Tramping New Zealand
Back on the North Island we could only visit one coast before heading back to Auckland. We decided for the west and one of NZ’s most impressive volcanoes: Mt. Taranaki. Its perfect cone shape makes visitors compare it with Japan’s Mt. Fuji. When it appeared, almost floating over the great plane, it was imposing.
We camped at its foot and intended to climb its 2518m the next day. But the mountain decided to deny our visit by cloaking its summit in more and more clouds while we were ascending. Like true mountaineers we accepted destiny and returned over parts of the ‘around the mountain track’. At least we had the feeling of having done the right thing…
Aoraki - the cloud piercer - NZ’s highest mountain with 3,754 metres. We waited in Christchurch for good weather which happened just two days after we arrived. So of we went, back to the mountain you can’t miss in New Zealand. The Southern Alps rose slowly from the horizon over the Canterbury Plain while driving closer to Aoraki; snow covered peaks over dry grass-land.
We camped at the shores of Lake Pukaki with the perfect view of our mountain destination. Watching the sun set and all the colours from white to orange and red on the snow and ice fields while having dinner in the car. Long white clouds turned red - surreal spaceships over New Zealand.
The Milford Track (see Department of Conservation) is one of NS’s ‘Great Walks’, located in Fiordland on NZ’s South Island. It’s 53.5km long and has to be hiked in 4 days / 3 nights. Booking is essential, in fact once can be lucky to get a place in the huts six month in advance. Camping is not permitted.
Good hiking gear is essential, especially rain gear since the region is one of the wettest on the planet with a mean annual rainfall of 6,813 mm.
The Golden Bay is delimited by the Able Tasman NP and the Farewell Spit. From Nelson it’s a short drive over a 800m high mountain range (with a stunning lookout over Tasman Bay and great freedom camping) to the Golden Bay.
Takaka is its biggest town and lovely I’ve to say. The whole area is full of art and free minded spirits. The town, its people and shops reflect that. We listen to local music which we got from our Couchsurfing hosts in Blenheim and visit the local sites.
Hiking an active volcano (with steam and sulfu smell (H2S - thx David)) was impressive. The region saw erruptions in the last years and showed its activity - from White Island to Ruapehu. This also was my ‘biggest’ hike so far with 800m up to 1900m, 1200m down, 19km long in ~7 hours (regarding hight and climbed vertical distance).
Close to Auckland, just on the eastern side of the Hauraki Golf is the Coromandel Peninsula. It takes just 90 minutes to reach Thames, the biggest town in the area.
The road ends at a basic bush camp located at a lovely bay with nice beach and a great view over to Great Barrier Island. We had a good night in our van and got up at 6 am to hike the Coromandel Coastal Walkway. The way over to Stony Bay is lovely, first a bit up and down over meadows, then into lush bush, down to a tiny bay (ideal for breakfast) and then very evenly long the hill side. It offers beautiful views over the rugged coast line.
After a lunch stop at Stony Bay we decided to walk back the alternative route, well aware that it will be sunnier, steeper and less scenic. But then “you don’t go back the same way in the Zone”. Did I say “well aware”? No really, we had no idea HOW steep this track really is. Almost without any pause climbing steeply along ridges from sea level to 530m. And with those ridges you always thing you’re almost there… But we got fitter those last month and did it in about 2 hours. The view from the top was nice at least. Unfortunately the way down isn’t much better and therefore not very relaxing.
Back at the camp I jumped into the sea for some refreshment. And a refreshment it was with head under water. That cold! *showing a ridiculous small size between thumb and index finger*
Back to Coromandel after this 8 hour hike for a yummy dinner. Then to Kauaeranga Valley, another bush camp at the end of the road. This night was horrible since we had dozens of mossies in the car. We were happy to see the sky turning grey at dawn.
This gave us quite a good head start for our second hike up to the Pinnacles, a 750m high peak (starting at around 50m). After a short stroll the track showed what it’s famous for: steps. And when I say steps I mean heaps and heaps and never ending steps. They were mainly carved into the rock to get supplies to the men deep in the mountains in the old logging days. And since the track was built to make it easier for the horses the steps are between 30 and 40 cm high. So, take a building of your choice, imagine to walk up its stairs and then do the math to see how often you’d have to walk up for those 700m. Don’t get me wrong, the path and stairs are really beautiful, magical, almost like finding old ruins in the dense forest. But after a few hours you just wish to never have to walk any of them anymore.
