Kaikoura is well known for whale watching. They have migratory as well as resident whales making it an ideal location year round. There is a deep trench very close to the coast where the whales go diving for food.
That’s where the tour operator took us. They have several (fast) boats, all equipped with listening devices to make out where the whale has surfaced. Soon enough we were racing to the detected location. Marielle had never been whale watching before, so she was very excited. It is pretty cool watching such an enormous animal from up close and even better when they show their tail once they are going back down. My highlight of that tour was not the whale but the Hector’s dolphins close to the shore. Of course I have seen dolphins before in Australia, but these ones here were much more playful and jumped out of the water.
Further north, in the Marlborough Sounds, we went out for another day of kayaking while my parents hiked part of the Queen Charlotte Track. We paddled to a small peninsula, which is supposed to be a bird sanctuary. The pest and predator proof fence, keeping possums, rats, goats and other unwanted animals out, has only been errected last year. The birds still need to recognize it as a safe place as there were not many around. The dolphins that live in the Sounds didn’t show up either, but it was still a great day out on the water.
The next day we took the ferry back to the north island. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to spend another night in Wellington, so we just had a quick look at this great city. This time the weather was also quite nice so that we could enjoy a short walk along the artsy Cuba Street on our way to Te Papa.
Te Papa is a national museum for nearly everything. It’s very large and impossible to visit in one day, let alone one hour that we had. So we picked the “Awesome forces” exhibition on volcanos, earthquakes and other natural forces. They even had a tiny house to experience an earthquake (scale 1:50). We also had a glance at “Mountains to sea”, where they have a colossal squid (5m), which is believed to be only half the size of a fully grown animal.
Further south we spend one day exploring the famous Milford Sound. The best way to do that is by kayak instead of taking a bigger boat. Before we got the kayaks into the water we had to endure a massive attack by sandflies, which take a bite at every piece of skin they can make out. Surprisingly, once on the water there were almost none.
The weather for that was almost perfect as we didn’t have any of the more than 7000mm of rainfall they get here every year (in comparison, Hamburg has about 800mm). However, the almost vertical mountains that rise up to 1600m from the sea were not visible for most of the tour. We learned that the shape of the valley indicates glacial activity rather than the work of a river, making it a wrongly named fiord. Once the clouds were parting around midday it was quite an impressive sight.
On our way to Christchurch we stopped by the Moeraki Boulders, large round rocks with a diameter of up to two meters. They formed around small rocks or shells over a few million years. They have been exposed at the beach by erosion of the soil surrounding them.
Christchurch itself is very fascinating. It started out with getting lost in all the one-ways that have been installed since the publication of our map in 2010. This is mostly due to the two large earthquakes (in 2010 and 2011) close to the city. Afterwards, about 80% of the buildings downtown were considered to be instable. Some of those buildings have been taken down already, others are still surrounded by construction fences or are being torn down right now. The new spaces are used e.g. for parking lots (there are quite a few of them around, definitely more spaces available than cars). The construction works are responsible for the one way streets as all the equipment is blocking one side of the street.
But the people of Auckland have been very resilient, giving the city a spirit of hope instead of emptiness. One area has been used to set up a bunch of shops, stores and eateries in standard shipping containers. Additionally they have a great exhibition on the two earthquakes in a small new museum. The spiral of the cathedral completely collapsed after the second earthquake and the main building was also badly damaged. Therefore, a new (temporary) cathedral was built for the services to continue. All in all it’s quite impressive to watch the city rise again.
My youngest brother Tim, who went to New Zealand for one year of highschool, and my parents showed up for new year’s eve. Tim’s original idea was spending the day in Sydney to watch the fireworks over the harbor. Due to different reasons this didn’t work out. Maybe it was better this way, because I heard that you need to spend the whole day to secure a good spot at the harbor. This may be doable under normal conditions but probably not after a 30 hour flight.
Instead we climbed Mount Eden along with hundreds of others to have a good overview of the city. At midnight there were fireworks from the Sky Tower which were small but quite nice. The private fireworks were really small and stayed below the height of the surrounding houses and definitely not as much as in Germany. It was also very quiet, despite the number of people, because drinking in public is not allowed.
