Around the North Island

Over a hundred days passed since I arrived to New Zealand. After the tough beginnings and twelve weeks of working in Tauranga, I’m ready to explore the surroundings. Me, my car and camera. All of us worked hard to make this worth it. Not everyone survived. Let me take you for a roadtrip Around the North Island.

Catch up with my New Zealand beginnings: New Zeal And Me

Day 107: Ready to head off. There were couple things to do before I forget an agony of ordinary days. I finished with my jobs in a motel and in a restaurant. Making beds and serving food, it was time to say goodbye to both. I got some little gifts from my coworkers but a real surprise waited me in the restaurant when the manager gave me a 50 dollars gas gift card saying it was a pleasure to have me there. A work effort is not always appreciated, but when it is it feels damn good. And extra fifty bucks in a backpacker’s pocket is a big deal in here. Two hostel nights, four beer sixpacks or ten Domino’s pizzas, you name it.

Anyway, before I left I signed up for an upcoming kiwifruit season in a packhouse, so despite my traveling plans I was going to come back to Tauranga and try to keep my restaurant job, too. I luckily managed to find a person for my caravan living and then escaped from paying a rent for next four weeks. That’s called a double win. I have the work and the place to stay assured when I get back. All set. The last thing to do was to hit the road.

Four weeks were in front of me. The last week of summer in February and three autumn weeks in March. I roughly planned the route through Coromandel Peninsula with its Pinnacles Walk, Northland all the way up to Cape Reinga, Taranaki region with the summit climb of its majestic mountain, Tongariro National Park and comeback from East Coast. Suprisingly it all happened. But it wouldn’t be a good roadtrip if there were no obstacles to overcome. The point was also to do it cheap, of course. So I cooked and slept in a tent at campsites and the most of the budget was supposed to be spent on gas.

map
(click on the picture to open the interactive map)

Day 109: Woods of Coromandel. My first kilometers led to the gates of Coromandel, its forests, picturesque valleys and chilled-out beaches. I explored forgotten mine railways and tunnels in Karangahake Gorge, hanged out with seagulls on empty Orokawa Bay beach, had a great coffee with a nice oceanview in Waihi Beach and drove further north. All in one day. I reminded myself how many different things you can do and how many different places you can see in a single day when traveling. Especially in New Zealand. Mother Nature must have been drunk when creating it. There is no other explanation for such a diversity of this land. Deep forests, greeny hills, plains with sheeps and cows, everything in a short reach from sandy beaches. The only thing messing around are clouds. It seems like you can touch them how low they are. And passing quickly playing hide-and-seek with the sun like kids in a kindergarten.

As soon as I parked the car at Puketui Valley campsite I turned suspicious. My Nissan Primera released a protesting amount of smoke from within. Judge me now, because when I was buying it I didn’t look under the bonnet. Well, there was simply no reason to do so since I had no clue about any car’s guts. Only after finding how in Japanese manual I opened the bonnet to see what happened. I didn’t see much but a nice couple that approached help me to fill a water in a radiator and calmed down my first doubts. We ended up having a dinner together with a nice conversation on all sorts of topics afterwards. They had a little daughter Naia. I don’t have much experiences with kids, precisely none, but Naia was so cute and easy-going that I couldn’t resist to get into playing with her. I found out that Ben, as a half-hippie and friendly English guy, revealed his name and story and Tui, his Vietnamese partner, have been traveling a lot. They met in Australia, lived in Germany, traveled New Zealand with plans for Asia. Managing all this with a little child. That’s called a travel freedom and spirit.

Next morning I had some doubts, but the car was running so I drove it to one of the North Island’s must-dos, Cathedral Cove in Hahei. And as expected, it wasn’t without the hordes of tourists as Google showed me. Quite nice place though. I wanted to reach the top of the peninsula that day but when I was going steeply uphill behind Coromandel Town I realized I won’t go further. In next few seconds I couldn’t see anything in front of me as a huge cloud of smoke came out of the car. Ups, I’m in the trouble. The scene couldn’t have looked better. In the middle of nowhere with a smoking car watching a beautiful sunset. At least some passing cars appeared and stopped. Two guys said they will come back to help me but when they didn’t show up within an hour I asked for the help from the next driver arriving. We found a hole in one of the radiator’s hoses which opened widely after the engine overheated in hills. The smoke was actually the steam of boiling water. When it was gone I could drive back downhill on neutral gear to the town as I was advised and find the nearest garage. What the hell I would do with a broken car in here? I’m glad that I will never know the answer. No garage was opened in the town that late so I found a cozy hostel instead.

