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New Zealand

2018-12-23

For winter vacation I took a trip to New Zealand. I had a wonderful time and definitely recommend the journey. Here's where I went.

12/23✈ Haneda → Guangzhou
I didn't know New Zealand had such wonderful geography until the Lord of the Rings movie came out. So then I wanted to visit, but it's relatively far from everything and relatively expensive, too. Fortunately, the December-January airline prices are reasonable, and that's summer in New Zealand. I also read online that there are a great many decent quality campsites for $15 a night, and car rentals are reasonably priced as long as you book them months early. So I got the ticket, reserved the rental car, and spent ten minutes reading the Internet to plan the whole thing.
12/24✈ Guangzhou → Auckland
My lack of planning paid off, in a way. Apparently I had reserved the car a day later than I planned to, so that gave me some time to kill in Auckland. But hey, no worries, it's not like I had anywhere I had to be. I spent a few hours looking at maps and some guy's favorite North Island hikes list.
🏨 ibis Budget Auckland Airport Hotel
12/25I walked around Mangere until the car rental was ready. It was on-and-off rain all day. In the evening I got to the campsite but still it was raining. Around 8PM, the rain mostly stopped, so I got the tent set up and went inside, and the rain picked back up again. There was a severe wind advisory, and mine was the only tent in the campground... Actually it turns out there were other people, and I was just camping in the wrong area in the park but didn't find out until the following day, presumably because the ranger decided not to worry about it when the weather was in a funk.
⛺ Te Haruhi Bay Campground
12/26I contemplated driving far north but changed my mind and instead drove around the Mangawhai Heads area. The steep grassy hills and roads without cars are reminiscent of NE Thailand. In the afternoon I walked and ran and swam in Shakespear Regional Park, where the campground is. This is quite the spot for kiteboarding. It's cool how those people can carve turns and get big air.
⛺ Te Haruhi Bay Campground
12/27I drove several hours in the morning. In the afternoon, I went for a day hike up to the Pinnacles. One can go all the way to the top, but my start was late, and my speed was slow, so I got to the viewpoint, enjoyed the view, ate a New Zealand apple and a granola bar, and headed back down. In the late afternoon, I drove NE to the campground. This road is twisty, windy, all kinds of turns. Plus, it's heavily crowned gravel for a few dozen kilometers. I can't imagine it'd be much fun in the rain ... which is slightly foreboding, perhaps, because the weather forecast shows rain in two days.
⛺ Waikawau Bay Campground
12/28The campground water supply requires purification. I haven't used this jar of iodine in many years but it's up for the task. The other day at the grocery store I had bought some expensive instant coffee, so I made a cup of it, which tasted bad but not nearly as bad as cheap instant coffee, and ate a peanut butter sandwich. There's good bread all over the place here, and peanut butter sandwiches are suitable for any meal. In the late morning, I went out on a three-hour hike, Matamataharekeke Hike. It started from the back of the campground, went out along the river valley, up to a high overview of the mountains and beaches and ocean, and then followed the ridge down, ending at the campground. In the afternoon I went to the beach and swam in the ocean and sat in the sun for a while. Sunburn is a concern, so after a while I headed back to the car, with a quick stop at the beach-side shower to get clean.
⛺ Waikawau Bay Campground
12/29In the morning I went to Cathedral Cove, a neat rock arch down by the sea. It rained a little walking down to the cove at the beach, but nobody seemed worried about it. Neither was I. On the other hand, sunlight is a concern because I shaved my head the other week and it's easy to get sunburned if I get careless. It's been years since I burned the top of my head, and it sucked then, so let's assume it'd be about as bad now. Anyway, after checking out the arch I headed south to a small town that had a hotel room available, checked in, took a shower, and shaved. My scraggly beard growth was at that itchy length, and it looked fairly splotchy. Also, there's a laundromat nearby, so I washed all of my clothes.
🏨 Katikati Motel
12/30It took about two hours to drive to this campsite. It's a no-reservations site, so I wanted to get here early. This is up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. What a nice location. The water supply is the nearby stream, but I brought a few large bottles of water so there's no need for iodine just yet. In the afternoon I drove down some gravel roads. The economy-class rental car is totally unsuitable for the bumps and potholes — this brings back memories of damaging the axles on my Mazda Demio back in Akita years ago — but hey, better a rental car than one you own, and anyway that's why I bought the expensive insurance package. In the end, the car didn't break, and I got to the trailhead, and climbed to the top of Mount Pureora. The view from the top was a scenic 360 degree panorama.
⛺ Kakaho Campsite
12/31Skydive Taupo. This was totally awesome. Several of my students who studied abroad in New Zealand did skydiving when they were here, and I felt like, hey, maybe I should try that, too. The location is part of the experience. Here, we took off from an airport in Taupo and on the ride up and the fall down, we had great views of Lake Taupo, the ocean far to the east, and the mountains near to the south. This dive started at 15,000 feet, and they open the parachute at 5,000 feet. The guy let me handle the controls for a minute; that was pretty neat, too. The free fall itself is neat because the stomach turning sensation, the Oh hey, I'm falling right now. feeling goes away when you hit terminal velocity. But you're still going super fast, and it's exciting as hell, and you could yell but nobody could hear you over the wind anyways. There's time enough to look around, to look down, to feel like, Hey, I'm going down there, really fast. Very cool stuff. In the afternoon, I went for a hike from Spa Park, near Taupo, down the river an hour to Huka Falls. On the return, I went for a swim at Spa Park. There's a hot spring creek that flows into the stream, and it was a little crowded, but I got to cool off and take a quick bath.
⛺ Kakaho Campsite
1/1The Tongariro Crossing is a highly recommended 20 km day hike, and now I know why. The scenery is mostly desolate — a volcano that was used for Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings, plus several steam vents and some alpine lakes that look like they're sitting on top of steam vents, considering the light blue and yellow and white colors here and there. According to a guide website, the hike itself is usually quite crowded, and I had fears it'd be an ant march like Mt. Fuji, but actually the people were much more reasonable in number. After a nice hike, it was a two-hour drive to the campsite. This campsite has hot showers. I didn't bring any shampoo, so I used dish soap to wash my hair ... although my hair is very short, so it doesn't really matter.
⛺ Otorohanga Motor Camp
1/2The Waitomo Glowworm Caves is a pretty cool place, first because it's a cave so the temperature inside is well that outside, and second because the glowworms are kind of magical in appearance. This cave has some stalactites and stalagmites and columns and whatnot, but the reason to come is to see the little blueish greenish glowing dots on the roof of the cavern.
⛺ Otorohanga Motor Camp
1/3The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour is a fun stop if you liked the books or the movies. Peter Jackson and his crew made a spectacular village for the Lord of the Rings, it was abandoned for a decade, and then they re-made it for The Hobbit, after which it opened for tours.
⛺ Otorohanga Motor Camp
1/4The last day is a half day. In the morning I drove up to Ngarunui Beach near Raglan. It was windy and appropriately filled with hundreds of surfers. After a relaxing break on the beach, I drove north, back to Auckland Airport for the flight home.
✈ Auckland → Guangzhou
1/5✈ Guangzhou → Haneda

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