Thursday, April 30, 2009

New Zealand: North Island

As soon as we had arrived on the North Island the weather improved - I don’t know whether this was coincidence or a generally warmer climate. The nights were warmer (which helped the cooking process of my 3 course dinners a lot!). I found the North Island much more interesting than the South Island - despite what all the guidebooks say. On the South Island nature is much more spectacular, but it is also spectacular in a European way - meaning that there is nothing unusual in it. On the North Island on the other hand there are a lot of striking features. First of all the North Island is of a very volcanic nature, so you see a lot of (hopefully extinct!) volcanoe craters and - most important for me - hot springs!

Mass hike on Tongariro
We enjoyed both features: First we did the famous Tongariro Crossing - reputedly New Zealand’s best one-day walk. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones to discover that. We were already warned when the shuttle bus to the trail head arrived full and we were told to wait for the second one, which arrived a minute later - and was also full. We had to stand up. When we arrived at the trail head we had to realize that we had not come in the only shuttle bus - there were plenty of them and they were all full, despite it being almost off season. And so we started climbing up the mountain followed by a constant stream of fellow hikers. There were so many people that it was impossible to even take a discreet pee! The flow of people never stopped - we were never ever alone for a second. The amount of people was rather off-putting, but the scenery was nevertheless quite impressive: Craters, lakes in unreal colours, steam coming out of the ground and temperate rain forest.

Free roadside hot springs
I have always loved hot springs, so I was having a ball on the North Island. We discovered freebie hot springs on dirt side roads as well as impressive spa towns like Rotorua. I had decided to celebrate my “alternative“ birthday there and received a plethora of birthday presents from John even including a very rich birthday cake and champagne!!! On top of all that we spent the day in a very posh spa relaxing in hot pools until we were thoroughly cooked. Most interesting feature in Rotorua though was the local museum displaying all sorts of memorabilia from former spa times. Patients were treated with radioactive water and electro shocks - all this seemed more like a torture chamber than spa treatments to me.

But then it was time to head back to Auckland. En route we passed a lot of Maori buildings which is the other interesting thing about the North Island. Most of the Maori population lives on the North Island which is reflected in all sorts of weird place names and Maori influenced buildings, churches and cemeteries. On our very last cycling day in New Zealand we had the very worst weather of the whole trip. It was just pouring down the whole day combined with a rollercoaster hilly landscape and the steepest ascend of the whole trip. This combination lead to me being totally soaking wet - probably more from sweating inside my raingear than from actual rain. After that shitty day it will not be a problem to leave New Zealand.

Tongariro Crossing
In Auckland we had booked ourselves into the Formule 1 hotel - yes, to my big surprise they have Formule 1 hotels in Australia and New Zealand. I am a big fan of these hotels and have stayed in many of them in Europe. The one in Europe came as a big surprise - ensuite bathroom and shower, plus even a little kitchen and balcony smack bang in downtown Auckland for the incredible price of 22 EUR per room!!! We are staying here for almost a week while preparing for our departure to Japan.

And yes, that is the next surprise: John is coming to Japan with me! He always wanted to go there and it might not be directly on his round the world route, but it is not that much of a detour either. Probably me cooking 3-course dinners for him every night might have helped him in his decision. Right now we are in Auckland indulging in All-you-can-eat-buffets, white chocolate and Formule 1 designer hotels - all stuff we will not be able to afford in Japan.

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