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February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, N.Z.)

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So Long, South Island...

I left the small port town of Hokitika the next morning and continued driving on winding Highway 6, slowly snaking my way up the west coast.  At Westport, I headed inland and drove along the Buller River Canyon for about an hour, then headed over to Nelson Lakes National Park where, this being a Friday afternoon, I was expecting to see huge crowds and a packed campground. 

 

I was surprised, however, to find only a handful of folks in the park and a campground that was mostly empty, so I enjoyed a pleasant night there while camping near Lake Rotoiti.  It felt good to get some use out of the folding chair, water jug and sleeping pad that I'd bought in Auckland a month earlier, now that I've toted that stuff all over New Zealand.  Nelson Lakes is a nice park something like Glacier National Park in Montana, with snowcapped mountains, pretty alpine-like lakes, and a great Visitor Center with a friendly staff. 

 

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Above left:  Driving north on the West Coast.  Ferns like these are just about everywhere in New Zealand, and some are taller than houses.

Above center:  Pancake Rocks viewpoint at Paparoa National Park.

Above right:  This is why they call them Pancake Rocks.  Neither scientists nor Aunt Jemima know how they formed.

 

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Above left:  Highway 6 on the coast... and yet more ferns.

Above right:  A tight squeeze.  Compared to the U.S., the roads in New Zealand are really narrow (though most are wider than this one) and very winding.  It can take all day just to drive 200 miles.  That's one reason New Zealand seems a lot bigger than it really is.

 

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Above left:  The weather was nice enough to camp.  This is at Nelson Lakes National Park.

Above center:  Lake Rotoiti at Nelson Lakes N.P.

Above right:  Another shot of Lake Rotoiti.  This area was covered with ice during the last glaciation, about 10,000 years ago.

 

After packing up my tent the next morning, I drove up to the vibrant city of Nelson on the northern coast of the South Island, which boasts that it's the sunniest city in New Zealand.  Sure enough, it was indeed warm and sunny when I got there.  I checked into a mom-and-pop motel that afternoon, then drove a few miles to Motueka where I hoped to do some sea kayaking near Abel Tasman National Park, which apparently is one of the most spectacular National Parks in New Zealand.  Ah, but with beauty comes popularity, and unfortunately all of the kayak trips for that day were filled -- that's the price you pay for serendipity, I guess.  I consoled myself by staying up until midnight while watching the New Zealand Black Caps play (and beat) Australia in cricket. 

 

The next morning was sunny, warm and glorious, and after returning some e-mail, I drove a few hours north to Picton which, as you may recall, is the ferry terminus for the South Island.  It was good to get back here after my 33-day trip around the South Island.  I checked in, once again, to the pleasant Broadway Motel and got some takeout at Lord Thompson's Takeout, which is undoubtedly the very best fish & chips place in New Zealand (and having eaten in just about every fish & chips place in this country, I should know).  That evening, you guessed it, I watched some more Black Caps cricket on T.V.  Good thing I'm not in a rut, huh?

 

I had a few hours to kill the next morning before the ferry to Wellington arrived, so I drove down to an empty park near the Picton beach to update my website.  As I was typing away at a picnic table, a park caretaker, a friendly elderly gentleman, came by with a broom and as he swept, we started talking.  We chatted for 20 minutes as he told me about New Zealand and I told him about America, then he smiled and bid me goodbye.  That's the way it is in New Zealand -- people often come right up to you and start talking as if they've known you all your life.  

 

After a while, I packed up my laptop computer, headed over to the ferry landing, and boarded the ferry.  On this ride, I was taking the older, slower, and cheaper Inter-Islander Ferry instead of the sleek, new Lynx which I had taken on my southbound crossing on Christmas Day (see News: January 1, 2002).  The Inter-Islander is a bit rusty and, at 20 years old, is definitely showing its age but it has a lot more charm and personality than the Lynx.  I decided that I preferred old, slow and cheap -- maybe that's because I'm also old, slow, and cheap.  As I lounged on the sun deck while watching the scenery pass by at 20 knots, I said goodbye to beautiful South Island.

 

During my 33 days on the South Island, I saw just about every corner of the island and visited every sizable town -- and a lot of small ones.  Overall, my experience there was pretty positive.  Yeah, it did rain a lot and it was a lot more crowded than I imagined it would be.  In fact, it was more crowded than just about anywhere I've been in the U.S. during the summer.  But heck, it's a beautiful place, the scenic variety boggled my mind, and the people were exceptionally friendly.  I'll definitely come back to the South Island some day -- just not in December or January.

