North Island, New Zealand

The morning after the night before…. after breakfast and some ready goodbyes a few of us headed to Te Papa museum for a nosey then I picked up the North Island wheels, (after a small detour to the wrong pick up point 😳) grabbed the bags from our hostel, said more goodbyes to the group before the Continuity G-Adventures group of myself and Cailin headed off on our North Island adventure. We took a scoot up Mount Victoria to wave off Wellington before hitting the road for a 5hour blast to Turangi. Almost got whiplash pressing the brake as a clutch, at least three times, stupid automatic transmission….

Wellington, panorama – not the worst view

Looming directly south – hey Queenstown…

Once I got the hang of how to actually drive, the cruise along the coast was amazing, don’t look down material, winding along the hillside out of Wellington with a vintage car parade with endless Chevys and narrow bed Ford F150s headed the opposite direction to distract me from the imminent death drop into the sea to the left.

Another road, another amazing view

Then it was on to some rare flat land with Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom) poking it’s head up at different points on the horizon before we eventually drove along the foot of it and it’s flankers, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongariro, into Tongariro National Park and finally on to Turangi for the night. Wasn’t looking forward to that drive but it turned out to be epic, with amazing scenery the whole way and plenty of craic chatting over the 2 mad weeks previous. Stayed in The Sportmans Lodge where we had our own en suite cabin, and the kitchen was pretty cool with a cupboard of plates, cutlery etc for each cabin. But who cares, I had driven 5 hours after a night out – sleep needed for a big day tomorrow.

5.45am – up, breakfast and onto the Tongariro Expeditions bus for the much anticipated Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Not much in the way of health and safety other than put your hat on, it’s cold, slap on the arse and away we went at 7.00am. 19.4km of hiking through the volcanic fields under Ngauruhoe, up towards the Red Crater and the peak, 1886m up – twice the height of Donard and about twenty times the hike (to be fair we started at 1100m odd but still, was tough). Windy, snowy, steep, loose but so worth it – I really can’t describe the views or the experience, I just hope the pictures do it justice.

We crossed the south crater in mist and snow, heading up to the Red Crater, past the currently frozen Emerald Lakes, frozen Blue Lake, then dropped down the southwest face of Mount Tongariro through the forest and back to laze in the sun at the finish.

Mount Ngauruhoe, aka Mount Doom

The South Crater, um, where’s the trail?!

The mist clears, the South Crater in all its glory – those dots are people

What an experience – 5hrs 45mins on the go, through cold start, snow capped and cloudy craters, windy (30km!) peaks and then roasting sun descents, words aren’t mine to describe it; just amazing.

The Red Crater

This is NOT a Google image – I made it to the top

The view from the top – worth it

The frozen Emerald Lakes

The view from the other side

And down we go, on this ribbon of path

With a 2 hour lie in the sun to finish, it was a welcome chill. The journey didn’t stop there though; the bus dropped us back to the Lodge, with a jump in the car for an hours drive further north to the next stop, Taupo – and what a stop.

We got washed up and took a drop into town for food and coffee, then a walk along the shore with Ngarahue in the distance across Lake Taupo. Hard to believe we were on top of it a few hours earlier!

Then it was more coffee and cake in Cafe 99 (highly recommended!), then strolled back to the hostel for a blog update or 2 (apologies again for the profiles my wee G-Adventure family), and sleep. What a day. The Alpine Crossing was just breathtaking.

A lie in of sorts for 8am breakfast then it was a 10min drive round Lake Taupo to Acacia Bay to hook up with Taupo Kayaking (cheers Rob and Cory) for a 3 hour paddle around the shoreline to the Maori Carvings, and were they worth the work. After a few bays we hit some open water and the 10knots headwind was in our faces for the push to the carvings. Not actually all that old, at almost 30 years old and not seen from the shore, the carvings are stunning.

Control yourselves ladies

The lads put on coffees and muffins for a break then it was a coast, wind assisted, back to base with a few mistimed paddle strokes/aka soaking to keep us all awake – a super mornings craic and the guides were top banter, well worth a look. Lake Taupo alone is a beautiful place, being the largest fresh water lake in New Zealand, with views all around its perimeter.

And it was only 12.30 – so back to Cafe 99 for lunch, more awesome coffee and a scoot to the Spa Thermal Park where the Otumuheke stream meets the Waikato River – big cheers to Rob for the recommendation on this one, free spa!

Spa Thermal Park, Taupo

The stream has 3-4 accessible waterfalls with pools for a soak and people chilling about the shore – the water in each pool must have been mid-30’s degrees and was epic. Jump into the Waikato for a cool down, back into the pools and waterfalls and relax, absolute bliss.

And the sun was beating down to boot. Dried up and back in the road further up the Waitipu to Huka Falls – pics, do your talking.

