Mud on the volcanic shore

Last year, in June, after the North Island tour that ended in Northland, Vivien flew back to Europe and I settled down in Auckland. My plan was to work for RELEX while preparing the future… indeed, in about two months it would be time to leave New Zealand! How quick that year went!

South Island oystercatcher (Haematopus finschi)

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The 5 best hostels of New Zealand (+ Mackenzie bonus)

Today’s article is a bit different from the usual posts… a bit more touristy, if you will! If you are not interested, please scroll down to the last section, there’s a surprise 😉

You know I had a van in New Zealand, in which I drove kilometers on roads and tracks and slept countless nights under the stars. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? In many respects, it was; the flexibility I had was appreciable, for I could stop wherever I wanted (kinda) and be close to birds and views for sunrise and sunset. That said, my ride was a simple one, and while the bed was comfy enough, I was not protected well against the weather. If it rained, I had to get wet to eat anything. I was often cold. Oh, and I didn’t have a shower! All this to say that, even though it gave me freedom, life on the road was also tough sometimes.

Mackenzie Country, before it started to rain. Scroll down for more!

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A glimpse of Northland

Just like Southland is the region at the very south of New Zealand, Northland is the region at the very north of the country. Surprised? I didn’t think so.

It’s one of the regions I explored the least – I spent only 5 days there with Vivien, at the end of our trip round the North Island. Considering the long drives that included, it was not nearly enough, especially with the shortened winter days. Nevertheless, we saw some wonders, and that’s what I want to show you right now.

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Bird photography at Lake Okareka

About a year ago, I was staying in Rotorua, on the North Island of New Zealand, a place dear to my heart after my initial stay at Heather and Roger’s in September the year before. On my first visit to that geothermal region, I had met Tony Whitehead, a local bird photographer, and he had taken me to Lake Okareka, in the hills (you can see some images from that outing in my article Steam and Birds). Naturally, I had to revisit the place.

Paradise shelduck (Tadorna variegata)

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Whirinaki, verdant cathedral

I don’t really remember why, but I wanted to see Blue ducks (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) again. Maybe because they are super cool? I discovered that Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne (in Maori: the abundance of Tāne, the god of forest and birds) Conservation Park, north of Napier, was a prime location for this endangered species: the conservation project there worked so well that Blue ducks were numerous enough for the effort to be ramped down. After reading that, I expected to find a duck at each turn of the river!

On State Highway 5 from Napier via Taupo, I turned left 25 km before Rotorua. At first, the drive on long straight stretches of road was not very exciting: on both sides of the road were exotic coniferous forest, very good for the forestry industry and carbon trapping but a disaster for biodiversity. After Murupara, the landscape changed and I entered hilly country covered by native-looking forest. I followed a twisting road up to a pass and down into a gully, until the turn-out to Minginui. There, a marae standing in the middle of a field reminded me that the region was one where the Maori culture was most lively. The village’s surroundings screamed of forestry again, but I knew there were wild places around. A slow and bumpy drive along a rocky track took me to the car park where I would spend the night.

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It’s a place I heard about on Instagram only, with a pic from a kiwi photographer. It’s a bit off the beaten (tourist) track, on the Eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand, 3 hours from Wellington. It’s the first place I visted after leaving the South Island, and it completely blew my mind. Welcome to the end of the road. Welcome to Castlepoint.

The place was named by James Cook in 1770, when the captain discovered that huge chunk of a rock that reminded him of a castle’s battlements. The 162-meters high hill stands at the southern end of a limestone reef, creating a unique geological scenery that attracts holiday goers.

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2019 in review

It might be a bit late to have a look back at year 2019, but life has been very busy since I came back to Finland in the beginning of the month and I haven’t had much time for the blog.

I started the year in Jaipur (India) with my family, taking a plane on that day to spend a few days by the sea in Goa. After that, I flew back to New Zealand for 9 more months of working holiday. I stayed on the South Island until mid-April, visiting wonderful Fiordland twice and living 2 months in Dunedin to volunteer for penguins on the peninsula. I then migrated north, visiting wonderful Castlepoint before reaching Rotorua, where I stayed for a month and gave a talk at the Rotorua Camera Club about my travelling through New Zealand.

I then had a three-week tour of the North Island with Vivien, visiting Taranaki in the process, and closed my year in kiwiland by a 1.5 month stay in the largest city, Auckland, exactly where it all started in August 2018. I spiced up that last stage with a week of volunteering on wonder island Tiritiri Matangi.

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Mount Taranaki is one of the most stunning mountains of New Zealand, with its elegant narrow cone pointing straight to the sky. In fact, it looks so much like Japan’s Mount Fuji that scenes of The Last Samourai were shot with Mount Taranaki in the background…

Located at the Eastern corner of the North Island, it’s only the last in line in a series of older volcanoes that extend to the North-West. The reason is that the Indo-Australian plate is slowly moving compared to the magma source. The oldest volcanic activity in the area dates back to 1.75 million years ago. The second to last, the Pouakai complex, was active between 500 000 and 240 000 years ago, before Mount Taranaki started 135 000 years ago. Nowadays, the latter reaches 2 518 meters above sea level, almost a perfect cone but for the low bump of Pouakai on its North-Western side.

Mount Taranaki, with the Pouakai complex on the left

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The South Island exclusive files: mountainside

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. The previous article was dedicated to coastal areas, so here we go with the mountains!


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