07.03.2010 - 14.03.2010 23 °C
We headed next on our tiki tour to Taupo, stopping firstly at the Huka Falls on the Waikoto River. They were fairly impressive falls - the water is impossibly blue and clear. We also saw a Jetboat (a NZ invention they won’t let you forget!) speeding up towards the river and scaring to death the passengers on it. We stayed at Reid’s Farm – a free campsite (left to backpackers by a friendly local when he died, how nice) further upstream from the falls which is truly beautiful if you can stand the smell of the composting toilets wafting in at intervals in the day. We found a spot right by the river and Richard naturally jumped in it. We had the botched plan of getting as close to the water as possible which backfired when we realised it was muddy and we couldn’t get out as the hitop is rear wheel drive! Luckily some other campers gave us a push back up the hill.
Next day we had a sort out day which was a bit boring but necessary to get everything booked you want to do – there are still lots of tourists around despite it getting towards the end of summer here. We went to Taupo and bought some gloves and hats for the hike we would be doing in a few days and Richard picked up some cheap hiking boots for an amazing $39.99! Top quality goods. We stopped off at the visitor information to plan for our trip to the Tongariro National Park and were met with a much different attitude than in Rotorua! The assistant there was a right miserable cow, reminding us why we never go to these places – because they try to flog you stuff you don’t want. We also realised how skint we are becoming! We went back to Reid’s Farm and did some much needed budgeting which is always a bit tense. We realised in the end there is nothing we can do about it apart from be really cheap from now on! We decided to forget about it and jumped in the river instead! The rapids took us both flying away downstream where we clung on to the island in the middle and got chatting to some British guys who were doing the same thing! We had to swim for our lives through the rapids over to the calm part of the river to climb up the bank. Joy was slightly scared for her life and didn’t do it again but Richard kept going back for more despite the fact he’d seen the Huka Falls (downstream) in all their power the day before!
The next day we left the campsite and headed to Whakapapa (much to our amusement we found out that a ‘Wh’ is pronounced ‘F’), after one last little stop at the Thermal Spa – another free hot spring on our handwritten maps. We had a dip, Richard opting for jumping in off the bridge then panicking about getting amoebic meningitis in his ears all the way to Whakapapa but eventually decided it was ok because it was where the hot water joins the river and the river water would have ‘flushed it out’.
We got to the campsite and began preparing for our walk the next day – all 19.5kms of it. We had to get up at 6am to make the bus there, but we managed it and both completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, in a fairly decent 7 hours, without serious injury or whingeing (although Joy was walking like Kryton from Red Dwarf for about three days afterwards). It was beautiful, despite being pretty scary at the top with the 45kmph winds seemingly determined to pluck you from the ridge walk and send you careening to your death. We saw the emerald lakes and the massive blue lake, but visibility was poor when we got to the top as the clouds had moved in pretty early in the day. The last couple of hours of the walk are pretty dull sadly (if you go from Mangetapopo to Katehi Carpark) as it is all downhill and seems to go on forever! We would recommend going the other way round to anyone considering it, though that would mean a few hours of uphill first before the good bits! Parts of ‘Lord of the Rings’ were filmed in Tongariro but we will have to watch it again to try and see if we can recognise anything! We did recognise Mount Doom which is actually Mt Ngauruhoe – an active volcano. There is the option of climbing to the crater of Mt Ngauruhoe which would take an extra 3 hours but our coach driver, Dave (essentially Murray from Flight of the Conchords), warned us off it because of the high winds. We didn’t fancy getting blown into the crater of an active volcano.
The next day Richard was hoping to do the climb up Mt Ruapehu but the weather had deteriorated with snow down to 900m. It would have been a guided walk but it was going to cost $90 to essentially walk up a volcano in the clouds and all the photos would have been of 3ft of mountain and a load of clouds, rain and possibly snow. Taking all this into account Richard decided not to go. Joy was relieved as she felt it would have been a bit dangerous (what with the poor weather and the fact it is classified as a ‘highly active volcano’). We moved on from Whakapapa and headed to the free DOC campsite in Manakau, passing some sheep on the way! Had to take some touristy photos. We had a barbecue out of the back of our camper, shielded from the rain by our boot, and tucked into our duty free Jim Beam.
We had the good fortune of arriving in Wellington not only on a Saturday (free parking, good places to go out!) but also whilst the New Zealand International Arts Festival was being held – a month long festival of art, dance, literature, theatre, cinema and general good vibes. We parked up near the harbour and went to the Visitor Centre (via an art gallery showing the work of local artist Paul Forrest – very good), to try to locate a free overnight camping facility the Escape guide had recommended. Thus followed a trip up Cuba Street – generally recognised as the quirkier more studenty part of town. We came across some really good shops including the Recycled Boutique – a shop where customers can bring their unwanted clothes for the shop to sell (for which they receive 50% of the profits and can withdraw their clothes anytime they want if they change their minds). Kind of like a charity shop but with a slightly better quality of stock! There are lots of record stores, independent clubs and pubs and cafes. Unfortunately the Kruzberg Cafe, where the camper parking was supposed to be had actually decided not to set up the overnight parking facility and Escape had gone to print before this had been confirmed! Damn. Luckily, as it was the weekend there were plenty of places to park up for free and we actually managed two free nights right by the harbour (without any hassle at all) on the Oriental Parade - NZ’s equivalent of the French Riviera, they say!