After having a look at Auckland the next day we headed south, where we met up with Tim’s hostfamily from 2008/09. They are very nice and we’ll meet them again when we get back to the north island.
On our way to New Plymouth we had a look at the Three Sisters. This time they are part of a rugged coastline just a few kilometers north of the city and not as touristy as the ones in the Blue Mountains. Also, only two sisters are remaining since one of them collapsed a few years ago.
If the weather is good you’ll get a glimpse of the picturesque Mount Taranaki close to New Plymouth. During our half day hike in wind and rain at the north face of Mount Taranaki we did not see anything above us. Later that day we got to see it from a distant.
On my last day in Auckland I had to try out one of my birthday gifts – a day of surfing. Kevin, who already joined in for the bungee jumping earlier, was up for trying it as well. We spend the whole morning and afternoon at Piha Beach, where we got private lessons on how to ride on a surf board (up to eight people are in these lessons, but this day there was no one else).
Then, once again I got a very cool (early) Christmas present – Marielle arrived in Auckland on the 23rd of December. Instead of showing her Auckland and its surroundings we went straight to the Coromandel peninsula. It’s a nice area to the east of Auckland and supposedly all the people from Auckland go there over Christmas and New Year’s. Luckily that was not the case, or at least it didn’t feel like it.
After three days we went to Taupo, a city in the centre of the north island. It’s one of the extreme sports capitals in New Zealand, but we didn’t come for that. On the contrary, we took a relaxing (electro-powered) sailing boat trip to the not-so-ancient Maori carvings. They are still very impressive, but not as much as they would be if they were a few hundred years old. The carvings, more than 10m in height, were made by local artists in the late 1970s.
Then we wanted to tackle New Zealands most famous day hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We met two more Germans, Rainer and Karin, and set out for the hike. It’s quite a long hike, but it’s very nice if you try to blend out the hundreds of people that are doing the hike with you. Actually, we found out that if you start around 10am, most of the tourists will be ahead of you, so it’s much better to go a little later. The only problem is the parking situation at the start and finish of the trail. I expected a parking lot similar to those at ski resorts, but these ones had only enough lots for about 20 cars… All the 150 other cars parked in places where it was not allowed to park.
After relaxing a few days in Auckland I was ready to see some more. Daniela and Manuel, who I met here at the hostel, were up for that as well. We rented a car for three days and hit the road. On our first day we stopped at the Waipu Caves, one of the most amazing places I’ve seen in the past one or two weeks. They are undeveloped caves, so you can go inside without paying an entrance fee. They are pitch black and have a river running through it, so at some point you need to get into the water to continue. To get up to that point it’s quite an adventure, because the rocks are covered in mud and very slippery. We definitely had to hold on with both hands. Once we were inside and switched off our headlamps the whole cave was illuminated by little glowworms, which looked like stars on a night sky. Absolutely fascinating!
The next day we picked up two others, who we met in Auckland before – Jen and Martin. Together we had a look at the Rainbow Falls and once again had a bath in the cold water of the river basin at the base of the waterfalls.
Even further north we encountered more giant sand dunes (even higher than those at Little Sahara), but this time the board rental was a rip off but still worth it. On my last ride down I tried to stand up on the board, but I fell down somewhere in the middle of the slope. What I didn’t notice was that I lost the cars to our rental car in the process. I was lucky though, because Martin found the needle in the haystack when he fell down at the same spot on his last ride…
Cape Reinga was our destination for that day and we reached it just before sunset for a nice view of the sea, where South Pacific and Tasman Sea meet. Unfortunately we had to drive back to Paihia for the night.
On the last day of our trip we stopped at the Wairere Boulders. They are lava rocks that have eroded over time by the acid waters created by the ancient Kauri trees. As a result, the rocks have a grooved surface. This geolocial feature is unique and hasn’t been registered anywhere else in the world. But it’s not only the rocks that make this place worth visiting, it’s also the amazing forest that surrounds them.