Snippets from New Zealand (Part 1)

The fact that I visited New Zealand ten months ago is shocking. The fact that only now am I sharing my photos from my time there is alarming. Sometimes I do this thing where I work so hard on my client work that I forget that I have other images I need and want to edit. Finally however, I've managed to power through my files and release these into the wild (yay!).

I wanted to compile these photos into a couple of blog posts for you guys as I felt like they were too good to get dusty on my hard drives. And let's be honest, I can't share all of these on Instagram! I'm really bad a keeping a travel journal so I tend to write short snippets of words about how I'm feeling in the moment or what I did during the day in my Notes app on my phone. The writing that I've included in this post is taken from there so the tense does jump from being present to past quite a bit. Hopefully you can keep up!

If you somehow managed to miss it, I did a small vlog series in New Zealand which you can watch here. For those of you who have already had a little peek at my videos, some of these locations will look a little familiar. 

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Day 01 5/12/16

What. A. Day. 

Ever since I looked out of the window of the plane last night, nothing has felt real. Nothing. I don't know what I expected of Auckland and the far north, but it has exceeded all expectations. Auckland is the child of Sydney and Hawaii, so lush and dense in greenery whilst sitting perfectly on a turquoise blue bay. Beyond Auckland, rolling hills stretch far back as the eye can see, pine plantations are mixed with dense tropical-looking forest. Everything is an electric shade of green and you're either driving up a hill or down one. Flat land does not exist here. I had to take a moment multiple times today because everything felt so surreal. 

But it wasn't all smooth sailing, in fact the whole fiasco with the car hire really caught me off guard (you can see more about that here), but it also worked out for the best, I hope. 

Whangarei Falls were glorious. It was 26 degrees and I could have jumped in the water had I been dressed for it. I climbed over rocks to sit underneath the tumbling water, cooling off the the light mist that was drifting upwards as the Falls pounded the river below. The light was soft, the air was fresh and I was truly happy. 

Uretiti beach is a different place. It feels out of this world. The islands that are spearing out of the water, the pastel sunset and the white beach. I never want to leave this campsite. 

I am feeling really safe. This morning made me feel uneasy and it took me a while to find my feet, but I'm feeling confident now that this trip will truly be life changing. 

Day 02 6/12/16

I slept so well last night. It was a combination of the ocean air and being completely knackered. I got up to drive back towards Auckland and stopped at a McDonalds to work and find accommodation for tonight. No success. Everything was booked. Even Couchsurfing sucked. 

I visited the Auckland gallery and discovered a new photographer, Ann Shelton. I loved her use of colour and how she brought to life seemingly boring objects. Her work was diverse in both medium and subject which resonated with me.

I ventured to Starbucks in Auckland city for dinner. It was bustling with tourists and it felt weird to be there alone. Afterwards, I climbed Mt Eden - an old crater just outside of the CBD. The views were amazing and the sunset took my breath away. I made friends with a bunch of backpackers from all over the world and spied a couple of lovers enjoying the sunset in the grass. While I was taking a time lapse of the city, a boy asked if he could kiss me and I said no. It wasn't because he was unattractive at all, in fact, quite the opposite. I just didn't want to ruin my moment and didn't feel like it was necessary. I'll probably never see him again. But it was nice to know that he thought I was cute even though I haven't showered in 3 days (lol).

Day 04 8/12/16

I met up with Josh - a traveller from California who I met within the hour after landing in Auckland. We scaled Mt Maunganui in Tauranga. I drove an hour over a mountain pass to make it to the seaside town. Of course, the usual track to the summit was closed so instead we hiked up a 4x4 trail that was definitely not made to be easy on your legs. I turned a crispy shade of red tomato as I forgot to slap on sunscreen before I left my hostel. 

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Day 05 9/12/16

Tipped off by the owners of my hostel in Matamata, I took a slight detour on my way to Rotorua to some blue springs. Nestled in literally the middle of nowhere (I had to check Google maps several times to ensure I was indeed on the right road), a pure blue river snaked between tall trees with ferns of all colours settled below the surface. It was cold for December and drizzling, but it kind of made everything seem even more magical. I carefully stepped down off the path to snap a photo from the water level and slid down the slope on some loose ground. Mud covered my leg, my camera rolled out of my hands and almost fell into the water. In a panic, I quickly snapped my photo and promised myself that I wouldn't venture off the path here again.

Rotorua smells like rotten eggs. My friends tell me it's the sulphur levels. I'm utterly confused as to why someone would even live here? There's steam rising from street gutters and through fences of houses. I wonder what it must be like to live under a hotbed of volcanic activity. It was pouring when I arrived and thus decided that this town was not for me. I stocked up on supplies (mostly peanut butter cookies and tzatziki chips) and headed to a redwoods forest to hike through. 

12 kilometres of hiking along damp grounds and listening to techno later, I decided to drive onwards to Taupo, steam was still rising out of the ground in sporadic amounts. The main Taupo camping site was already filled by the time I arrived, so I found a quiet dock just outside of the main city and set up camp for the night, hoping no one noticed me freeloading.

Day 06 10/12/16

I woke up alarmingly early. The rain from overnight had caused mist to sneak in across the lake and I sat in the backseat of my car to watch the city lights slowly turn on as everyone wakes for the day. After a morning coffee and social media update at McDonalds, of course, I ventured to Huka Falls, choosing to take the long way around to the waterfall to waste more time, and to enjoy some of the natural hot springs of the area. As it's still early, the mist is rising through the morning sun and everything is hazy and perfect. Two girls were bathing in the hot springs as I walk past.