 

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Above left:  Since my last name is Leu, I got a kick out of this "superloo" in Nelson.

Above center:  Sunbathers at Pelorus Bridge.

Above right:  Check out the mussels on the roof.

 

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Above left:  Kenepuru Sound on the northern tip of the South Island.

Above center:   Heading north on a beautiful, warm afternoon.

Above right:  After traveling around the South Island for a month, I returned to the pleasant town of Picton where I'd catch a ferry the next morning for the North Island.

 

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Above left:  One of the two Interislander ferries coming into Picton.

Above center:  The first stop in Picton: fish and chips.  This little place serves the best fish and chips in New Zealand.

Above right:  "Three pieces of flake and one scoop, please."

 

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Above left:  The next morning, waiting for the ferry to take me back to the North Island.

Above center:  Leaving Picton and the South Island, heading north.

Above right:  Heading out into Queen Charlotte Sound.

 

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Above left:  On the Interislander Ferry during the 3-hour ride to Wellington.

Above center:  Saying goodbye to the beautiful South Island.

Above right:  And saying hello once again to Wellington, on the North Island.

 

... And Hello North Island

After a pleasant ferry ride across the windy and choppy Cook Strait, I returned to the North Island and, thanks to a tip in my Lonely Planet guidebook, found a campground at peaceful Rimutaki Forest Park.  Rimutaki is a wonderful place about 20 kilometers east of Wellington with a stupendous trail through a tropical rain forest, which I explored the next morning.  The park is run by DOC (pronounced "Dock," as in Department of Conservation), the main federal land agency in New Zealand.  I love hidden jewels and this one definitely qualified.  

 

After my morning hike, I headed up the western coast of North Island, passing the golf course at Paraparaumu near Wellington, where Tiger Woods had played in the New Zealand Open just a few weeks earlier.  Unfortunately for Tiger, it was cold and rainy during the 4-day event and, in his first visit to New Zealand, he didn't do so well.  When I drove by, though, it was sunny and hot, and I quickly decided that I enjoyed wearing shorts and a t-shirt in January.

 

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Above left Camping at Rimutaki Forest Park near Wellington.  This is what a typical campground looks like in New Zealand:  very few facilities and just a patch of grass where you can pitch your tent.  On the other hand, it cost only US$1.50 a night.

Above right Hiking through the jungles of the beautiful Orangorango River valley the next morning.  This was one of the best hikes I've taken so far in New Zealand -- and not nearly as crowded as the more famous places like Milford Sound or Abel Tasman National Park (and no reservations required, either). 

   

North to Taupo

As I drove into Palmerston North (pop. 67,000) that afternoon, I decided to stop and see Massey University, one of the largest universities in New Zealand.   For some reason, I really enjoy visiting universities and college towns.  In fact, I was so impressed with Massey University that I decided to stay in Palmerston North for a couple of days to update my website.  I'm not exactly sure where "Palmerston South" or just plain old Palmerston is, but I would guess that they're somewhere south of Palmerston North.  Anyway, I liked Palmerston North a lot -- not only does it have a college town flavor but it also has, like many cities in New Zealand, a beautiful square in the middle of town with a large, grassy park and shade trees.  

 

One of the hassles of traveling on the road is having to find a place to stay every night.  Fortunately, I had stopped during the previous month at the Automobile Association (AA) office in Auckland and got some travel literature, all of which was free since the New Zealand AA has a reciprocity agreement with AAA (the American Automobile Association).  During my travels around New Zealand, my AA motel guide became indispensable and I opened it up every afternoon and scanned the listings for the town I was in.  After a month and a half of use, my motel guide was getting pretty tattered, but once again, I pulled it out and looked for a place to stay.  

 

The Park Inn got my vote, so I found it on the map and drove over late that afternoon.  The receptionist there was a cheerful, sandy-haired woman named Nita who was in her 40's.  As so often happens when I talk to motel owners, our conversation soon turned to the New Zealand Black Caps cricket team.  After a friendly chat, Nita gave me the key to a nice room on the top floor of a two-story building with a pleasant view of the area.  Nita also directed me to the best fish & chips shop in town, where I got a large order to go along with a Lemon & Paeroa ("L & P") soft drink, which is like carbonated lemonade.  Unfortunately, they don't have anything quite like L & P in the U.S. -- or New Zealand fish & chips, for that matter.

