Posted by: The Trails Less Traveled | July 10, 2017

New Zealand Dec 2016

Tongariro Circuit Day 3 to Waihohonu Hut

Usually when I travel anywhere I can point out at least one or two negative things but with New Zealand there is nothing…what a great country and great people too. The land of rugby, dairy, grass fed beef, world class hiking, I can keep going on and on. The history of the native Maori is pretty fascinating and the it’s such a beautiful country although a lot of the land has now been converted into pastures. I can only imagine how thick with lush green flora and exotic fauna  it must have been prior to mankind’s predictable impact and alteration of landscape.

Tongariro Circuit Day 2 to Oturere Hut

I am lucky to have a Kiwi friend Tori from New Zealand that I met on the Warmshowers site, a fellow cycling tour aficionado who comes from a lineage of bad asses. I hosted him while he was cycling the Pan-American route southbound from Canada to the tip of South America. His trip report is found here. We also did a cross country non-stop road trip called the C2C Express together. The C2C is inspired by the original Cannonball runs that took place back in the 70’s. It took us 42 hours 15 minutes of non-stop driving from NYC to Redondo Beach in an awesome big block V8 Chevy Van 30…the thing is a brick that consumes gas like there’s a hole in the gas tank. Anyway he had always told me how great of a country it was and the Lord of the Rings was filmed there so I had to check this place out. I found a Air NZ flight to Auckland in early December for under $900 so that was that.

Tongariro Circuit Day 2 to Oturere Hut

On the way there I fell ill, not sure if it was a flu or I ate something crappy…anyway the flight there was just me sleeping off a shitty sickness. On the same flight with me was Andy Ruiz Jr. who I was totally unaware of his stature at the time. He was fighting Kiwi Joseph Parker for the WBO heavyweight belt the same time I was visiting. It was  a pretty big deal in NZ. Anyway I landed still feeling shitty, met Tori and his awesome girlfriend Sally and they took me to their place in Papakura which is a little south of Auckland. I only had a full week and the main plan was to hike the Tongariro Circuit and road trip around while stopping by Tori’s hometown on the way back. I spent a night at Tori and Sally’s place and felt much better the following day.

Mitsubishi with a 3.8 Buick transplant

We loaded up on supplies at the local grocery stores around Papakura and then headed to Hamilton in Tori’s Mitsubishi pickup to pick up extra camping supplies. Fonterra is the state run dairy co-op, and they have a big processing facility there…other than that it’s got a nice mall and such. I also exchanged cash, which to my delight was a good exchange rate of 1.5 NZD to 1 USD. I can go on and on about the superior quality of the food and meat, but for time’s sake I will just recommend that you try real NZ milk, grass fed burger, meat pies with an s because one won’t satisfy, fijoa yogurt, any yogurt actually and if you’re adventurous try some Marmite. And don’t be surprised that they keep eggs in regular grocery aisles…they don’t wash the shells in NZ so they stay fresh longer than the eggs sold in the U.S.

Marmite...a Kiwi thing

I realized that NZ North Island is very hilly and for that reason the roads are never that straight for too long, it is very curvy and up and down the further away you go from the main towns…and there aren’t many main towns to begin with. And everything is so green. The first stop was at Waitomo where they have caves and other cool things to do…it was a real touristy place with lots of adventure tour buses and whatnot. Being cheap travelers that we are, we stuck to the freebie sightseeing stuff around the area. I also tried a McDonalds NZ special grass fed burger which was delicious. We got to Tongariro National Park in the afternoon and started our hike to the first hut. I am very impressed with the NZ conservation agency that runs all the public lands. The park and trails were very well run, trails are maintained well and the hut system is awesome although I prefer a tent…it’s still nice to have a sink and a stove inside a shelter when weather goes south.

Tongariro Circuit Day 1 to Mangatepopo Hut

The Tongariro Circuit is probably one of the most popular circuits for tramping (it’s not called hiking when you’re in NZ). I suppose it’s because of the famous Mount Ngauruhoe which I still can’t pronounce correctly to this day which is also known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings. You need to get reservations in advance for the huts/tent sites on the circuit. The trails are clearly marked with posts every 30 yards or so I’d say and with lots of signs…Tori says it’s to prevent tourists from getting lost and having to dispatch SAR which can add up. One of the issues NZ conversation agency is facing is the rising costs of visitors in their parks which is understandable…the cost of air lifting out tons of shit from the remote outhouses, for example, can get very expensive. That and the overall impact we inconsiderate humans have on the environment.

