22/05/2013 - 02/06/2013
After the endless beach that is Australia, we were somewhat relieved to venture on to New Zealand in search of something new. Of course the first 'new' thing we encountered was rain; after 3 months of almost perfect weather it was a shock to the system to arrive in the wet, chilly climate of New Zealand's winter. Undeterred, we dug our hoodies and umbrellas out of the depths of our rucksacks and ventured out, feeling our sun-fed tans almost draining away. Auckland, though a large city, seemed to us fairly unimpressive; it boasts the Sky Tower and an impressive shopping/dining thoroughfare but overall felt crowded and oppressive.
Things looked up as soon as we left the city; after stopping in the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula for a day of walking and soaking up the views, we headed to Matamata to fulfill a longstanding dream; visiting Hobbiton, the filming set used in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. We were shown around the set by an informative guide who gave us lots of amazing facts about the making of the set, visited Bag End, Bilbo's house, and had a drink in the Green Dragon pub. A great nerdy day was had by all!
Our next stop was Rotorua, famed for its natural hot springs and boiling mud pools, and also for its rotten egg smell caused by the hydrogen sulphide emissions! Our lack of a car prevented us from getting to the town's main geothermal area, Wai-O-Tapu, but instead we enjoyed the free thermal pools on display at Kuirau Park, where the water literally boils in the ground. We also visited the Polynesian Spa, where for a mere 25NZD you can spend as long as you like soaking in the numerous outdoor hot pools, ranging from 33-42 °C, while admiring stunning views of Lake Rotorua. The water, sourced from two natural hot springs, has been used by Maoris for generations as a healer of aches and pains, and I must admit the pools did seem to have a soothing effect.
With newly-refreshed limbs we moved on to Taupo, by the side of a lake of the same name that is bigger in size than Singapore. So far does it expand you could be forgiven for thinking it was the sea, and the beautiful mountains of Tongariro National Park are just visible in the background.
We also made the short trek out through beautiful forest to Huka Falls, an impressive waterfall that is occasionally tackled by an ambitious kayaker with a death wish. For such a small waterfall it's quite impressive; any confusion we had about why the falls weren't a rafting destination was dispelled when we saw the volume of water gushing over the falls. We finished our walk with a visit to Craters of the Moon, Taupo's own hot mud pools.
From Taupo we headed for our final North Island destination-Wellington. Aucklanders seem to think that their city is much more worthy of being New Zealand's capital but I must disagree. Wellington, despite being smaller, seems much more spacious, and has an easygoing atmosphere that Auckland lacks. We made the obligatory visit to the parliament buildings, including the incredibly ugly Beehive, but Wellington's true appeal lies in the bustling streets and tranquil waterfront. A particular high point is the famous Cuba Street, a fabulous mix of cool bars, kooky cafes and secondhand shops selling clothes, music, books and general peculiarities.
Having heard that the South Island is far superior to the North, it was with high expectations that we boarded the interislander ferry bound for Picton and the South. Yet to come is Abel Tasman National Park, the glaciers, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Kaikoura...and we're already in love.