 

After a few days in Palmerston North getting my website updated, I checked out of my motel room and had another pleasant talk at the front desk with Nita.  Just before I stepped out of the office, Nita handed me a piece of paper.  She knew that I liked cricket so she'd written down for me the remaining schedule for the Black Caps cricket team so I could watch them on television -- once again, typical New Zealand hospitality.  

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Above left:  Massey University in the city of Palmerston North is the second-largest university in New Zealand.  And it's the prettiest campus I've seen so far.

Above center:  The pleasant Park Inn was my home for two nights in Palmerston North while I got caught up with my website. 

Above right:  The city square in Palmerston North.

 

After giving Nita a cheery wave, I headed up the coast to see Mt. Taranaki.  You've probably seen pictures of Mt. Taranaki -- it resembles Mt. Fuji in Japan and it's one of the most picturesque mountains in New Zealand.  Unfortunately, though, it was shrouded in clouds during most of the day.  After driving all the way around Taranaki that afternoon, I headed down to the historic town of Wanganui and checked into the Aeroplane Inn, another small, cheap mom-and-pop motel.  Wanganui seemed like an interesting old port city, so the next morning I spent a couple of hours strolling through the vibrant downtown area. After walking around for a while, I decided that Wanganui is like an couch down in the basement:  not real flashy but comfortable and with a lot of charm... and, it seemed, with a lot of stories to tell.  

 

After leaving Wanganui, I continued driving north to Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's oldest National Park and the home of several dormant volcanoes, the largest of which, Mt. Ruapehe, erupted just a few years ago.  This area of the central North Island, including Tongariro and the cities of Taupo and Rotorua is the most volcanic area in New Zealand.

 

Taupo (pronounced "TOE-poe") is a pleasant resort town on the shores of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand and one of its most picturesque, so I thought this would be a good place to settle in for a couple days and finish updating my website.  Taupo is also one of more pronounceable Maori place-names that I've run into so far, and it was a welcome relief after dealing with hundreds of names like Whangirangiparanui or the like, none of which I can ever remember for more than five minutes.   

 

Along with updating my website during my two days in Taupo (and, yes, eating more fish & chips and watching more Black Caps cricket), I also got a chance to see some of sights here.  With all the geothermal activity around Taupo including geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles, this area is a little like Yellowstone National Park though, unfortunately, the most spectacular sites are privately owned and charge admission.  Nevertheless, it's an interesting area and I wish I had more time to see it, but I'm leaving New Zealand in a few days and I still have a lot of traveling to do, so it's back on the road.

 

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Above left:  On Highway 3, north of Palmerston North.

Above center:  Mt. Taranaki, also known as Mt. Egmont, is 7,500' high and resembles Mt. Fuji in Japan.  It's often covered with clouds, so I was lucky to see it.

Above right:  New World is one of the biggest grocery chains in New Zealand.  Here I am restocking on kiwi fruit, "Bulk Chips" (the closest thing here to Doritos), and "tomato sauce" (i.e., ketchup) in New Plymouth.  They don't have canned chili in New Zealand, though, and they only have Coke here, not Pepsi.  Oh well.

 

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Above left:  Driving down Highway 3 on the west coast.

Above center:  Wanganui is one of the oldest cities in New Zealand.  It's a bit run down, but has a pleasant and vibrant downtown area.  That's the Wanganui River, the longest navigable river in New Zealand.

Above right:  Downtown Wanganui and its charming architecture.

 

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Above left:  Although the roads in New Zealand are narrow, winding and slow to drive, they're kept in very good condition.  I've seen road crews everywhere during my travels.

Above center:  Kiwi crossing, in Tongariro National Park.  That's volcanic Mt. Ngaurohoe in the distance.

Above right:  I've been in New Zealand for nearly 2 months, but this is the only Kiwi I've seen... stuffed and mounted in the Tongariro Visitor Center.  Kiwis are endangered and their survival is uncertain.  Unfortunately, domestic dogs and cats and the weasel-like stoats kill a lot of kiwis while they're still chicks.  New Zealanders really love Kiwis, probably the same way that Americans feel about Bald Eagles.

 

 

Next News

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

 

Previous News

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002  -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002  -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)  

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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