Tongariro Circuit Day 1 to Mangatepopo Hut

Day 1 was a half day spent hiking to the first hut. So these huts are manned by rangers and they like to round you up nightly and give a little talk on the history and stuff which is pretty cool. Most of the NZ history prior to the European settlers are about the Maori warriors fighting and eating their opponents. Day 2 was the big day as we hiked up the volcano and got some really nice photos during the break between the clouds. The hike is all loose scree so it’s kind of sketchy at times because rocks come flying down the mountain from the people tramping above you. The view from the top is pretty epic and there are steam vents here and there which is interesting to see. I felt bad for one Irish couple who took a nice photo of Tori and me because by the time they asked us for a photo of them in return, the clouds began to roll in and it ruined their photo opportunity.

Tongariro Circuit Day 2 to Oturere Hut

This part of the circuit is also the heaviest with day tourists because it is the most scenic with volcanic lakes and calderas…luckily the crowds thin out after we left this section behind. The hut we stayed at during Day 2 was in a very nice area with a waterfall and creek nearby with great views of the  surrounding volcanoes and mountains. Day 3 was a short hike that had us descending into forest which has so far avoided being destroyed by the volcano. We were there by noon and there wasn’t much to do other than checking out a nearby cold spring and a historic old hut.

Tongariro Circuit Day 3 to Waihohonu Hut

The spring was super cold and I had planned on jumping in but I wussed out. It rained and stayed overcast a bit from the afternoon to the evening. Day 4 was the last day of the circuit which was the longest section. There’s a nice volcanic lake on the way and you pass through boggy muddy terrain for some of the parts. There is also a really nice waterfall towards the end of the trail. Tori ran into his old school teachers there…he tells me it’s a NZ thing to run into people you know since it’s a pretty close knit country.

Taranaki Falls Day 4 hike back to Whakapapa Village

After we hiked out we headed to Lake Taupo and for some reason I was craving KFC so we ate a ton of fried chicken when we got into town. Tori found a nice hotel that was cheap but accidentally booked it on the wrong date online. Luckily the hotel staff were very nice and helped us fix the error. It felt good to clean up after 4 days of no showers. We wanted to cook steaks for dinner but the public grills at the parks weren’t working and they took my money so I said screw it and we bought some charcoal and a mini grill. We found a place to chill right by the shoreline of the lake and although it took forever to cook the steak because of my poor charcoal starting skills, it was pretty damn good when it finally was done. Lake Taupo is a weekend getaway area for Kiwis so there’s lots of things to do and places to eat/drink/etc. It was quite crowded but not overly crowded.

Lake Taupo

The following day was road trip day as we first drove to Huka Falls which is a massive rushing waterfall.

Huka Falls

Next we stopped at Wai-o-tapu which has a bunch of cool volcanic sights like geysers and boiling mud pits. We stopped at a super nice hot spring creek which was amazing…it started to rain while we were soaking in the creek surrounded by lush forest. The beauty of it all was unexplainable.

Waiotapu Kerosene Creek

We continued on past several towns and lakes on the way to Opatiki, Tori’s hometown. He had always told me it was pretty rural and indeed it was, but what a nice area…close to the beach and still a lot of untouched native bush and rivers. We spent the day lounging at Tori’s parent’s house. Tori’s dad Trevor runs marathons for fun…he is a bad ass. The following day we headed to a track that leads into a beautiful river gorge thick with native bush. It was raining so everything was wet, but it didn’t matter. One section of the track was kind of wiped out from a land slide, but we were able to walk over the new mud debris flow that covered the old track. Invasive species are a big problem here in NZ so hunting seems to be quite popular here for boar and such.

Pakihi Track

We left Tori’s truck at the start of the trail head and his dad left his at the end. The plan was to pick up the truck after we finished tramping and then pick up his dad who planned to run only 30 km or so…we took longer than expected so he ended up just running and running until he was pretty much almost home. So we turned back and headed to the start of the trail again to pick up Tori’s truck we left there. We came back soaked completely but it was an amazing experience.

Horses on the road near Pakihi Track

That night we watched the Parker vs Ruiz fight on TV and Parker won so NZ was happy. The following day we said farewell to Tori’s pop and headed up the coast. We stopped at Whakatane which is another beautiful place along the coast…we also stopped at Tauranga which is a cool hip beach town popular with Kiwis.

Pakihi Track big slip we crossed

Continuing on we passed through forested areas which has totally been converted into logging forests…logging is a major industry in NZ. We had a few more meat pies on the road before finally arriving back to Papakura. That night we went out to eat for a farewell dinner at a restaurant. It was kind of weird because you are seated but then you have to get up and order your food and then they will bring it to you. I guess it’s good because you don’t have to tip them but yea, anyway that was the trip in a nutshell.

Pakihi Track

On the way home there was 9 hour layover in Fiji which is something I would avoid next time around…there isn’t anything to see really around the airport area and the country is still pretty undeveloped except for the tourist hotels. It was super humid there. I just hired a taxi guy to drive me around and I got to try some really good Indian curry…Indians make up a major population of Fiji, they came over to work in the sugar canes during the colonial era. Nothing super cool there to see in my opinion, although I hear the outlying islands are much prettier.

Nadi Fiji layover

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