Saturday, 29 October 2016

On the Road - Through the North Island

These blogs are considerably delayed, but hopefully I can start getting them out at a better rate. Anyway,  after the Coromandel, I made my way south and right down the middle of the North Island.  The centre piece of the first part of my trip was the Tongariro National Park (I will devote a separate post for this), but on the way, I passed through many places of interest.

My first major destination after the Coromandel was Rotorua.

I stopped for a pie near Tauranga - after cycling through more endlessly steep hills. I bumped into a nice young man at a petrol station who gave me the good news that Rotorua was pretty flat and that I didn't have too many hills to climb. He seemed genuine, and I'm sure he was, but he was dead wrong, and which psychologically didn't do me much good.

View over Rotorua lake

Yes, Rotorua, once you are there, is quite flat, but it took an awful lot of climbing to get there, passing through one gorge in particular that was fairly hair-raising going into and exhausting coming out of.

A tough 110Km leg to Rotorua.

Rotorua itself is a stinky but interesting place. So much volcanic activity sends out a fair amount of sulphurous gas into the air from various locations all over the city. I met a Korean chap who thought it good for health, although I don't see how that could be.

There was a very obvious Korean presence across the city. I met a number of Koreans and there were many korean shops and restaurants, and even souvenir shops with Korean writing and no Chinese. This made me think that Rotorua was well marketed in Korea, perhaps for the health benefits of breathing sulpurous gas? Who knows, but it wouldn't be out of character for Koreans to be obsessed with dubious claims of the supposed health benefits of something rather odd.

Steaming small lake in Rotorua

I moved on to Taupo, which was quite cloudy, unfortunately. On the way I hit several geothermal areas and was tempted to pay for one in particular, but had seen enough bubbling, steaming stuff in Rotorua, not to mention that the weather was not especially nice.

Huka falls was a worthwhile side trip. Although not particularly high, Huka falls is astoundingly powerful and the water incredibly blue.

On then to Turangi, again in bad weather, a theme that was to last a few days. In the pouring rain, and with a literal mountain to climb, I decided to cheat (I earned this in Australia, where no alternative methods of transport were used at all) and hop on a minibus up to Whakapapa village (the base for the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a NZ great walk), about a 50km very uphill journey in the pouring rain I was glad to miss out on.

More about this in the next post, but I was certainly glad of my lack of planning with all the rain about. On the bus with me were two German girls who had booked a guided Northern Crossing walk (the famous one day walk), and only had the time for that one day. The weather had to be good, but it was chucking it down with rain. If they went at all, they would've seen nothing and been pretty wet and miserable. I, on the other hand, had the flexibility to wait for a weather window.

While I was waiting for the weather to clear, I did manage to get on to a smaller hike to a waterfall, and as chance would have it, my timing was perfect to see a couple of people kayak down it.  The falls themselves featured in The Lord of the Rings as the background to Gollum eating a fish.

After I had finished my walk in Tongariro, I quickly whizzed down the mountain to National Park Village. I intended to do a hike there the next day but the weather wasn't great. What I didn't know was that the weather was going to get even worse, unexpectedly so as it wasn't forecast to (the weather in New Zealand appears somewhat tricky to forecast correctly).

After just 30km I was soaked and very cold, a deep cold that I couldn't shake the whole day and that left me feeling decidedly unwell.

After eating no food for 12 hours and being woken by air-raid sirens, which I thought were signaling a volcanic eruption (I was later to learn that they are actually to call volunteer firemen), I set off the next day to Whanganui via the scenic Whanganui river road.

Although more down than up, the road still climbed over 1000 metres during the day,  a massive task for a man with no fuel in the tank. The road itself was beautiful though, which provided enough distraction to get me through.

Once in Whanganui, I was relieved that I could eat normally again and that my bad stomach was only to last a day.

After that, it was a fairly uninteresting journey to Wellington. I stopped in a small town for lunch called "Bulls", which the people obviously enjoyed making puns out of.

Concentrated punnery in one big sign.

I finally reached Wellington, a few days ahead of schedule. Fortunately, I was able to jump on an earlier boat to the South Island. Instead of arriving on the 28th, I could now arrive 2 days earlier.

I still had the best part of a day and a half to explore Wellington, which was a very pleasant city. I went for a run, first along the bay, and then hooked up with the southern walkway, which took me over the hills and to the suburbs on the opposite coast.

It was a good 17km in all, a length of run I hadn't done in a while, so I was pretty tired. Just in case you are wondering, cycling a lot doesn't help you run at all, in fact just the reverse (my legs wondered what the hell they were doing).

Wellington has a network of nice trails up into the forested hills throughout the city and suburbs. From the high points I could see all around, including the international cricket ground and a very small airport, nestled in the neck between two parts of the city, with the sea at the start and finish of the runway.

I will see Wellington again on the way back to Auckland for my flight home, but it was time to say farewell to the north island for the moment. It was time for the much anticipated South, and it certainly hasn't disappointed so far.

The postcard picture of Wellington and it's famous old ratchety cable car.

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