After a short lunch stop at the hut we went up the last bit to the top - over stairs, right. This time new iron ones and irons in the stones. Again a nice view from the top, sea at both sides of the peninsula and heaps of forest on hills and mountains.
The way down isn’t much easier on the legs and we got the pay back in the next days with quite sore legs.
After this 8.5 hour walk we drove over to the east side of the peninsula to Hahei. We were to tired to hike down to Cathedral cove, but enjoyed the view over the islands. For me, from a coastal view point it’s more beautiful than the famous Bay of Islands. We then rewarded ourselves with The ‘Holy’ Steak in a restaurant called ‘Church’ which was recommended to us by one of Danny’s colleges. Really good!
Another short stop at Hot Water Beach, but too many tourists for our taste and then the 3 to 4 hour drive home to Auckland.
The Coromandel Peninsula is a must see in my opinion, it might get very busy in summer though. We’re happy that we get better and better with our hiking and are already looking forward to multi-day hikes.
We started on my birthday: cake with candles, presents, a letter from home.
Then driving north, Northland. Famous Bay of Islands - in rain, hardly anything to see. A short stop at the Hundertwasser toilet (we used it of course - where else can you pee on art…) Camping on a car park, heavy rain all night. What’s wrong here?
The morning wakes us with a stunning sunrise and soon the sky clears all up. I figured out that due to different time zones my birthday is actually today. Read on and you’ll see how it all makes sense… ;)
A short stop at misty and magical Doubtless Bay and huge 90 mile beach.
Further north, the cape, New Zealand’s most northern point. The last 25km are (still) unsealed, they’re upgrading it though and we drove through heavy road works. This sacred place will loose quite some of its atmosphere with an easy to drive road and a big visitor centre…
We escape the streams of visitors by hiking a part of the Cape Reinga Costal Track. 8.5 hours over vast beaches, through creeks, over huge sand dunes, through bush land, swamps and over a meadow in the end. Just the two of us - the two of us and places called Twilight Bay or Cape Maria van Diemen, endless surf on two endless oceans.
Next morning I wash my hair in the sink of a public toilet and feel human again. We visit Waitangi where by signing the Treaty of Waitangi the New Zealand nation was “found” and made a member of the Commonwealth. We take a look at Bay of Islands in sunshine and visit old Russell where we’ve fish & chips and ice cream as desert. A short coffee stop in Whangarei, then back to Auckland.
What remains is the magic of the far north with its untouched beaches and huge bays battered by oceans and storms. What remains is the conviction that hiking is a good, a very good way to go.
How should I describe five days that were so full of experiences in a few lines? I wouldn’t know, yet I’ll try.
Great Barrier Island - or just ‘The Barrier’ - was named by captain Cook because it shields the Hauraki golf towards the Pacific. That’s the place were the sea and storms hit hardest and the landscape reflects that its jagged coastline and rugged mountains.
We took the ferry to get there. Ferry is maybe a bit much - it’s a barge. A barge that likes to rolls. I got terribly seasick after just half an hour and had to cope with it for the 4,5 hours yet to come. Standing outside at the back of the barge in rain and wind was still the best place even though I was freezing like crazy. I had to vomit three times - once already on land - and felt horrible all day long.
We stayed at ‘The Crossroads’ (no Orcs though…) at the first night, which was lovely. Next morning we started hiking through the centre of the island, over its highest peak Mt. Hobson (621m) towards Port Fitzroy. Since the track starts close to sea level it’s a steady climb over ridges and hills, through valleys and rain forest, along creeks and swamps.
Imagine it’s 10-15 °C, windy, sometimes sunshine, some heavy rain showers. The track’s just more than a food-wide path through dense rain forest. Everything is dripping wet, every second step is slippery. The forest seams unreal: trees, small ferns, huge ferns, fern trees, palm trees, moss and grass as tall as you. You have all your rain gear on: jacket with hood, rain over-pants, impregnated shoes, rain cover for the backpack. The backpack is 10kg and includes everything for the next days. Imagine to hike like this for 7,5 hours. The higher you get, the more amazing lookouts you get and you know why you’re here.
