Finding a Travelmate and trekking the North Island of New Zealand

by Brian Carroll on April 20, 2012

Post image for Finding a Travelmate and trekking the North Island of New Zealand While I wasn't sure exactly what to expect traveling alone, early in the process I realized the freedom it gave me to do (and not do) whatever activities I chose.  While this had its benefits, I also recognized that it would be nice to find others to share travel experiences with.  As such, I decided that for my travels in the North Island of New Zealand, I wanted to at least make an effort to find a travelmate(s), and if it wasn't working out I'd go it on my own. Meeting my new Travelmate: After a great day in the Bay of Islands swimming with dolphins, I took a 4 hour bus back to Auckland that night.  Up to that point, I had probably spent all of 10 minutes talking to this girl who I now was going to meetup with to potentially travel together for 8+ days.  Not surprisingly, it's kinda hard to form much of an impression about someone based solely on a short conversation but I figured that was part of the intrigue in the process.  It was like being setup on an extended  blind traveldate - could be good, could be a trainwreck. A bit exhausted from the bus ride, I arrived at the hostel where my potential travelmate, Kiish, was staying to meet in person.  Thankfully, the brief positive impression I had from chatting on the phone initially appeared to hold true when we met face-to-face.  Over our discussion, I learned that Kiish had recently finished up her time in the Israeli Army (as all females must serve 2 years; males 3 years) and was now using her free time to travel around the South Pacific to travel for 3 months before heading back to Israel.  And interestingly, her role in the army was as a boot camp sergeant, a fitting role for a girl who stood at a towering 5'3"....

Knowing that our goal was to rent a car in the morning and get going, we spent an hour coming up with a tentative itinerary that we both felt comfortable with:

And here's how it went: 3/17: Traveling to the Coromandel Peninsula

Our rental car

Day one of our travels together was a bit slow-going initially.  Getting a rental car took a couple additional hours and in the end we ended up with good ol' Blue, who would hopefully be our trusty companion for the next week or so. With the rental car, there'd be a couple new things that would take some getting used to -  most importantly was the fact that you drive on the opposite side of the road (and the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the road).  Additionally, I had heard of the "speed cameras" out in NZ that are not so lenient - should you go even a few kilometers/miles per hour over the speed limit. So out we went to Coromandel.  The drive out there zig-zags along the coast, up and down mountains (<- not my video) and I could definitely see it being a dangerous trek at night.  It reminded me of an area where they'd film a car commercial or where you'd see James Bond driving a sportscar, being chased/chasing someone along windy roads. As we went along the cliffside roads, we stumbled upon a small park where there was a random car show going on.  Intrigued, we pulled over to check it out and learned it was for the "Model T Club of Zealand"...pretty random.  It so happened that people came from all across New Zealand to show their cars here and meet like-minded enthusiasts.  In all, I'd say there were about 50 Model Ts or cars from this 1900-1920 era. After checking out some of the cars, we got back on the road until we arrived into Coromandel Town, which really reminded me of a country western town (w/the storefront facades) just off the coast.  In all, you could walk the entire town in probably 5 minutes, which I did.  The reason this was of interest to me was the fact that today was St. ' and being of Irish descent, I knew some beers would be in order.


