Now it's time to actually tell you guys what I've been up to since I arrived in New Zealand. I won't go day by day, but I'll give highlights and some amusing tidbits.
After the first couple days in Auckland sorting paperwork and getting over jet lag I took off south towards Raglan, a small surf town on the west coast. There isn't much to it. Some dramatic coastline and nice beaches, it's really all about surfing. I didn't try here, but I will learn soon. More on that later.
My first NZ friend =D. If you're reading this, I'll get you that steak we talked about next time lol.
Sunset at inspiration point, a short walk from my Raglan hostel.
Inspiration point, a little bit after sunset.
Next I headed to the Waitomo glowworm caves. The tour I went on wasn't all that. Just a short walk with some information about glowworms. I was amused to learn, however, that the glowworms don't have any physical holes to excrete. So the way they poop is by glowing, something like 97% light and 3% heat if I remember correctly. And the best part? If you make loud noises they glow brighter, essentially crapping themselves. I don't have any pictures since the iPhone camera doesn't work well in that sort of lighting, but it's quite mesmerizing being in a pitch black cave looking up at a ceiling of glowing dots. Even if it is all poop. Almost feels like looking up at the night sky without any light pollution.
HOBBITON. I wouldn't call it my favorite stop, but it was definitely my most anticipated stop. I've been wanting to go since it became a permanent attraction. I've seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy probably over 35 times, and can practically act out every scene as a one man show. Just don't ask me to. I freaking love LOTR. And for those of you who haven't seen it yet, let me know so that I can immediately cease to be your friend. Because you suck.
Bilbo's party assembling by the party tree!
Nerding out so hard I can't keep it together.
Sitting by the fire in the Green Dragon. They have four drinks. A stout, an ale, a cider, and I don't remember the other. The stout is quite nice, and the cider is super refreshing, which was great since we went on such a hot day.
View crossing the bridge to the Green Dragon.
My favorite part of my time here so far has got to be my trip around the North Island's East Cape. I was on a small tour bus, maybe 16ish people, so it was really nice to meet people and get to know everyone. All the other buses I've been on seat 40+ people, which makes it a lot harder.
First stop on the East Cape was the small town of Gisborne, the first place in the world to see the sunrise. We arrived in the evening and had $5 pizza on the beach while enjoying the sunset. We had a bonfire too, but I was super tired and tapped out before the fire even started.
A short walk along the bay with some dramatic
Felt very peaceful sitting and enjoying the water, watching people fish.
The first sunrise in the world.
Next day we headed to Tokomaru Bay, but first we made a stop at Tolaga Bay Wharf, the longest in New Zealand at 660 meters.
Very sweet couple I met earlier on the trip sitting at the edge of the pier.
Once we got to Tokomaru Bay, I went on a short (unmarked) hike up through the hills overlooking the bay.
Some of my East Bros who I ran into while hiking.
Last stop on the East Cape was Maraehako Bay. We walked to a macadamia nut farm to eat their specialty ice cream before going on a short waterfall hike. Some of the others went kayaking and cray fishing.
Same pic as before. Impromptu swim in the waterfall.
Overall the East Cape was just a bunch of chill beach towns. It's supposedly rich in Maori culture as well, but for whatever reason I didn't get exposed to it much. The people I met, rather than the places I saw, are the reason the East Cape has been my favorite so far.
Lake Aniwhenua. Here I had my first hangi, a traditional method of cooking used by the Maori. They would heat stones in a fire and then bury the food in a pit and cook it using the heated stones. The food was delicious, so delicious that I forgot to take any pictures of it. You'll just have to trust me. Otherwise the lake itself was very picturesque.
Taupo is the first place I stayed in for more than a day. I actually stayed for 5 days. It was really nice to settle in for a while, do some laundry, not have to get up super early to pack up my bags, and just slow down and explore.
Didn't do anything the first day except walk by the lakefront, dip my feet in, and skip some rocks.
The next couple of days I rented a car with a couple of friends to explore and do some hiking around Lake Taupo.
Pictures from the Kinloch to Kawakawa Bay trail. Around 19km/12miles, 4 hour 30 min return.
Goofing around at the Tongariro River trail.
The next day we went to summit Mt. Urchin, on the south side of Lake Taupo. The views were spectacular.
Almost to the top!
What do you see first? Epic views or distractingly bright shirt?
Tobi being swole. Pauline approves.
Another group selfie.
They've had enough of the view apparently.
The last day all my friends left ='( so I had a lazy day. All I did is walk by the lakefront and sit on a lot of benches. Here's two for your viewing pleasure.
