A Travellerspoint blog

Waitomo and Lake Waikaremoana

"I've never been this wet for this long in my entire life..."

Feeling the driving urge to get out of Auckland, my travel partner Jen and I met up with a couple of other couchsurfers, Gregoire from Paris and Linda from Los Angeles, and carpooled south towards Rotorua. First stop was in Waitomo, most likely best known for its glowworms. The glowworms are the larval stage of a mosquito-like fly, they build small cocoons and hang threads down in hopes of catching dinner. After sunset the forest and the caves light up with thousands of small white lights - hungry little larvae. Turns out the ones that are hungriest glow the brightest and this attracts more curious but doomed bugs, which get caught in the sticky threads and are promptly consumed by the glowworms. This is the only life stage in which they eat so they have to get while the getting's good. Linda had a tour booked already and I had a half price voucher for a black water rafting trip through a cave full of the glowworms. Gregoire and Jen joined me on the trip, which was actually floating serenely on innertubes through the cave, with a couple of big drops and slides. It was fun but I'm thankful I didn't pay full price, to be quite honest.

SAM_0002.jpg
Gregoire, Jen and I, preparing for the worst.

The four of us left Waitomo and drove east to Rotorua, one of the most geothermally active spots in New Zealand. Jen and I split up from the others who had different plans, wandered around a park in town with boiling mud and steaming lakes and all that good stuff, and began organizing for our trip to Lake Waikaremoana.

SAM_0035.jpg
Boiling mud lake south of Rotorua.

The Lake Waikaremoana tramp is one of eight Great Walks in New Zealand - generally three or more days in some of the most beautiful areas of the country. This one is a four day tramp around an amazing lake in the Te Urewera National Park. We rented a car, filled out our menu and took off for the tramp. We left a day early with plans to free camp along the way, but first we made a stop at some truly amazing hot springs. We had asked around and three different locals recommended this place to us - they called it Hot and Cold. They all had somewhat different instructions on getting there but we found it, parked the car, and went for a dip. There was a nice not-too-deep swimming hole with two creeks flowing into it - one hot and one cold. I spent some time talking to two Belgians named Nils and Nila who taught me to juggle and even gave me professional juggling balls (yes, professional juggling balls) after I promised to practice. Needless to say I will be the greatest.

We drove out into the National Forest and then on to National Park land to the east and eventually found a nice place to camp - it was off the road and back on top of a ridge by an old tumbledown shed of some sort. We made camp, made spaghetti, looked at the stars for a while and crashed out only to be woken up in the middle of the night when a horse walked through our camp and whinnied at us. But we survived - it fled in terror when it saw my huge muscles.

DSCF2018.jpg
Sunset over Te Urewera National Park, pre-horse invasion.

The next morning we drove the rest of the way to Lake Waikaremoana. It started raining when we got to the lake, which was a bit of a surprised since we hadn't looked at a weather forecast. No big deal, we thought, and proceeded to get climbing. The rain didn't let up for another six days... The first day was 9km uphill to the Panekiri Hut atop Panekiri Bluff. Supposedly there are amazing views of the lake here but all we saw was the rain cloud that surrounded us. There were six other trampers at the hut when we got there and we all shared the drying rack over the wood stove but nothing ever really got dry. Not for another four days. Day two we hiked 11km to a campsite near Korokoro Falls where we set up under the shelter to keep out of the rain. Unfortunately this meant we were hanging out with the rats who inhabited the space and they did bite a couple of small holes in Jen's rain jacket. Moving on, day three we tried to hike out to Korokoro Falls but it had been raining so hard for so long that we were't comfortable fording the river at one point where the trail crossed, so we turned back and finished up the days hike of about 12km to Waiharuru hut. We were supposed to stay at the campsite there but decided to sneak into the hut since it was raining harder than ever. We were proud of this plan, and looking forward to the hut so we could dry our clothes over the stove but the tragic comedy continued as it was broken and we just stayed cold and we Now this was actually some of the hardest rain I've ever seen, even after living in Olympia and Portland for eight years. It was really coming down and by day four we were ready to get the hell out of there. Supposedly we had four hours of hiking ahead of us but we did it in three. Where the path wasn't running water it was standing water, ankle deep and cold, and my boots never stood a chance. We crossed a number of creeks that were flooding over the path, some running fast and rather deep, and even one raging creek that was topping the bridge we had to cross. I started having trouble with my knee during the tramp this day, pain whenever I would walk downhill, and I'm still dealing with it. A physical therapist friend of mine took a look at it and recommended rest and some exercises I could do to help but I'm bummed because it the pain meant I had to put off hiking the Tongariro Crossing until another time.

SAM_0048.jpg
This, ladies and gentlemen, is called foreshadowing.

SAM_0059.jpg
Rumor has it the lake looks beautiful from here...

SAM_0078.jpg
Why yes, that IS a camouflage poncho I'm wearing!

SAM_0071.jpg
Our ill-fated attempt at drying clothes.

SAM_0072.jpg
Night two, making hot food and again trying to dry our clothes before the rats ate them.

