Hi again, and welcome to one of my last articles about New Zealand!
Today’s post presents a hodgepodge of places from the North Island, some you’ve seen before, some you haven’t, but with pictures never released on this blog before. Our trip will start with a relaxing break in Napier, by the Pacific Ocean. From there, we’ll cross the Ahimanawa Range to spend a cloudy day in the Redwoods of Rotorua. Our next destination will be the volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park, before moving back to Auckland, the largest city in the country, in a second article. There, we’ll be watching planes and birds at the airport, and we’ll lie in the mud to shoot grebes and rails. In the end, we’ll spend one fantastic sunset around the gannet colony in Muriwai, a delightful ending for a great one-year adventure in kiwiland.
My time in Napier was short, as I was in transit between Castlepoint and Whirinaki. Cities are not really my cup of tea, but I enjoyed the museum and the surf of the ocean.
In the past few months, I extensively wrote about my peregrinations around the South Island of New Zealand, from beaches to mountaintops. Between November and April, I volunteered, I climbed, I hid, I drove… I had a good time!
I published a great many articles, but they didn’t cover everything: sometimes I didn’t feel like I had enough material to write anything, or I just didn’t feel like it. That said, I still have pictures I’d like to show you, hence this article, dedicated to coastal areas of the island, and its follow up, dedicated to the highlands.
After coming back from India, I spent a few days around Christchurch, then aimed for the mountains. I didn’t know anything about Arthur’s Pass, except that it linked East and West Coast of the South Island, that a passenger train line ran through it between Christchurch and Greymouth… and that a few attractive birds lingered around 😉
The road ascended gradually. I stopped at Castle Hill, a remarkable limestone formation carved by erosion, and found joy in following winding tracks among these giants of stone.
To renew my car’s Warrant of Fitness, which proves it complies with safety regulations, I had to leave it one day at the garage. I spent that day in Christchurch, a city I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see otherwise.
India is a completely different world in itself. If I had to choose one adjective to describe it, it would probably be “overwhelming”. Too many people, too much traffic. Just too much. But also an incredible diversity of cultures and biotopes, rich history and of course stunning wildlife, as you’ve seen in my last two articles, Unholy river and Bharatpur.
After my family had joined me at the hotel in Delhi, our driver took us to the Qutab Complex. From the car, we witnessed the fury of the city: cars, bikes, tuktuks, pedestrians following absolutely no rules (“the only rule is that there is no rule”, as reader Stuart put it), mens showering on the sidewalk inches from exhaust pipes, Black kites (Milvus migrans) and Rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri) flying overhead, cutting the thick smog with their stretched wings and strident calls.
Technically, Cape Palliser is part of the Wairarapa region. However, since I described my time on the southern peninsula in my previous article, I’ll here focus on the two following days, which I spent between Lake Ferry and Martinborough.
The former is the small settlement from where the road branches out to the Cape. I spent almost a full day there, first resting in a holiday park (a shower!) and then exploring the seaside next to Onoke Lake.
The clouds were hanging low, promising rain, but I still went on a walk along Okorewa Lagoon. I saw interesting things there, like a White-faced heron (Egretta novahollandiae) fishing on the other side, or a pair of Australasian shovelers (Spatula rhynchotis), but there was no accessible shore where I could have lain without getting completely soaked – or that’s what I thought.
After Auckland, I spent some time in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. In terms of population, it’s the second largest, but it’s only one fourth of Auckland.
My first impression was really pleasant, as I arrived on a sunny day, by train. I have the feeling that entering a city by train gives me a very idyllic view of the area, as I had the same impression of Auckland even though I didn’t end up liking it much. Maybe it’s only the novelty.
After an enchanted stay in Matamata, among owls and wizards, I move south and east to Rotorua, on the shores of Lake Rotorua.
This town is known for its ubiquitous thermal activity – and indeed, when I arrived, I saw steam come out of the sewers. I should have expected it, but… wow, so unsettling! Then I started to understand the importance of it: spas and baths make use of it, but not only, for every motel advertises their hot pool, and most houses (if not all) use geothermal energy for heating.
In return, the whole town bathes in rotten egg smell. It didn’t bother me too much, but when I got out in the morning, it was always a shock. It reminded me of Turkey, Iceland and Chile.
The day I arrived in Matamata was glorious: blue sky, warm air, and just a few big white clouds to add depth in the pictures. I checked in at the Matamata Backpackers hostel, a recent venue with a relaxed atmosphere, where I would stay two nights.
Reasons to visit this small, otherwise boring town are twofold: Wairere Falls, and Hobbiton.
The former is the highest waterfall on the North Island, an impressive 153-meter drop with a path leading up to the top. The second is the world-famous movie set, featuring the hobbit holes from the beginning of both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies by Peter Jackson.
The original plan was pretty complicated: hitch-hike to Waihi, rent a bike, ride hard to Karangahake Gorge, ride back, get a hitch ride through the gorge again to Paeroa, where I had booked an Airbnb. I feared I wouldn’t have much time to see the gorge well, and taking pictures while you’re on a bike is not easy, but it sounded doable. Also, I didn’t have anything else to do.
But a timely encounter on the road changed it all – for the best.
Anton picked me up from the roadside, and told me he was going to Paeroa. That was great, it would take me very close to my destination. However, as we talked, I mentioned the gorge, and he said that was actually where he was going, to visit his daughter Anita at Riverside Accommodation.