Advice #1: Have a water with you. Cars also get thirsty.

Day 111: Stuck in Town. Only three days on the road and my vehicle was down. I had to wait two days for the car to be fixed while I tried to enjoyed it. I must say that Coromandel Town is one of the best places where to be stuck in. They have an awesome coffee shops, some easy walking tracks and sunny Long Bay beach. I paid 190 dollars for the new hose. I don’t have to be a car expert to know that I was ripped off. That’s why this unplanned stopover tasted at the end very bitter.

Day 113: Pinnacles Lesson. Full of energy I hit the road again towards Thames and Coromandel Forest Park. I decided to stay overnight at Pinnacles Hut right under the 759 meters high peak. During a three hours of steep hike, fueled by an anger from the car trouble, I was thinking about the idea that all we should own is what we can carry. Nothing more. Maybe it sounds too freaky but I’m pretty sure it would make a lot of people much happier, me included. I must declare that Pinnacles Walk is a must-do. I stood there on the peak that morning watching the great sunrise and felt like Simba when getting the great lesson from The Lion King. Everything you see exist together in a delicate balance. As a king, you need to understand that balance. We should respect the nature more for that beauty that it constantly delivers to us every morning, every night and between that.

Next stop: Cape Reinga. It was supposed to be a very long ride up north. But an unpredictable thing happened just before Auckland that I picked up a hitchhiker. He turned out to be a Czech guy and the ride didn’t seem that long anymore. Eventually we spent together three days, basically all Northland part of my trip. After that I dropped him off on the way back south at the same place where I first spotted him. Ondra was a real wanderer living out of a backpack now for two months with many hiking stories. We were both solo travelers but three days was an appropriate time we could cope with each other and enjoy the shared experience. On the way up we visited Whangarei, its falls and Abbey Caves. There, in flooded and dangerously empty Organ Cave, I saw glow worms for the first time. Just a beautiful moment to be surrounded by the darkest dark and see only these little worms glowing like stars on the night sky.

Advice #2: Pick up a hitchhiker.

Day 115: The Northernmost Hike. We finally arrived to the northernmost campsite Tapotupotu and on the next morning accomplished the northernmost hike to the cape. The morning mist held hills and the track covered long after the first sun rays appeared. We reached Cape Reinga for an early breakfast with no visitors around. Apart from the lovely lighthouse you also get to see a fierce meeting of western Tasman Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean. We then followed an unused track over the long empty beach to desert looking tip of Cape Maria van Diemen. I could imagine some beach resorts around. But luckily, no roads lead anywhere close so this place stays untouched only for those who get their ass out and walk at least ten kilometers through the sand and the bush.

The journey back to civilization towards Auckland was interrupted only once by greeting of mighty Tane Mahuta, one of the oldest trees on the world. I dropped Ondra off and arrived to Raglan for next two days to get some tan. I arranged a meeting with funny Kira, who I met during my first days in Mount Maunganui, and her boyfriend Max. Friendly German couple. We had a good time and went for a coffee. It was here when I seriously started to think about making a coffee as a desired skill to learn. There is the only special place to learn that in this country, it’s the coffee capital Wellington. I think that might be my next stop after the kiwifruit season. I don’t take a cup of coffee as a daily necessity, though it has been a pleasure along the most of my roadtrip days. Talking about coffee and pleasures made me realize that it’s time to get out of the comfort zone, too. The majestic mount Taranaki was waiting for me and I soon fell in love with her.

Day 118: Taranaki Summit. I woke up at 5am to walk up this 2518 meters high lady on heels. I struggled with a steep path. However, it took me just one hour to get above the clouds. What I witnessed then left me speechless. The sun showed up and was slowly rising above sliding pillows of clouds. Unreal, that is the word to describe what I saw at that moment. It was a strenuous hike, cold and dangerous. But on the top totally worth it. I got 360 degrees views on clouds, Tongariro peaks, Tasman sea and circle-shaped forest. Definitely the number one thing I’ve done in New Zealand so far. In some way, these kind of summit hikes reflect the way of life. Each step is not automatically easy and they even get harder and steeper. The motivation that the reward will be satisfying keeps you going. And when you get there, you know that every single step, however steep, was worth it and needed for your goal. My eyes and ears were so pleased by the beauty to see and the silence to hear.

