I have been in Aotearoa New Zealand for a little over a week now and so far I am enjoying myself so much and falling in love with this beautiful country.
So far I have only visited Auckland and Paihia, which are both in the North of the country. It has been very hot, although it rained once or twice and of course I was outside on both occasions!
When I arrived Auckland I was excited. I was surprised at the friendliness and helpfulness of the bus driver who took us into Auckland and I was impressed by the landscape (even though we were onto on the motorway heading into the city), but I was very tired an in need of a shower. Six and a half hours on a plane, followed by sixteen hours on a plane will do that to you!
Long story short, my first day in Auckland was disappointing. My hostel in central Auckland was terrible – messy and dirty with poor security and a weird atmosphere. I tried to find another place to stay, but was too tired, so spent the night there.
The next day I found my wonderful Brown Kiwi Hostel in Ponsonby (a nice suburb about 30mins walk from the city centre). This is one of the nicest hostels I’ve been to! They even have a hostel cat called Steffi.
My first proper day in Auckland (I’m writing off day one), I ked around the city and found myself in Domain wintergarden, which was surrounded by beautiful parkland. There were two large glasshouses which contained lovely plants and a large area full of ferns (ferns are a big thing in New Zealand). On the way out I also found a very cool tree that was bent over – inviting me to climb on it!
On day two, I wanted to go to Mount Eden (Maungawhau), which is around an hours walk from my hostel. I set off under overcast skies and got caught in a torrential downpour on a stretcstretch of road with nowhere to hide! I decided to change my plans and go to the Art Gallery instead, where I saw a fascinating exhibition of Maori Portraits painted by Gottfried Lindauer, a European artist. The portraits were detailed and expressive – a beautiful insight into the lives of the Maori people of the time.
The weather had improved, so I headed for Mount Eden. It was a long walk and a hard climb, but the view was worth it – the view back to the city was wonderful! Maungawhau, the Maori name for Mount Eden, means “The Mountain of the Whau Tree” and its crater is Tapu (sacred) as it is the bowl of Mataaho, the God of secrets hidden in the ground (he used to live there).
After my short stay in Auckland, I headed on to Paihia. Paihia is a small seaside town in the far north of New Zealand. My hostel here was lovely – except for the fact that the top bunks didn’t have rails! I was so scared I would fall out of bed in the night!
When I arrived in Paihia, I went on a dolphin spotting cruise. We didn’t see any dolphins! But we did circle the Bay of Islands, which has beautiful scenery (this is a trend in New Zealand). We stopped at an island called Urupukapuka on the way back to Paihia and I climbed the hill there and found excellent views. While I was there, I watched the Oyster Catchers feeding – they are so cute. As we left Urupukapuka, I saw a stingray swim past in the water – it made my day!
On day two in Paihia, I went to Russell, just across the bay, which was the first capital of New Zealand. It is a very small place, although New Zealand’s oldest church stands there. I went for a walk through the bush next to the town and saw a kiwi bird in the undergrowth (I think it was a kiwi anyway). Ever since then, whenever I have been in a kiwi area, I have been constantly hoping for another one to appear!
The day after, I saw a Californian quail on a walk up to a viewpoint, but no more kiwi yet. After my walk I just had a lazy day planning some more of my trip.
On the fourth day in Paihia, I visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which is where the Maori chiefs first signed the Treaty of Waitangi, joining the British empire. The site is large and contains the refurbished house where the treaty was translated into Maori. There is also a large Maori meeting house, built especially for the location. Maori meeting houses are normally tribe specific, buy this house represents all tribes. I saw a cultural performance there, including Maori music and dance.
Waitangi is also home to a massive Maori war canoe who can hold one hundred men. It was in 1940 for the 100 year anniversary of the signing of the treaty. There is also a museum on site which explains the story of the treaty through artifacts and interactive displays.
After the treaty grounds, I went in a scenic five kilometer hike to the gorgeous Haruru falls. It was a long walk back to Paihia, but luckily I managed to hitch a lift with a kind French couple, who dropped me in the centre of Paihia.
On my final day in Paihia, I sat on the beach, reading and swimming and consequently getting rather sunburnt. It is easily done in New Zealand. The sun is very strong due to the ozone hole and even though I wore and reapplied suncream, it was not enough!
Back in Auckland, I visited Rangitoto Island – a volcanic island just north of Auckland. The island is the newest and largest volcano in the region – there are around 50 in total! There are strict rules about what you can bring onto the island and they have a complex pest eradication scheme to ensure the ecosystem is protected. I climbed the volcano in the rain, finding myself in a lovely damp cloud as I reached the top. The view was like nothing I’d seen so far – just white cloud.
I walked back down and found a path leading to the other side of the island. I walked along, admiring the plants and birds I saw and eventually came to a small cove with some of the Baches (small holiday houses) around it. There are no permanent human residents on the island, so the houses are all deserted – only 30 of the 140 beaches remain. The weather improved and by the time I left Rangitoto, it was sunny again! Perhaps I should’ve left the summit climb until the end!
As I write this, I am coming to the end of my time in Auckland. Today I had a mostly lazy day, after heading out to a bar with some people from the hostel last night. The bar was the Ponsonby Social Club and we saw a cool funky band called Hipstamatic – it was a fun evening.
In the late afternoon, I headed out to Devonport, which is just across the bay from Auckland, to climb Mount Victoria (Takarunga – “the hill standing above”). This was a good decision. The views were excellent! You could see back across to Auckland and also out to Rangitoto. There also these cute little mushrooms, which are actually vents for a water pumping station. I could have stayed up there for hours, but I had to return to eat and blog and pack before I head off for Rotorua tomorrow!
I will be sad to leave the Northland, but excited to see some more of this incredible country, which I am falling more and more in love with day by day.