunnels and caves which was pretty awesome. We made it to a lookout and all we could see around us was green green forest. We headed over to check out Hot Water Beach but the tide was high and wouldn’t be low until 1pm the next day. We were looking for a place to stay but the only free campsites were hours away and the nearest one was charging 16 bucks per person! So I suggested we just drive back to Auckland and that’s just what we did. We called an RA and had them reserve us late dinners so that when we got back we all took showers and then met again in the lounge to eat our dinners, the last of our road chocolate and watch a movie in a warm, comfy room. Good ending to a good trip.


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