In contrast to the past few weeks, the last few days have been a whirlwind of activity. I have now officially left Hawke’s Bay, and am now in Auckland for the next few days. Prior to coming back to this city, I spent the week traveling with my fellow American (Nate), as well as some groups from Argentina and France. We were able to complete most of the major places on the North Island that I missed the first time I drove through.
We left Hawke’s Bay early on Monday morning, and headed out on a four hour drive to Tauranga in order to summit Mount Maunganui. While not a particularly difficult climb, it is an incredibly scenic one and quite popular for both locals and visitors. The views from the top are outstanding and well worth the short climb. This was the type of casual hike that I could probably do every day and never get tired of. It’s a fantastic place to take it easy and talk while you hike. The trail itself is so relaxing in fact, that one of the Argentinians and I took a nap on top of the mountain (which I highly recommend!).
After the climb, we drove another hour and a half to Ngatea and stayed in a free campground. This “camp” ended up actually just being a parking lot, which was just fine for us. We felt very “backpacker” as we cooked our dinner sitting on the damp pavement in a parking lot. As backpackers, we all figured this was an experience that had to at least happen once (although it happened a few times throughout the week to be honest). We chose this spot to camp because of its position to Coromandel, our next destination.
The following morning, we left for Coromandel to camp out and visit the major sights. The first of these was Cathedral Cove. We parked at the beach and walked along through the trees and along the clifftops until we reached the main cove. It was an absolutely breathtaking scene, and a jaw-dropping display of the power of nature. I spent quite a few hours simply wandering over every inch of the area and exploring. I honestly can’t recommend this place enough! The trail leading to the cove has a few other bays as well that provided an hour or so of exploration, yet Cathedral Cove was the main highlight of the area. An added bonus was that it was one of the places that Narnia was filmed, so it of course felt as if it had a bit of extra magic in it.
That night, we slept at a campsite owned by a winery and restaurant. The rule there is that as long as you spend $20 on food or drink, you can stay for free at their offsite camp (complete with a shower made from a hose attached to a tree). The food and drinks were amazing, and we were even given a taste of the world’s hottest pepper (the Carolina Reaper) for free. I’m fairly convinced the owner just wanted to see a strong reaction, but the free taste was appreciated nonetheless!
The next morning, the weather was pretty poor so we headed into Coromandel town. The town itself is pretty small, yet charming in the way that remote small towns are. We spent the majority of the day in the Success Café enjoying soup and coffee while we watched the rain outside. A brief break in the rain provided an opportunity to make our way over to Hot Water Beach. This was one of the sights in Coromandel that I was most keen to see, as it is something I have never heard of anywhere else. Hot Water Beach is, at first glance, a regular beach. However, when one digs a hole in the sand in a certain area, thermal waters fill up the hole and create a hot spring in the sand. It was an odd, yet extremely enjoyable, experience to bask in the hot water while watching the cool waves crash against the shore a few feet away.
The final adventure that I had left on the North Island was the glow worm caves. This was an incredible experience, and quite unlike anything I have ever seen before. While the majority of tourists head to the Waitomo Caves (which doubtless are very impressive), the group and I decided to head to the Waipu Caves just north of Auckland. The caves were pretty far out in the middle of nowhere, and provided us with the opportunity of being the only ones there.
Describing the caves is actually quite difficult. Wading through chest deep and murky water in an underground river, slipping and sliding our way across muddy rocks, and basking in the silence of the cave can only partially encompass the adventure. The glowworms themselves are breathtaking in the pitch-blackness. You could swear that you are looking up at the bright night sky as you stand on the cavern floor in the darkness. I was able to make my way up to a higher point in the main cavern, and it honestly feels as if you’re standing in the middle of the galaxy with the small glowing points of light around you.
While I can attempt to describe it, words will always fall short of the experience of this last week. Even to myself, the descriptions seems weak and cannot really convey what it was like to be in each of these places. They are places that need to be experienced and felt to be truly understood.
After these adventures, it was finally time for Nate and I to part ways and begin our own adventures. As he travels the north more with another group of friends, I will be flying to Christchurch to hopefully begin work (still waiting on a few responses for jobs). We parted on great terms, and while it’s sad that we will no longer be traveling together, we both recognize that it is for the best that we go our own ways (particularly because he’ll be going home in June, whilst I will be staying on for the remainder of the year). We stayed a night at the house of one of our friends in Auckland, and he headed out the next morning. I have spent a few days enjoying time with my friends and their families here in Auckland, yet tomorrow beings my journey south. The north island of New Zealand has been good to me (and even when it’s been bad, I’ve appreciated the learning experience), so I can’t wait to see what a new place has in store. I’ll be traveling on my own from now on, yet relish the idea of the challenges and different experiences this will provide.
Part of travel means dealing with the unexpected. While this turn of events certainly falls into that category, I find myself ready and willing to accept these unforeseen changes. Diving into the unknown is becoming a normal thing for me in this new country it seems, and I love that I’m being forced to grow and develop in new ways. Tonight, I bid goodbye to the north island of New Zealand, and eagerly approach my adventures on the south island.