New Zealand's North Island
by Lisa Senftleben
Friday, January 20, 2017
A journey to the green island
It’s December 2016. For the first time after 14 months I’m leaving Australia. On this side of the world it’s mid-summer, hot temperature, tourist season, school holidays, family time. Also for me – I meet my beloved sister and parents in New Zealand! Exciting after such a long time away frome home. I’m nervous and smiling during the entire flight from Melbourne Tullamarine Airport to Auckland.
First of all some facts
New Zealand is often called as the green island. With it’s location about 2.000k’s from the next bigger mainland (Australia’ east cost) it’s pretty isolated in the pacific ocean. It’s actually so isolated and small, that I wasn’t even sure, which continent it belongs to. As we learned in school our five big continents in the world are Asia, Africa, America, Australia and Europe. Research results are showing seven continents: Asia, Africa, Australia, Southamerica, Northamerica, Europe and Antarctica. Still no allocation for New Zealand. My Kiwi friend, I stayed with later, was pretty upset when I mentioned this. She clarified that the seventh continent is Oceania, formed by Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guiena and a few more little islands around. Here we go. The interesting thing: New Zealand is also located right above the friction of two of our tectonic plates, which results in big geothermal areas at the surface. Visible, smellable and perceptible in hot lakes, boiling mud, steaming surfaces, lovely sulphur smell and unnatural looking coloured nature, like the devil’s bath – a sulphur lake in Waiotapu or orange rivers in the bush. Imagine that – the inner earth is bubbling through deep little gaps to the surface and you feel like the world is going to explode in the next second! Amazing. I can rather handle Australias deadly wildlife – which does’t exist at all in New Zealand. Here are sheeps ruling the world instead of snakes and crocs.
Meanwhile I arrived, received my tourist visa (valid for three months, you easily get at the aiport without any costs), and entered the bus heading towards the heart of the northern island (New Zealand’s North and South Island are completely seperated from each other). There are two big bus companies in New Zealand if you like to travel by public transport, check nakedbus.com or intercity.co.nz/. During the 4 hour drive I was surrounded by – have a guess – all green nature. Meadows, forests, creeks. Surprisingly it reminds me of the area in Germany, where I grew up – the Sauerland. Excpet from the palmtrees and endless number of sheeps (there are actually more sheeps than people in New Zealand). Somehow I always imagined New Zealand as more dry but probably just spent to much time in Australias Outback. The countries are not that far away from each other (relatively..) but the difference is enormous.
Insight into the sheep world
For two weeks I stayed on a friends sheep and beef farm. I was absolutely stunned by watching the shearers doing there work – loud music in the huge wooden shed, girls with shirts „go hard or go home“ sweeping the whool in the same rhythm, men from all over the world, young to the old, shearing non-stop and with content movements one sheep after the other, still hundrets of hundrets waiting in the queue. Outside the shed the farmes are busy driving around the green farmlands on little quads, mastering more sheep for the next days. I’m just helping fencing, a never ending job on every farm, driving side by side with the owner across the farmland, green hills and muddy fields, stopping every now and then when he checks, that everything goes alright, or I give his wife a hand to get little jobs around the farmhouse done – this time after all I’m just a visitor, looking over the local’s shoulder. Daily dinner is homegrown lamb. Exquisite. All in all the animals here have a pretty good life: lots a space, heaps of fresh green grass as well as crystal clear water from natural springs. About the differences to the australian farms, we will talk another time..
Rotorua, Christmas time and Maori Culture
Next stop is Rotorua, centre of attention for all the geothermal spectacles. The driveway is winding next to New Zealands biggest Lake – Taupo, with a refreshing cliffjump on the way. At its northern end we stop in a town called…Taupo. Creative. The view is stunning on a clear day. You can sit in the warm sun in one of the endless cafés, bars or restaurants right at the lake front, watch poeple doing every imaginable kind of watersports, against the far backround of high snowcapped volcanoes. 100% holiday feeling. Families, kids and tourists are joyful jumping around with icecream in their hands and sunscreen 50+ on the nose. Right, there was something with the ozone layer above New Zealand. We’re leaving the city, visiting other friends on a little farm, where my sister lived, years before I even considered to leave my comfort zone at home. Well, she’s always been a bit faster, during I was wandering around in my dreamworld.
Christmas on the other side of the world
Here, we’re enjoying a beautiful christmas all together. Beautiful but very different. Instead of snow, christmas rost and a cozy family gathering we are having a BBQ with a cold beer, visting a rodeo and driving to the beach. There are still christmas trees, christmas songs about white christmas (…) and presents, but the whole feeling is heaps different under the bright warm summer sun. A nice experience though and I’m greatful for this opportunity, to join a different cultures christmas tradition in a genuine Kiwi-family. And in the end, the most important thing is the same everywhere: being together with your dearest ones and hold them in your arms as tight as you can. The next days we are doing a lot of daytrips, bushwalks, swimming in natural hot springs, which are comming deep out of the ground. There is even a hot beach existing further north – you just shovel a hole in the sand and lay in your own natural bath mixed with sea water. This is how 2016 comes to its end.