So after getting settled in, Kiish and I headed back into town to find a good place for a beer(s) - which we found at an Irish bar at the end of town with a pretty lively crowd.  Walking in the door, I could tell that we were a couple Guinesses behind the rest of the crowd but that was okay.  A couple beers in, we met a bunch of New Zealanders out in the area for fishing trips who were very friendly.  Everyone that night was very inviting and we ended up having a nice St. Patty's day. 3/18:  Hot Baths & Hobbits By the end of the 18th, our goal was to be in the town of Rotorua - an area known for zorbing and volcanic pools that give the town an omnipresscent scent of sulfur (think rotten eggs). But before making it there, we had two stops on our itinerary, the first being Hot Springs Beach.  Now what makes this place unique is the volcanic activity beneath the ground.  Essentially you dig a hole in the sand (1 - 2ft down) and the water that is found here will be hot - so you're essentially digging your own hot tub!  Now the one caveat to this is timing.  While the water is always warm underneath the ground, one must go at times of "low tide" to ensure that the waves from the ocean (cold water), don't mingle with your man-made tub and wash away your warm water. We ended up getting to the beach toward the tail end of low-tide, affording us about 30 minutes to check it out.  It was a pretty unique place and I could see it being a good spot to hang out for the day.  Plus we had another item on our schedule that required us to continue onwards - "Hobbiton." Now coming in, I was not aware that "Hobbiton" actually existed and probably would have passed through the town had it not been something Kiish wanted to checkout.  Basically, this was the town/area that the director of Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson) had chosen to film much of the village scenes from the "Lord of the Rings" movies and upcoming release of "The Hobbit."  And as the "Lord of the Rings" was now embedded into the New Zealand culture, there was a tour available where you could check out the set...very touristy, so we checked it out. The set was up in the farmland hills and as such, there were 100s to 1,000s of sheep nearby it.  In fact, the entire country of New Zealand has 4 million people (compare that to LA's 16 million+) and the saying is that there are 12 sheep and 7 cows for every person in New Zealand.  This area would support that fact. Anyways, the Hobbit set was cool but for the price, I don't think I'd do it again - especially coming from LA where a lot of this stuff is in your backyard, which I've never fully taken advantage of to be honest - maybe that'll change when I return. 3/19 - 3/22:  A Tribal Village and Rain, a lot of it... A big part of New Zealand's culture is tied to its native people, known as the Maori.  To get a better sense of their culture and try their food (known as Hagni, which is cooked for hours under the ground), we took in a Maori show.

Hanging w/a former KISS member...

While the show itself is a bit touristy in nature, the food was pretty awesome (it was basically like a Thanksgiving dinner) and going to one of these shows is essentially the only way you can try their food - unless you are friends with Maori families. The rest of our time in Rotorua and Taupo had us dealing with on and off again rain.  This was  a bit of a problem as it interfered with our anticipated plans, specifically: 1) Hiking the Tongariro Crossing & 2) Going Skydivng
*The truth though is that I've been in New Zealand pretty much during their fall season, so rain/clouds can be pretty consistent and expected.
After trying to wait out the weather for a few days I decided to skip on the skydiving and give the Tongariro Crossing Hike one last opportunity on the way south. Now  the Tongariro Crossing is a hike that is famous for a number of reasons - one being the fact that it is the backdrop for "Mt. Doom," in "The Lord of the Rings" movies.  This alone would give it distinction in NZ, but beyond that, this 8 hour hike is recognized as the best one-day hike in the country (and they have lots of hikes).  The scenery varies throughout the hike with some pretty unique places. Unfortunately for us, when we drove to the base of the hike in the morning, there was very low visibility, it was very cold and it did not look like it would improve throughout the day.

The beginning of the trek...

So in the end, we had to pass on this hike which I was bummed about - but I did see the beginning and end of the hike, just nothing in the middle...  So what it looks like in person is a best guess to me as well as you, but here's some info if you're interested. Realizing no success with the Tongariro hike we continued south hoping to try a different hike and visit a landmark known as "The Bridge to Nowhere."  First off, trying to drive out to this place made me feel like I was in the middle of nowhere - the roads were gravel with barely room for one car in places, let alone the two directions of traffic they were supposed to support.   Plus it didn't help that the rain wasn't letting up. After a couple hours drive, we found the entrance to "The Bridge to Nowhere."  But as luck would have it, with the rain coming down, they had closed it - so all I have is this picture...

In the midde of nowhere

in the middle of nowhere... 3/23 - 3/26:  Making our way down the coast and to Wellington The next few days we stayed in some small little towns along lakes as we made our way to Wellington.  We stumbled on Farmer's Markets, an International Festival (with awesome food) and some cool scenery before making it into one of the country's biggest cities, Wellington. Compared to Auckland, I very much preferred Wellington.  It had a hip and urban vibe and sat on the coast.  It didn't hurt that we caught some good weather while we there as well. I spent a day and a half walking around the city, including a visit with some other travelers to Te Papa - a magnificent (free!) museum that had some cool exhibits and artifacts - most notably the ONLY colossal squid preserved and on exhibit in the world.  To give you a sense of how big they are, their eyeballs are the size of soccer balls!  To be honest, it kind of looked like an alien encased in a glass tomb. As our time in Wellington came to an end, Kiish and I decided to part ways as she was in a rush to go south and I had plans to meet "friends of a friends family" in the south island - where I'd also have to figure out how I'd be getting around this island for the next 3 weeks.

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