The last half an hour up to the summit was a steep climb over rocks and roots forming almost a ladder. That’s where you start hiking with four ‘feet’. The view from the top was just stunning! We hiked down the other side through Windy Canyon and were picked up at Aotea Road.
We were picked up by Ken, not by George, our CouchSurfing host. He missed his flight back from AKL, but had organised us a stay in the recreational room of the Department of Conservation (DOC). So Ken and I found two old mattresses in one of the shed and he organized some bedding for us. We even had a hot shower and were able to start the fire place. It rained and was very windy at night, but we had a good sleep after that cup of hot Milo.
Next day we met up with George and moved our stuff to his place. We hiked up to Coopers Castle (a huge rock formation with great views) and down to an old Kauri Dam (a wooden dam used to collect water for washing down Kauri logs). The forest here is very different to yesterday, much denser. We’re running late, which gave us awesome light, but we managed to reach Forest Road just before being pitch black. George picked us up as he had promised in case it’s getting dark without us being home. Another 6,5 hour hike up to 450m done.
On the fourth day we took it more easy, since our legs were quite sour and Danny had a blister and a wound ankle due to new shoes. We walked an hour to a special place at the beach where George told us we could find muscles. And there they were: Black Muscles, green rimmed ones, Ousters, and white clamps. We collected some for dinner and walked back. We had Chid with us, George’s dog - very much to Danny’s entertainment.
In the evening we went fishing with George. Yea, I went fishing for the first time and it took me five minutes to catch one: a 40-45cm Kahawai ! Danny caught a slightly smaller Travalley and George a Snapper. We climbed back over the rocks in pitch black - George had a head lamp. We even saw two penguins on the way. While walking back in darkness and wind over the massive sand beach we saw thousands of sea glow-worms which made our footprints glow in the dark. Above us the Milkyway and finally the Magellan Clouds again.
We had a fantastic dinner with mussels, fish and home made pasta with a few glasses of white wine.
Next day it was time to say good bye. We flew out from Claris Airfield in a machine with only ten seats. I was so lucky to be seated at the co-pilots seat, which gave me an amazing view! The little plane jumped and turned after the start like crazy - so different to bigger, faster planes. I was way to exited to be scared, though. It also flies so much deeper than what one is used to. I could see all the trees, waves and houses. The landing was picture perfect.
New Zealand is about stunning landscape and the best way to experience it is by hiking. So it’s not surprising that there are numerous hikes all over the country. Some of them are regarded among the best world wide. Names that come to my mind are ‘Kepler Track’, ‘Routeburn Track’ and of course ‘Milford Track’ to name a few easier accessibly ones.
‘Milford Track’ is so popular, it’s usually booked out. Booked out? Yes, the maximum number of hikers is limited at any time. We were told we had to book a year in advance to get a chance. We looked it up nevertheless and in fact found every day starting from 14th Dez to be unavailable. But not before. So we’re officially going to hike ‘Milford Track’, a four day hike in Fiordland, 53,5km long and up to over 1000m.
We’re going to test our equipment for the first time this weekend on Great Barrier Island where we hope to hike for three days. More about that in another post.
Another nice day, another hike. After getting some stuff done we started for the ‘Coast to Coast hike’ which crosses Auckland from south to north. It is about 16km long and goes up Mt. Eden and One Tree Hill (the One Tree Hill from the U2 song) - two of the highest volcanoes in Auckland. It starts at the Pacific Ocean in the Auckland CBD and ends at the Tasman See in Onehunga (don’t ask me how to pronounce this…)
We skipped Mt. Eden since we’ve already been there but were happy to climb impressive One Tree Hill. We also saw our first NZ sheep there. The cliché comes alive. ;)
Onehunga reminds me a bit of Heidelberg West in Melbourne. Partly dodgy, partly nice and some really cheap supermarkets and Asian/Indian diaries. I bought some still missing spices.
A very nice half-day hike (4 hours) which leads you to some main nature spots and buildings in Auckland.
Gotta love Australia
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