Huka Falls, Waikato River – the picture doesn’t really get it

Then on to Rotorua for a 2 night stop. But the fun for a busy day didn’t stop there – after checkin it was more coffee, and off to the Tamaki Maori Village experience. And it was an experience. From a traditional Maori welcoming ceremony, through 5 stations of customs/traditions/games and a haka, we then had a cooking demonstration (the hangi), a contemporary dance and singing show, then a massive feed of roast veg, lamb, chicken, stuffing and gravy.

Get in my belly

And busted. What an experience – to be fair that’s my second time at it, but it isn’t any less special for it.

Ok, ok – just serve the food

I dressed for the occasion, Cailin not so much

The Maori are fiercely proud of their culture, good banter too. Then it was a bus ride back to the hostel, Denis the driver singing his heart out and keeping us in more banter. And bed.

A much needed chill day – up for breakfast in Rotorua, then a dander to the lake and on to Kuirau Park where there’s geothermal pools everywhere!

212 degrees, chilly

Government Gardens, Rotorua – wooden gate entrance

Government Buildings, Rotorua

Mad seeing boiling water and mud pools, the different colours with all the minerals and felt a bit unnerved by auld Mammy Nature in all her glory.

Then it was on to Wai-I-Tapu Thermal Park to see an even bigger geothermal Park and even more stunning/scary volcanic pools, craters and formations; the mineral colours just don’t make sense just appearing amongst the beautiful forest backdrop, stunning. Sulphur deposits – doing Mr Cassidy and Dr Boylan proud all in one picture The Oyster Pool, Wai-o-tapu Thermal Park

No, not a photoshop – just a big mineral soup

Then it was back to Rotorua for a catch up with an old travel buddy – Mairake from our South Island trip is an au pair in Galatea and called in to town for some dinner in Atticus Finch, well worth checking spot.

G-Adventures mates – some of the lads

Super to see her again and she invited us out to the farm she works on for coffee the following morning – bit of a detour from our next stop Hahei, but why not, we’re on holidays 🤷🏻‍♂️got back to the hostel, sorted some postcards and bed.

Coming to a letterbox near you soon

Another morning, another epic breakfast then we headed to Galatea about an hour south west from Rotorua into more beautiful North Island countryside. Maraike in her element – and such a beautiful place, not a sound to be heard. Her boss, Sean was a super decent guy, happy for us to call in and a real proud Kiwi. Met the dogs, walked around the farm and just got jealous at Maraikes home!

Then it was off north, last stop of my trip, Hahei, on the Coromandel Peninsula. We had a quick lunch stop in Tauranga but what a stop, right on the east coast, on an outlet, with Mount Manganui right above us – NZ, with these views you really are spoiling us. And Tauranga is on the list for next time. Then it was on to Tatahi Lodge, Hahei, to a local voice – a Portloaise woman! After checkin we had dinner in The Pour House, then decided to blast to Cathedral Cove to see it before sunset – and was it worth it. Pictures, go.

And the award for best pee stop view goes to…

Sat on that beach, under full moon and clear skies, looking at the stars and listening to the retreating waves, I felt content, overwhelmed med and overawed by what a 3 weeks in this place I’ve had, never mind the week in Italy before.

I’ve seen some beautiful places, met some incredible people from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds and histories, done more than I could’ve planned and felt all sorts of emotions.

I set out on this career break to clear my head after what’s been a long time getting my head round depression. During the planning, I suppose part of me I was scared that I was running away from my issues again, but at this stage, sitting on a plane awaiting take off to Buenos Aires, I can say that that fear is well and truly quashed. In the month I’ve been away the travels been hard, with lack of sleep kicking my arse, but I’ve already got on top of that and just taken myself to an early bed or slept during the day, making sure I’ve had my needed downtime among all the fun. The anxiety I have in meeting new people and in constantly wondering if I fit in or if they like me has been dulled by all those people I’ve met so far being warm, open and tolerant, and I’ve learned a wee bit from them all. Lastly, spending a week in the North Island with Cailin has given me more of an appreciation of friends, and how much I value those people who’ve stuck with me during shite times in my life – and ultimately that talking really does help. I hope those people know who they are, and that over the coming while I can show them that too.

I have 5 more months off, a few more countries to see and a couple of demons still to tackle, but I’m certain now I’ve made the best decision I have in a long time. I miss home, I miss family, the dog and friends faces. But thankfully they aren’t that far away with a message or call. And getting away reinforced how lucky I should be considering myself with what I have at home.

Thanks everyone from the South Island trip – the Kiwi family reunion will be a good one. Massive thanks to Aoibh for taking time out to catch up in Queenstown and Cailin for having the patience to listen to an odd rant in the car on the North Island adventure. Anyways, away to dry my eyes here, enough of the sop. Here’s to part 2.

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