I spent around my tall mountain mistress following days hiking and admiring its majesty from different angles. Later, I also explored the lighthouse at Cape Egmont on the west side and sat down with my book on the beach waiting for the sunset. I feel grateful for being here. Here, at this particular moment, at this particular time. Because there is no other place where to feel present. I think most of the people are waiting too long to feel alive. Some say they don’t have time for it, others that they need to do this or receive that first in order to feel such things. If I was one of them I would say something like sorry, but I’m busy today. Unfortunately, there is no tomorrow land. For me that’s the least visited place where all dreams fall apart. Today is the only thing we have. Today we act and today we feel. And as our old fellow Gandalf says all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

Advice #3: Make every moment count. Start today.

Day 123: Mordor. I moved to Tongariro National Park to make the moments count. On the second day of the track I walked into Mordor. It had been couple days since I wanted to get out of the comfort zone. That’s why I chose three-days Tongariro Northern Circuit track instead of the classic one-day Crossing. Despite a windy weather I climbed the peak of Mount Tongariro something below 2000 meters and then joined to other hikers in astonishing Emerald Lakes. The hike was long but beautiful. When I finished I didn’t feel my back so I took the rest in the hot water stream opened to public in Taupo two days later.

Day 126: Game Over. My trip was coming to the end. The time shortened due to the induction day in my packhouse work scheduled on 17th March (Day 132). There was only East Coast region to explore. I took another lucky hitchhiker from Taupo to Wairoa where I stopped for some groceries. Obviously I didn’t expect this was my last stop. The car’s battery died so I looked for the closest garage with nice mechanics to find out how much I’m gonna pay this time. The mechanic was a good guy and he tried to fix everything but he couldn’t get over a dodgy sound coming out from the car since I left Taupo. He unscrewed the engine’s head to look it up. Then, in a regretful tone, he told me that it’s all messed up and I shouldn’t expect more kilometers from this car. What happened next? Well, I packed all my stuff out of the car and said goodbye to it. Game over. Nissan didn’t survive. I just lost 1600 dollars. Although I remained with a smile on my face because I knew I now have a nice story to tell when it comes to who got in trouble when traveling talks. I think lady karma saw me smiling and smiled back. I was told that there is one recently sold car close in the garage’s Gisborne branch ready to be picked up for 800 dollars. Take it or leave it. I’ll need a car for work soon anyway, I’ll take it! The only problem was to somehow get to Gisborne as soon as possible. The bus timetable gave me a sad look so I tried to contact very few people I had met during my trip. It was the Swiss guy Oliver who saved me. We met at a campsite after my Taranaki summit climb couple days ago. Can you believe that he was just going from Taupo in Gisborne direction? He picked me up next morning from Wairoa’s holiday park where I spent the last depressing night in a tent with my backpacks and boxes which I got out of the broken car. Karma wants to give something back I thought. So on Friday at 4pm they told me that I just lost my vehicle and I felt bad butterflies in my stomach. On Saturday at 11am I was speeding up with a brand new, I mean a quarter century old, little Toyota Corolla on the highway. I’m back in game!

Oliver and I decided to do the hiking track around Lake Waikaremoana together. It was very generous from him what he had done for me and it was something that can be hardly paid back. We must meet again. Sunny Saturday got even better when we passed two American girls Katie and Catherine who looked kind of lost so they joined us even though they were going in other direction when we bumped into them. As total strangers we enjoyed each other’s company and a dinner at Mokau campsite by the lake. It was a great match so we went all together for the hike next morning, too. I intended to do the whole three-days track unlike Oliver and girls who wanted to catch up with their tight travel plans. We said warm goodbyes and split up. It’s interesting how one can be blessed by people who I know less than 24 hours but by people who are on the same vibe. I accustomed myself to walk alone again and kept thinking about the deep Catherine’s thought. We all don’t know what are we doing, I just know that I’m coming to myself and I like to feel that.

Advice #4: Always smile to karma. She smiles back.

Day 130: Back in Wairoa. I wasn’t really done with karma yet. More precisely, she wasn’t done with me. On the way back from the lake I had to pass Wairoa again. However, right on the first hill behind the town my new Toyota overheated and I couldn’t drive it further. I walked into the same garage as five days ago to receive funny comments from all mechanics. My story with the broken Nissan became popular among them. After all, it was still sitting at their carpark. They helped me again. You can guess what part needed to be replaced. Radiator hoses. I had to wait until next day and paid 350 dollars for all the work and parts. Now without a smile. Ah, my dear karma, I can’t wait to start hitchhiking. That was it. I had enough and drove back straight to Tauranga that day and lay on the beach. Then I went through my pictures and memories and realized it was all damn worth it!

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