My main goal coming to the north island was to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a day long hike (6-8 hours) and is regarded as New Zealand’s top day walk. I was told throughout my trip to make sure I do it on a good day and in-line with my weather luck recently, the forecast showed I would have to wait almost a week. So rather than sit around waiting, I skipped the town closest (Taupo) and went to my next stop an hour north, Rotorua, with the intent to back track late in the week and do the crossing on the weekend.
Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity – so parts of the town smells like rotten eggs (insert smelt it dealt it joke here) – and Maori culture. Here I wandered around hot mud pools and boiling lakes. I saw a couple geysers erupt and took in a Maori show. I also met a great group of people at the hostel and some due to timing, had to do the Tongariro Crossing on Wednesday. Well, after studying the ever changing forecast, consulting meteorologists and monitoring cumulus cloud movement, I asked the hostel owner and he said Wednesday was the day to go.
Since we were still in Rotorua (the town further north), we had to leave at 4:30 in the morning (Side note here: I gotta get a job so I can stop with these early mornings and start sleeping in again) to make the shuttle that would take us from the car to the start of the trail. One of the dominant highlights on the walk is Mt. Ngauruhoe, better known by you “Lord of the Rings” fans as Mt. Doom. The hike did not disappoint as the scenary was amazing throughout the day. We walked in and around craters, emerald lakes and volcanoes (some still active) and were awed at every turn and at the top of every hill. We never found the ring but the hike was still precious.
After Rotorua I spent a couple days in the Waitomo Cave region where they have caves (hence the name) with glowworms (worms that glow-hence their name). Also in the area was the location they filmed the shire scenes for the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. While I didn’t make it to Hobbiton (actual name), the landscape all around was similar to what you see in the movies. The Hobbit 2 premiered while I was in Rotorua and some actors were at Hobbiton. One person at the hostel had his dreams come true when while at Hobbiton, was served a beer by the actors that played Pippon and Merry (the other two hobbit characters that go on the quest in “Lord of the Rings”).
Prior to Rotorua I spent a couple days around Wellington and went to the National Museum and wandered the streets. My last stop in New Zealand after Waitomo is Auckland where I am catching my flight to Vietnam. Wellington and Auckland are the two main cities on the north island and are far larger than anything I encountered on the south, so even though they are dwarfed (sorry, last “Lord of the Rings” pun) by the cities in Australia and the US, they are still cities so with all the beautiful scenery and outdoor activities the country has to offer, they have been my least favorite places in New Zealand.
While one month seems like a lot of time to travel in New Zealand, I could easily have found things to do for another month (or more) and never gotten bored. New Zealand has such varied landscape – from tropical beaches to glaciers, volcanoes to caves, grazing land to redwood forests – in such a small accessible area it is an outdoor wonderland. Add in the bonus that the locals may be the most genuinely friendly people I have ever encountered and well, who’s got two thumbs and is sad to leave New Zealand…this guy.
However, now I go to Vietnam and Laos which I also am looking forward to so I guess I will quickly get over that sadness.