Thursday, April 4, 2013

New Zealand Part 1 - The North Island

All good things come to an end eventually. We’re back home after what turned out to be one of the best trips we ever had as a family. It all started on a sunny Saturday afternoon in March. With our gear and kids in toe, we headed to the airport for our 14 hour flight to Auckland.

Surprisingly, the flight didn't feel all that long; we arrived in Auckland early morning. New Zealand is very strict on imports, as in fruits, pests, etc… they check everything! Hiking boots, tires, luggage… so be prepared, clean everything very well, and don’t bring any fruits with you as the fines are bloody expensive. After finally passing through customs, on to our connecting flight to Wellington we went.

In Wellington we were greeted by a longtime friend. We haven’t seen each other for a long time, but it felt like it was just yesterday we were having beers together; when you have good friends, it’s for life. I’ll spare you all the details, but after all the hugs and seeing our godchildren, who are now four years older, I was a bit emotional.

After catching up and resting a bit in Wellington, we get things really going with a trip up to Lake Taupo. The drive there was beautiful, the coast line, volcanos… the landscape changed so much in such short distances, you didn't have a chance to get bored. Lake Taupo is the biggest lake in New Zealand. We were treated with warm water and sunny skies - perfect place for the kids and the perfect spot for me to go on my first kiwi ride, guilt free!

Waihaha track was my first ride; the trail starts at the highway and basically follows the Waihaha River. The trail is all single track, going through, at times, dense bush and dense podocarp forest. Once at the hut you can either go on or go back the way you came. The trail (or track as the kiwis call it) is a gentle grind up with some short steep technical up hills. Some sections were a bit overgrown, but as a whole the trail was 100% rideble.

The real fun is on the way back. All those steep technical ups are now sweet downs and at times, airs. What a great introduction to kiwi trails and what is to come. I predict (quite correctly it turns out) that if it’s all like this, I’m going to have a hard time going back home! Total time was around 3 hours, with 20 km out and back.

For the next few days I park the bike and put on the hiking boots (I know… I was forced to do it at gun point I swear!). It was well worth it because the whole family loved it. Our hike at Tongario national park was the highlight for me and a good test to see if the kids had what it takes for eventually more challenging and difficult hikes. I must say, they did very well; my oldest had no problem whatsoever and the young one (she’s only four) complained only a few times that she was tired - not bad. Hot springs, beaches, boat rides and volcanoes filled the rest of our time in and around Taupo - everything to keep the whole family occupied.

Ride number two, the Great Lake Trails and the W2K track, an approximate 25 km loop on an amazingly smooth trail. The trail is so smooth you can play billiards on it! Remember I’m from the North Shore and smooth is not something we have much of. Climbing trails like this feels almost like cheating. As you’re looking at the stunning views, you don’t realize how much vertical you've just gained. It’s the perfect trail to bring beginners/intermediate riders with you, while being extremely enjoyable for the advanced ones.

These trails are two-way, so be careful on the way down! It’s all too easy to go fast and being from North America, I’m not used to this whole 'stick to the left' thing. Needless to say, I had a few close calls, so to the front Jimmy went! Now following, I could relax; follow my mate's wheel and cruise back home with the mandatory manuals thrown in for fun.

A New Zealand trip can’t be complete without a Hobbit dose, and being a fan and fairly close to Hobbiton, we had to go. It’s definitely a tourist thing but not so much that it gets annoying (as some American tourist traps are). It has something for everyone - kids and adults alike, and is a good way to waste a day in middle earth – a must for all Lord Of The Rings fans.

Back to Wellington with time to enjoy this wonderful city. It's very easy to get around by foot as it’s fairly compact and has a few surprises, so keep your eyes open. For me the jewel is the botanical gardens. To get there, take the cable car from downtown, which drops you off in the middle of it. It's kind of strange, one minute you're in the heart of the city and the next, you're in the middle of what seems to be the Garden of Eden. Once in the park you can walk back down towards downtown through its lush vegetation. Such a wonderful place.

Well that's it for now, stay tuned for part 2: "The South Island"

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic Nick! So thrilled you guys had such a great travel adventure. Inspiring! Sue M. Kelowna.