10/25/18 – Kia Ora!

While checking in at the Melbourne airport for my flight to New Zealand, I was told I needed a return ticket. I went on Expedia and hastily booked a ticket out of Auckland, chose the arbitrary date of December 15 and picked the first flight on the list, with the intention of cancelling as soon as I checked in. But when I tried to cancel, I realized it was non-refundable ticket, with no 24h grace period. I guess that will be an incentive to finish my cycling trip before that date. However, it is quite hard to predict how long it will take me to cycle 3000km, and after experiencing the hilly Great Ocean Road a few days ago, I think it will be a very, very tight deadline.
I finally arrived in Auckland at 5 in the morning, after much scrutiny: passport control officials had difficulty recognizing my passport photo (no beard) and the dirt from my tent was tested for “alien life”. After the usual slow car rental process, I hit the road.

I headed towards Mount Maunganui, one of the few sites I wanted to see but would otherwise miss while cycling. The first couple of hours driving was a bit stressful, driving an SUV on the “wrong” side of the road with little sleep. I was constantly turning the wipers instead of turn signals. I eventually got used to it. I ended the day in Rotorua.

In the morning, I drove to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland for its hot springs and pools of boiling mud. Lady Knox geyser spewed boiling water right on cue, to the delight of numerous spectators. I spent the rest of the day chilling on Lake Taupo.

Acting on a friend’s suggestion, I decided to hike the Tangariro Alpine Crossing, a 20km trek through the volcanic terrain of the active Mount Tangariro volcano. I started the hike early. The first few kilometers were fairly easy, but it soon became steep and a bit strenuous. Around one of the craters, I was hiking in snow, at times sinking knee deep. By the time I got back onto the rocky surface my shoes were soaked. Another hike up and I arrived at the highest point of the trek. It was all downhill from there, it, however, wasn’t any easier. It was worth the effort though. From the start to the end, the views were stunning: from black lava rocks on the west side, to snow capped peaks, to blue and emerald lakes in the craters, to lush vegetation on the north side. It was very enjoyable experience. Thank you, Katja!

I finished my sightseeing blitz at Coromandel Peninsula. It’s a big area to cover, so I only chose a few landmarks. Cathedral Cove didn’t disappoint: views were stunning, weather was gorgeous. I spent a couple of hours there and even took a dip in the ocean.

Next was Hot Water Beach. It was a funny spectacle: from afar, I thought a bunch of people were building sand castles, but instead they were digging holes to make “hot tubs” filled with hot water oozing from underneath the sand.

On my way back to Auckland, I I detoured to Waiau Kauri Grove. That’s where the real fun began. It was a winding gravel road. I missed the parking and tried to back up. With the steering wheel on the “wrong” side it was very uncomfortable and the car slid into a deep ditch. It almost rolled over. I got out through the passenger side window. I was in such a state of WTF-just-happened, I didn’t take any pictures. Luckily, a Good Samaritan hooked my car to his truck and pulled it out. I had a big sigh of relief.

Next, I will spent a few days in Auckland, then off to the north of Northerland to start my cycling tour!

These days in numbers:

35 km – distance cycled
144 – named islands that make up New Zealand
19.4 km – length of Tangariro Alpine Crossing
5h 25m – time it took me to do the crossing