Fun fact: Huka Falls powers 30% of the entire country of New Zealand. I spent a while thinking about that fact as I watched millions of litres of water rush over. I also thought about how dangerous/fun it would be to kayak along there. 

After lunch in the park, I headed to Craters of the Moon, the only volcanic touristy activity I'm allowing myself to pay for while I stay here. After much research, I decided that all of the other activities were over priced and too gimmicky for me. I pay my $8 to walk through a very active sulphuric field. Gas and steam rise through cracks in the earth that delve deep into the core. The terrain looks like something from a sci-fi film. 

It was hot now, and a friend on Twitter tipped me off about a few more remote swimming spots along Lake Taupo. I took a stab in the dark and arrived at a deserted beach on the west side of the lake - I even had to drive through a field of free roaming sheep to get to it. I could see the volcanoes in the distance as I sunbathed and splashed in the water listening to Bon Iver.

My brother is in Taupo at the moment as well. He's travelling on a Contiki tour and we joked about crossing paths on our trips. I watched his crew sail away onto the lake for a booze cruise while I ran along the lake at sunset. 

Day 07 11/12/16

I wake up and head to McDonalds for an early morning toilet run and coffee before I head off to hike the Tongariro Crossing!! I am inundated with messages from my brother, it turns out that he jumped into the lake three times with his passport in his pocket. I couldn't stop laughing.

The drive to Tongariro is an hour away and I have to be there by 7:30am to catch my shuttle bus to the beginning of the trail. I'm nervous. I fiddle with my hands, and worry that I'm not experienced enough to tackle this trail alone. Not to mention, the bus driver gives us a pessimistic pep talk before we all get off the bus. It's a poor weather day. I have avoided this trail for the last few days in Taupo because the weather was bad, but today is particularly poor. It's windy, a chance of rain - perhaps even a storm. We're told not to attempt to summit Mt Tongariro or Mt Ngauruhoe.

The trail is hard. Harder than anything I've ever done before. I link up with two English backpackers and we joke about a sign detailing to us what to do in the event of a volcanic eruption. Oh, did I mention this hike is through two active volcanoes? The scenery is beyond anything I've ever seen. I scramble up to a ridge through tumbling volcanic rock. There is no real path here, it's more of a put your foot on a rock and hope for the best kind of scenario. 

We reach the top of the summit of the Red Crater. It's just under 2000m tall - the tallest point I've ascended to so far on Earth, and I had to climb over a 1000 metres up to get here. The winds are so strong I loose my footing and fall over a few times, a little too close to the edge of the crater for my liking. Luckily, Dan, a New Yorker who I met walking, was there to help me up. Honestly, I'm still convinced that Dan only decided to walk with me because he was concerned for my personal safety and not because he enjoyed my conversation.

Many hours later, I'm back in Taupo. I felt exhausted from the hike to the point where I even doubted that I could drive back to town. Thank god I did, however, as the night I was about to have would be one for the memory books.

After a nap and a quick message to my brother to see if I could steal a shower at his hotel (I couldn't, he had already left Taupo for Rotorua), I ventured back to McDonalds to upload some of my hiking photos. I sat next two two guys, Matt and Corry, who seemed friendly enough, this reading was mostly inspired by the fact that they were eating kids meals. We start chatting and it turns out they are cycling their way around New Zealand. I was fascinated by their stories and we exchanged Instagrams with the hope that we might cross paths later on. After Matt and Corry left to find a camping spot for the night, a blonde German girl, Hannah, came and sat next to me. She was also living out of a van and touring the country alone for several months.

An hour of chatting later,  she invited me to a hostel where one of her friends were staying. A night of drinking and socialising was on the cards, but all I could think about was having a shower. After a 19.5km hike, you'd better believe that I was in need of one. Hannah's friend leant me her key and I snuck up into the hostel shower, even though I wasn't a guest, and washed off all the dirt and mud from the day's adventures. I rejoined the group out on the balcony. Beers and cider were being poured for all and we each received a wrist band for a local club that entitled us to half-priced drinks. Tipsy and excited for the night, we all wandered down to the bar. I was deep in conversation with a girl named Ashley from Canada who wanted to be a photographer. We dance late into the morning and cover each other in paint and glitter in between shots of vodka.

Day 08 11/12/16

The drive to Wellington was long and arduous. 5 hours of beautiful scenery, small country towns that are thriving and stops at farmers markets for fresh goodies. I arrive at my Airbnb in the late hours of the afternoon after a heart-attack inducing drive through Wellington CBD (hills + narrow streets + a rental car = scary). My room overlooks the bay, with french doors leading to a sun drenched balcony. My host, whose name is also Carolyn, made me muesli and I sit on the balcony and edit wedding photos from a job a few weeks earlier. 

Wellington is like Melbourne, good coffee and great burgers. I visited the art gallery and avoid the rain outside. Cindy Sherman is showing and her work is even more mesmerising in person. I have dinner with Alice, who interviewed me on her blog many years ago, at a little tapas place along the bay. It's amazing to break the barrier and meet online friends in real life. I catch up on work, my washing and shower approximately 5 times in 2 days. I could live in Wellington. 

travelCarolyn West