SAM_0079.jpg
Finally, Lake Waikaremoana comes into view!

DSCF2032.jpg
Flooding river... FLUUUURRD!!

So we finished up the hike and got picked up by a couple of Maori women from the local Tuhoi tribe - the only tribe to never have given up their sovereignty. One told us that if she won the lottery she would get a boob job because she had eleven kids and then move her truck and her animals out to live in the bush. Not sure where the lottery comes in to play with moving out to the bush, but who am I to judge? What would I do if I won the lottery? It can't be any less indulgent. So they dropped us off at the car and we drove the long way out of Te Urewera because the road we came in on was washed out and covered in rocks after all the rain. Down to Wairoa, over to Napier, and up towards Rotorua. Unfortunately in Eskdale I put diesel in the petrol tank and we had to wait a long time for AA (only two A's in New Zealand) to show up and drain the tank. We were sitting in the car in the rain until a woman named Sue who lived in a flat in a garage on the property came over and invited us in to hang out with her and her neighbor Dick while we waited. We obliged and she gave us coffee and cocoa and biscuits slathered with butter. She showed us lots of pictures of her dogs and the sweaters she makes for them and called her friend down the street who let us stay in her campervan for the night. After AA drained the tank and we were set to leave she sent us off with a homegrown onion for our spaghetti dinner and coffee and eggs from her chickens for breakfast. This is Kiwi hospitality, right here. In the morning it was slow going most of the way back to Rotorua because the five days of rain had caused a few landslides and floods over the highway, but we got the car back and caught a cheap bus down to Taupo to begin the next adventure.

DSCF2029.jpg
Wondering to myself how I got into this situation.

Posted by axcordion 20:18 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rotorua park caves lake national te waitomo waikaremoana urewera glowworm tuhoi iwi Comments (0)

Cape Reinga and the Bay of Islands

"There's cold beer in the cooler there, help yourselves!"

We had been planning a trip to Cape Reinga - to the end of the road, quite literally. But this was to be more than a sightseeing visit, best to leave that to the tourists. No, this was a four day tramp from the Te Paki dunes, along the coast, up and over Cape Reinga and along the ridgetop to the mythical fruit orchards of Pandora Beach. This, this was going to be an adventure.

Jade was working double shifts for days and couldn't really help with the last minute organizing. Fortunately for everybody Jen invited herself along for the trip the day before we left, so the two of us put our minds together and pulled out a three-person, four-day hike in twelve hours.  We rented a car and left Auckland, destination: north.  Parking at the base of the giant Te Paki sand dunes we gathered our gear and began walking along the stream that doubles as a road towards the Tasman Sea. Now, when you rent a car in Auckland they stipulate that you cannot drive it on beaches because, as a popular pastime along 90 Mile Beach, you'll find cars half sunk into the sand.  Quicksand in the streams, folks. It would have been a 45-60 minute walk from the car to the beach itself but before long a family in a large truck drove along and we hitched a ride out to the sea. Sitting on the tailgate and speeding down the creek, half expecting to fall off, we knew the adventure gods were looking after us. This was a good omen.

DSCF3568.jpg
Te Paki Stream, where dreams come true

DSCN2056.jpg
Hitching on the tailgate

From the output of the stream it was about 45 minutes to the end of the beach, up a flight of stairs and along the bluff where we watched the sun melt into the Tasman Sea, and soon down to Twilight Beach (at twilight, corny but true).  Twilight Beach, despite our impeccable timing, is actually named after a boat that sunk and rusts offshore.  By the time we got to the northern end of Twilight Beach it was dark and we had to break out our torches to find the campsite we knew had to be there somewhere.  While we were looking we ran across a lovely German named Hauke doing the same thing.  He and Jen found a flat grassy place up the trail to lay their tents while Jade and I crashed out on the beach. What followed was an epic battle with sand fleas, little jumping creatures that look a bit like potato bugs. This was one for the history books but we came out on top, as humans tend to do, and even took some of their carcasses along as trophies - as an example for the mosquitos, of course.

