North Island Expedition, Part 1

I spent way too much time fine-tuning this map before deciding that I’d spent way too much time fine-tuning it and giving up. Next time, plan in advance! Our trip, on the other hand, was; but after driving approximately 1200 km over 7 days, I realised that I had made the critical mistake of not insisting that someone else in the group get an international driving permit as well – driving, whether for work or for recreation is no more than near-mindless labour. Apologies to bus, lorry, and Formula 1 drivers everywhere.

Seven days on New Zealand’s North Island. After returning, I was asked “so what did you like the most about New Zealand?” Toughie right off the bat. 3 seconds of silence. “Well. It was nice being able to see so many stars at night…?”

“Hahaha who’d expect such a romantic answer!” – Mom/Sis
“What! Is that it? As if you can’t see stars here!” – Dad

There’s no right answer to a question like that. There’s no pleasing myself either. Back in the day I used to churn out long diary-like travelogues (colloquially: massive walls of text) that pretty much nobody read. No matter how much I liked New Zealand’s starscapes, I no longer have the time, energy, or motivation for anything like that. All you’ll get out of me now is a bunch of recycled Instagram posts and some smarmy text.

Auckland. There’s… not that much to do here. Did I just hear a far-off cheer reverberating across oceans from Wellington? As far as cities go, Auckland is, well, quaint. It’s a nice place to bumble around on a windy day (to hell with summer). I suppose you could check out the museums, walk around the parks, play lasso with giant crab legs at the Crab Shack, rage over insane parking rates… or screw it, just escape to a different world (for a reasonable price)- the best you can do is to escape to the aquarium. Parking is free! OK. Play fair. Auckland is as pedestrian as a city can get (literally and figuratively), but it’s a lot nicer than my home city.

Waitomo. The highlight of our first (full) day in NZ. I didn’t really plan on going in there at first, but it was ‘on the way‘ to Rotorua. Sis wanted to check out Hobbiton, but further research killed that thought- the high price of tickets, the crowds, and the plain lack of interest from the rest of our travel group. In any case, they were fully sold out (that sounds redundant, but who’s checking). We ended up visiting the relatively less expensive caves at Waitomo, and the Tree Church (pretty, quaint, go in Spring, spend your money elsewhere) in Ohaupo. The caves were simple but well done- general consensus was that Ruakuri was nicer than the over-hyped Waitomo Glowworm Cave. No photos worth sharing from inside the hole- even the fastest lens I brought (Samyang 12mm/f2) wasn’t able to do anything in the dark.

Rotorua. We didn’t spend much time there. Time being of the essence, we headed out almost immediately for our first stop- Te Puia. A little compact park with one big geyser, a Maori carpentry school, and one Kiwi bird. We paid extra for a cultural performance- a short and interesting show, but the highlight was definitely the bit after the audience participation bit when one of the props went missing and accusing eyes went straight to anyone who looked vaguely Oriental. Ouch. How is any of this relevant to the above photo? What’s the technical term for a question that simply can’t be answered?

Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Actually our third stop of the day- I’d completely forgotten about the Government Gardens in Rotorua town. It was like a walk down into Jurassic Park. Clichéd description alert! You will read a lot of Tripadvisor reviews stating the same. The summer heat was murderous, and at the halfway point we took a bus down to the lake, but not before a walk through an idyllic, shade-free, weed-lined path that yielded this picture. Well worth the sweat and tan. Our bus was a repurposed Japanese school-bus captained by a Kiwi Thor look-alike (but not as bulky as the Australian variety).

Wai-O-Tapu. Screwing around with the perspective distortion effect afforded by the 12mm Samyang. You’ll have to look elsewhere for pictures of the famous Champagne Pool. I didn’t take any pics worth showing off, perhaps because I was too worried about what would happen to my lens by continuous exposure to sulphuric gas. That’s one thing tourist brochures and Wikitravel don’t mention. Wai-O-Tapu was without doubt, the stinkiest destination of the day, putting the stench from Sulphur Point in Rotorua to shame. Speaking of gas, I found myself letting off gas bombs of my own throughout the rest of the day- probably a side-effect of sulphur inhalation. I’d like to think that if I were to spend a day in a rose garden I’d end up farting Coco Mademoiselle Parfum instead.

Coming up soon (remember: time is relative) in Part 2: Taupo, Mt. Ruapehu, Tauranga, and back to Auckland.


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