Firstly, we had a wander around the harbour with the intention of checking out Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. It is free to enter and hosts a brilliant array of displays over four floors including plenty specific to New Zealand’s geography, geology and animals not to mention Maori culture, British colonisation and European and Asian migration over the past hundred odd years. It was very interesting and well worth the visit. Right next to Te Papa is Mac’s brewery, a large brewery and bar with seating right by the harbour, so in the interest of being thorough in our research of Wellington we decided to sample a couple of local brews. We decided to be good and headed back to the camper to have our tea before venturing out at night to sample the nightlife. We headed to Mighty Mighty, back on Cuba Street which for a $5 cover charge allowed us to sample a few more local brews and see a couple of local bands. The first act was pretty pants – an emo kid with a synthesiser. The second band were great though, the lead singer looked like a young Daniel Johns and sang a bit like him crossed with Jim Morrison. The music was very Pixies/Nirvana and we decided to have a good dance on the dancefloor with the indie kids. Thank goodness we will never see any of them again as we gave it our absolute all. We headed back to the camper having enjoyed a brilliant night.
We woke up at a decent(ish – all things considered) hour and Richard opted for a swim in the harbour to wake himself up. It was freezing but having seen an 80 year old woman going for a dip earlier he couldn’t exactly back out. He made it to a little pontoon about 200 metres out where he met a woman in a wetsuit who said “you’re very brave” but was too cold to reply before diving back in and heading back to the warmth of the camper. We started our day by wandering through the streets towards the cable car, passing the Wellington Library which had an exhibition of the work of Seraphine Pick on as part of the art festival. We had a little look but Richard said ‘It’s too wierd for me’ and opted to look at some photo-documentaries depicting various NZ issues while Joy enjoyed the exhibition in peace. It was very good, kind of like a NZ Frida Kahlo. When we wandered off again we noticed that there were installations all over town entitled ‘Revenge of the Mannequins’ and several streets and shops had mannequins doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things including some firemen ‘putting out’ a fire – there was smoke and everything! We read in the paper the next day this had lead to several concerned calls to the fire brigade. It also would have stopped a few cars from being able to see a junction but we admired that Wellingtonians don’t have overly-stringent and overbearing health and safety laws!
We found the cable car and for $3 each headed up to the botanic gardens where we found a tree which had the inner branches chopped out so you could climb up for a view of the city. Naturally we had a climb, though again this wasn’t the easiest thing in the world with our hangovers (why do we always climb trees when we’re hungover?) There is also the Carter Observatory at the top of the gardens – supposedly very good – but much to our disappointment it was undergoing remodelling work and wouldn’t be open til the end of March. Boooo. From the entrance to the botanic gardens there is a route you can take (demarcated by flowers painted on the pavement) which leads you all through the gardens and back into town. We had a slow wander through and were particularly impressed by the rose garden at the bottom. There must have been about fifty different types of roses which were still looking lovely despite it being the beginning of autumn.
Our next stop was the parliamentary building to have a look and we decided it looked like the part you pull out of a hoover to dispose of the dust. That’s pretty much all we can think to say about that, not one to write home about. We headed back through the harbour (finding a second brass sculpture of a swimmer, this one looking a bit less excited about his potential swim) and found some more arts festival fun in the form of some poetry fridge magnets. We stopped and had a go, Richard’s poems always ended up being violent and Joy’s were a bit depressing. We’re blaming this on the choice of words though rather than any indication of our personalities!
Later we headed to Mount Victoria, a vantage point in the middle of the city between the CBD and the airport. It was an excellent view and we saw the benefits of moving to a new country and planning the cities whilst aware of the downsides of British cities. Wellington was purposely planned with plenty of green spaces all around it so that the urban crowds can still enjoy parks and wildlife – you’re never more than 10 minutes away from some substantial countryside or a beach in Wellington!
On our way back to our 'preferred camping spot' we found a park where Richard had a go on the climbing wall. We had wanted to go to the NZ Film Institute as it is free to watch any New Zealand film in a little room (like at the library), however it’s not open on Sundays! Damn. We really wanted to watch a film and save our pennies especially as some of Joy’s favourite films are NZ films (well, The Piano and Mysterious Creatures but there were also recommendations in our Rough Guide which sounded really good.) We read in the paper the next day that in tribute to the NZ film industry, the local council are putting up a sign saying ‘Wellywood’ visible from the city! Imagine! We wandered instead to the cinema on Courtenay Street in the hope of finding out it would be really cheap to go and see Alice in Wonderland in 3D. It wasn’t, so we opted for a wander around the harbour one last time before giving up and watching Seven Years in Tibet on the netbook! The next day we would catch our ferry to the South Island for the next stage of our adventure...