I stayed one night at Whakahoro, Blue Duck Station. It was nice, but not actually all that memorable. The reason I'm including it is because of the name. In Maori, 'wh' makes the 'f' sound. Maybe I'm not pronouncing it entirely right, but it really sounds like "fuck a whore oh." Too good. I had a great time sitting next to an older Chinese woman talking about the pronunciation. She loved it too. Most people stay for two nights. The first night ends up being a party, the second a free day to explore, ride horses, kayak, take a walk, or just relax. I only stayed for one night, so all I managed to accomplish is to eat some goat and get about 30 sandfly bites on my feet and legs. Just in time to do one of the greatest one day walks in the world, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The firepit where my goat was cooked.
Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site with dual status, meaning it is recognized for both its natural as well as cultural significance. As such, I was looking forward to completing the crossing for a long time. So much so that I even did the crossing twice.
Pictures from my first crossing:
View from the start of the track.
The terrain changes before your eyes.
View of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom). So ominous. So doomy.
And suddenly you're walking through volcanic terrain.
People took the time to write messages in the dirt with rocks.
Awesome views, this time without the distracting shirt.
So many pictures of Mt. Doom.
Waited so long for these two I almost ate everything in my bag. A nice place to slow down and enjoy the views, though.
U mad bro? Sitting on the summit of Mt. Tongariro enjoying lunch, views, and some rbf haha.
Descending to the Emerald Lakes. The colors in this place are incredible.
On the last descent now. Almost done.
The view looking back towards the crossing. The immense scale of what you walk through is difficult to fathom.
The first time through I summited Mt. Tongariro. I came back a second time to summit Mt. Doom. I didn't have enough time to do both in one go and still make my shuttle. So... why not? It's an awesome hike anyway. I could do it every day for the rest of my life and never get bored.
The start of the turn off for Mt. Doom. How comforting.
Definitely the safest part of the ascent.
Pretty much the only place on the ascent where I felt safe enough to take my phone out and snap a pic. A lot of the ascent is so steep you need to use your hands to climb as well. I wouldn't call it full on rock climbing. But it's definitely not just hiking either. The proper term would be scrambling.
My new hiking buddies from California coming over the final crest. The only two people in the entire world not from my hometown who have ever heard of it.
Meandering along the ridge of Mt. DOOM.
And of course the crater. Everybody toss your rings in now.
Epic view from the summit looking out towards South Crater and Mt. Tongariro.
No pictures of the descent. That was even more dangerous. The path down involves running straight down scree for 30-45 minutes. The clouds rolled in and visibility was almost nothing, so the problem was that when people paused to take breaks in the middle of the path (why guys? c'mon move to the side) you couldn't see them until you were about to run them over. Also, when people above you call out to warn you about falling rocks, you couldn't see anything, so nobody knew where the rocks were coming from. You just had to pray that rocks didn't smash you in the face. I'm honestly not even sure why people are allowed to climb this mountain without hardhats. But that's another conversation. It would've been a little better without the clouds, but even then, I'm not sure anyone descending had the energy to dodge falling rocks.
That's the end of what I've done so far. Tomorrow I'm leaving National Park to head towards Tauranga and Mt. Maunganui to look for seasonal work. For my readers just joining us, I'm on a working holiday visa, so that prevents me from finding any long term work. I can only work for any one employer for 3 months maximum. And people don't really want to hire you long term anyway since they know you're basically a transient backpacker. So seasonal work in Tauranga and Mt. Mauganui will probably be related to picking/packing kiwifruit, since the kiwifruit season is about to start. I'll probably be based there for a couple of months. It will be nice to not be on the move for a bit.
One tidbit unrelated to any actual activities/sightseeing. Traveling like this, it's fun getting to meet tons of new people, all with their own stories. There's plenty of interesting, inspiring, sweet, genuine people everywhere you look. When you're traveling solo, nobody has any preconceived notions about who you are, because nobody has ever met you before. You're free to be whoever you want to be. Friends at home, I'm not saying I'm super fake around all of you lol. My point is that people are so open minded on the road. Nobody is judging anybody. You really get to know people and bond very quickly. It's awesome. But what's a little tiring is constantly saying bye to people you've really come to enjoy. I'm getting used to it now, but it isn't exactly fun. One of my friends put it nicely though, changed my perspective for the better. He said something along the lines of "for every person that exits, someone new enters." So deep bro. Good job haha. It's just part of the experience I suppose. I'll try to look at it as an opportunity to meet even more awesome people.