North Island - heading north again02/11/2011
Our time back on the north island was sadly spent being followed by a big and nasty grey cloud that took great glee in raining most days and nights. While this did force us to change our plans a bit we still refused to let it ruin our last few days in New Zealand.
First stop was Wellington where this time we truly understood why it is called Windy Welly. We were staying with our friends Andy and Michelle again but the first night we were there they were away and we had the Rugby World Cup Final to enjoy on TV. It was so nice to be back in a real flat with the simple pleasures of life such as drinking from real wine glasses, eating from china plates etc. Oh their shower is (in Kiwi) awesome! So after a rugby match and a day of R&R Andy and Michelle returned with 6 week old Chloe and we got tucked into a wonderful roast beef cooked by Seth to his usual high standard. The next day we explored the city. The weather really was sufficient to wish to be indoors most of the time so we spent most of it in the excellent museums, the Te Papa and the City & Sea Museum. We also went up in the cable car which had quite impressive views from the top even on the cloudy and cold day.
Time to say good bye to old friends though and head to Hawkes Bay wine region for some more wine tasting. Yet again the rain prevented us from renting bicycles for the tour of the vineyards but we still went to a few very nice ones and had some great wine - yet again being surprised that we do actually like Chardonnay, when made the Kiwi way at least, but it was the reds that stood out this time. Lesson learnt - buy New Zealand whites from Marlborough and reds from Hawkes Bay.
Our last lengthy stop was to be back in Taupo. We had all sorts of plans for Taupo but they were all dependent on the weather knowing what those plans were and joining in, but it just wasn't up for that game at all. It was a shame but we found ourselves a nice private campsite that, even with the unauthorised Kiwi wedding reception taking place in one of the near by cabins, was comfortable and it was nice to spend a few days catching up on emails and showers.
On our last full day in Taupo, and just in time for Seth's birthday, the weather was due to clear so we hot footed it out of Taupo back to the campsite we had stayed in on our first visit near the Tongariro Crossing trek. For the birthday day itself we finally did the trek and what a day that was. The trek (sorry, tramp) was beautiful, hard work, fun, exhausting and generally just worth it! We started by walking in beautiful sunshine across desolate terrain which had clearly seen lots of volcanic "destruction" in the past, then up, up and up again until we had to walk through the snow and then up and up again. We had decided to do a side trek to summit Mt Tongariro which was our first mountain summit to 1976 meters. It was hard work trudging through volcanic ash and then snow to reach the top, but it was worth every slide backwards for the amazing view of the amazing landscape and Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings) at the top.
On the way back down to civilisation we went past Red Crater which really was exactly that, and Emerald Lakes, again showing that no time was wasted coming up with names for these places ("Say what you see, say what you see"). As we continued down we past through more snow, cloud and finally forest. What a variety, and what an amazing way to spend the day. We finished off the trek by hitch-hiking back to the start. This was my first hitch-hiking and was not done without research and making sure that it was a common and safe way to get back tot start of the trek and our car. We were picked up by a very nice Maori lad who clearly thought that his journey home from work in the forests wasn't complete if he didn't pick up at least on tramper. Unfortunately we still had a 7km walk from where he dropped us to the car park but again we were rescued by other friendly trampers who we had chatted to on the pass who gave us a bit of a lift. The whole day was so rewarding, although we were both suffering a fair amount in the evening so the birthday celebrations were really very quiet but it was a fantastic way to end our time in New Zealand.
The next day, with aches and pains in tow we headed back to Auckland and stayed with David, Yus and their family who will probably be cursing us for all the random bits and pieces we left for them including, a rugby ball, pine cones, half eaten peanut butter and a muddy duvet, all to say thank you for their kind hospitality at the beginning and end of our very happy time in the stunning New Zealand.