Visiting the Maori
A New Year starts. We welcome 2017 with a visit in a Maori village, Te Puia. The Maori are New Zealands first settlers and very well respected on the Island. Even kids learn their language and traditions at school. Maori words are used everywhere: Kia Ora, Haere mai, eating some Kai or visit the whanau. To take an insight look in their lifestyle is expensive, but worth it and we are happy to support their cultural being. You are entering a completely different world. The show includes traditional songs and dances (the “Haka”), as well as stories about cutlure, home and history in a very vividly way. It’s amazing. After having some time for a look aorund in their village we continue with an outstanding meal – traditionally cooked in the ground (“Hangi”), using the geothermal heat. Again: it’s amazing and FREE (well..you paid entry earlier). You can eat till you are full as a tick – I feel like being in the land of milk and honey. Or rather of seafood, lamb and warm chocolat cake. The visit in Te Puia ends with an impressiv visit to an erupting Geysir. Whilst watching the natural spectacle take your shoes off or sit down on the ground, all the stones around are nice and warm (I just found this out because I had to lay down as my stomach threatened to burst).We enjoy a fantastic night. If you like this feeling of an in the next moment exploding world, being surrounded by sulphur, boiling ground and steaming lakes visit Wai-O-Tapu, well fittingly named “the thermal wonderland”. Do the whole walk, it’s worth it. And the further you go, the less tourists you find on your way. It’s funny to see everyone walking around holding closed their noses. Sulphur ahoy!
Here we are, a new year, new adventures. You remember the snowy mountains we could see from Taupo? That’s our next stop. We thought. But the weather didn’t cooperate with this plan. The weather is very moody here. A jolly change between cold rain and burning sun. After all, there must be a reason for all the green. The mountains have to wait another day. We check the weather map and choose the only sunny place for our next trip: Napier. A beautiful small town in Hawke’s Bay at the east coast, completely renovated after an all destroying earthquake. It’s a lovely town, built in an Art Deco Style with the most beautiful and colourful houses I’ve ever seen – pink and baby-blue like sweet bonbons.
I have a massive talent for getting lost when I’m walking somewhere. Often though with a great unexpected result. This time I was about to walk on a little hill, to get a beautiful view over Napier and the coastline. Well, starring at all the bonbon-houses, waterfalls, walnut-trees and all these interesting things, I ended up somewhere in a residential area instead of the lookout. Two women were working in the garden in front of their houses, when I realized that I was completely wrong. They must have realized it, too. When I finally reached the lookout, I was a nice conversation and lots of insider tips richer, the both local women gave me on my way. That’s for example, how we ended up having an awesome dinner in New Zealand’s oldest winery that night – the Mission Estate (http://www.missionestate.co.nz/). Highly recommended! Now that I’m back in my australian backpacker „everyday life“ (if something like this exists when you’re travelling), I can just dream about a dinner like this. And the wine obviously..:)
With well fed stomaches we finally make our way to the mountains. Within one day the world around us changes from summer to winter. Oh how much I missed the mountains! On hour hiking trip during the next days we’re climbing on Mt. Tongariro’s summit, doing the Tongariro Crossing and walking over windy snowfields on Mt. Ruapehu. Be prepared of every possibly weather. Even if you start on warm and sunny grounds, you can end up in icecold fog and snow. It’s the same like everywhere in higher moutain areas, hikers know what I’m talking about. New Zealand finally proves, that it’s not just green. The landscape is simply amazing. Lava stones in every colour, steaming lakes, rocky wideness, like a dark moonscape in the crater. Understandably thousands of other people do think the same. Espacially for the Tongariro crossing (yes, Lord of the rings was filmed here), start early in the morning. I mean like really early. Like in the dark. That’s how we could enjoy the walk in peaceful nature, before busses with tourists arrive. And the atmosphere during a hike on lonely stoney mountains high above the ground during the sunrise is magical. This feeling is uncomparable, unpayable, unforgottable.
The last days are reserved for the beach. We choose to drive to the Coromandel Peninsula. Good choice! Colourful flowers next to golden beaches and an endless deep blue ocean. Highlights among other things are the hot water beach (like mentioned above) and the Cathedral Cove, accessible over a beautiful coastal walking track. You don’t need to pay for expensive tours or crowded carparks, just start a little bit further away – the way along the beach is worth it anyway. Tip: arrive when it’s low tide (bear in mind the walking time), then you can walk through the cove! Also the hot water beach is just accessible during low tide. After staying at farms, friends places or Airbnb accommodations, we finally enjoy Campinglife at ist finest. That’s how we grew up. Campfires on stoney beaches, fishing at 5am in the morning, sleeping just with a sleepingbag underneath an endless sky full of stars. With the sound of the waves in the ears, I close my eyes, dreaming about a wonderful and unbelievable variedly journey.
After a hard farewell, my parents are sitting in a plane back to Munich, where masses of white snow welcomes them, my sister and her fiancé are going on to Dubai and I’m back in the land of the endless summer: Australia. My next stay: the Sunshine Coast. Sitting in a beautiful café under palmtress in Queensland, with a fresh coffee in my hand, I’m going to write my next blog. You can look forward to stories about the life as a jillaroo in the red outback, surfing between sharks, working on a boat in paradise and heaps more.
Feel free to contact me for any questions, suggestions, talking about travels, or whatever you carry on your heart.