DSCN2065.jpg
90 Mile Beach and the Te Paki dunes from the top of the bluff

DSCF3582.jpg
Onwards to Twilight Beach

DSCF3593.jpg
Sunset over the Tasman Sea

In the morning I went for a swim. It was cold, I knew it was now or never. Imagine a full on Baywatch run into the waves. Before long we donned our packs and set off uphill. After an hour or so we found ourselves at Cape Maria van Diemen - cliche but honestly one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.  Situated at the bottom of a huge sand dune it juts out into the Tasman with beautiful beaches on either side and a huge flax-covered hill with a lighthouse on top. Maria van Diemen is the westernmost point of New Zealand and was named by explorer Abel Tasman after the wife of his financier in 1643. To honor the memory of this altogether forgettable person we climbed up to the lighthouse, took an impromptu nap and headed back down for a swim in the big waves.  Trudging back up the sand dune was rough but once we topped out and made our way back down it was an hour and a half along a picturesque beach until we found ourselves at Cape Reinga. More precisely, we found ourselves at the base of the cliff we were about to climb.  Up, up, up until the top, thinking this would be the worst (it wasn't long before we found out we were wrong). Cape Reinga is the point where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean clash, one moving east, the other west, and you can see the different colors of the water and the large waves trailing north.  Down at the bottom of the cliff is an 800 year old Pohutukawa tree - sacred to the Maori - where the souls of the deceased slide down to the underworld before emerging on the largest of the King Islands offshore, visible on the horizon.  We didn't spend much time at the cape with the tourists and the lighthouse - it started to rain and we still had a couple hours hiking to get through. So we filled up our water bottles from the tank by the carpark, trying to ignore the taste of salt in it, and continued east.  From here the trail was pretty technical, lots of intense up and down and unquestionably the hardest part of the hike.  But after a lot of climbing and a bit of complaining we descended back down to a beach and the campsite. We stayed at a Department of Conservation site, which, to be honest, was initially disappointing to see, because we hiked around the corner to find a parking lot full of cars and campers. Felt like cheating... But it turned out pretty well for us in the end because we were able to get cold beer and somebody gave us a bunch of pasta sauce.  We used it for a massive spaghetti feast and crashed.  I woke up around dawn to see dozens of mosquitos in our tent, lazily flying around the top, drawn by the carbon dioxide.  I freaked out, cocooned myself in my sleeping bag, and sweat through a few more hours of sleep.

DSCF3617.jpg
All roads lead to... some new adventure

DSCF3618.jpg
Cape Maria van Diemen, it doesn't get any more west than this

DSCF3656.jpg
Trudging up the dune, who's idea was this anyway?

DSCF3693.jpg
Cape Reinga, can you spot the Pohutukawa tree in this photo? You have fifteen seconds beginning... now!

DSCF3710.jpg
Climbing up from Sandy Bay - no switchbacks, no mercy

The next day Hauke hiked back to his car at Cape Reinga and Jade hitched out to met up with a friend in the Bay of Islands.  This left just Jen and I to finish the campaign to Pandora Beach.  It was uphill for a good hour and a half and then along the ridgeline before descending quickly down a four wheel drive track to Pandora.  Supposedly there was an old tourist camp and an orchard here, but all I found was a swamp.  I was really holding out for some stone fruit but it clearly wasn't meant to be - had I angered the adventure gods? We'll never know… We had the beach mostly to ourselves, shared only with a rotting dolphin carcass. About a mile from one end to the other we spent the rest of the day swimming, exploring caves and pools at low tide, did some yoga and enjoyed easy living. Around evening we were joined by two other trampers who came from Cape Reinga.  They stayed the night but left really early because they were running out of water - two tragedies waiting to happen.  We had been carrying two litres per person per day and were starting to run a bit low ourselves so in the morning we headed out, uphill and along the ridge again for a few hours. We ended up on the highway leading back from Cape Reinga and hitched a ride in about 30 minutes.  A couple picked us up and as we sat in the back of their pickup truck the guy leaned out the window and yelled, "There's cold beer in the cooler there, help yourselves!"  It was Heinekin but we didn't let that stop us.

We still had the car for a couple of days so we drove down to a town called Kerikeri near the Bay of Islands and found a couch to surf on at the last minute in the home of a science teacher.  The next day we drove to the bay itself, hung out a bit in Paihia, a very touristy and expensive and altogether uninteresting town, and took the ferry across the bay to Russell where we stayed with an amazing guy Barry that my friend V from Oz knows.  As the first European city and first capital of New Zealand, Russel had a lot to offer this history nerd - old buildings and cemeteries and the site of a battle between Maori and Pakeha, or Europeans. After the British claimed sovereignty and raised the Union Jack on a hill overlooking the city, a Maori leader named Hone Heke took it upon himself to cut it down. Not once, not twice, not even three times but four. Four times he scaled the hill and cut down the flagpole, even after the Pakeha sheathed it in iron and stationed troops there to protect it. As Hone Heke and others sacked the flagpole for the fourth and final time, they also attacked the town, setting off what would become the Flagstaff War. Four Royal Navy soldiers and a number of civilians were killed, much of the city was burned to the ground, and British retaliation was swift. They attacked several Maori pa, or fortified villages, with mixed success. Ultimately the Pakeha succeeded in crushing the active rebellion but its leaders remained free and, in fact, gained honor and prestige, so the war is now generally seen as a stalemate. The flagpole, however, is still there.

DSCF3743.jpg
Bay of Islands

The bay… the bay itself was really beautiful but there wasn't a whole lot to do there if you didn't want to drop a bunch of money on sailboats or tours of some sort.  Our last day with the rental car - which I drove successfully on the left side of the road, by the way - we dove south along the west coast of Northland, saw a MASSIVE 2000 year old kauri tree ,and eventually got back to Auckland to couchsurf and begin planning for the next adventure.

DSCN2051.jpg
Adventure Crew

Posted by axcordion 19:44 Archived in New Zealand Tagged islands beach of walkway new sand bay zealand te dunes cape van reinga maria russel hitchhiking pandora paki diemen Comments (0)

(Entries 11 - 12 of 12) « Page 1 2 [3]