31 July 2012

New Zealand- Extended cut!

You don't have to be a fan of Lord of the Rings to enjoy New Zealand. It's a country of extraordinary nature with endless possibilities of adventure. If you've dreamt of sky diving, swimming with dolphins or hiking infinite scenic mountain trails, the land of the Kiwi is your destination.

From Auckland and Hobbiton(read about the Hobbiton tour here) I went to Tauranga, a small place on the North Island, to visit a friend. It was such a great place that I found it hard to leave, and stayed in Tauranga three out of my four weeks in NZ.  A  small but cozy city with a gorgeous beach and Mount Maunganui offering great views of the Bay of Plenty with complimentary hiking trails. A popular place for holiday and recreation as well; it really has it all.

Tauranga Harbour at dusk- view from the Harbourside Backpackers
To see something different we headed 90 km east of Tauranga to the town of Whakatane. A beautiful, tranquil and idyllic place with stunning beaches, lakes and rainforest. The "lady on the rocks" on the main photo of this article is also from Whakatane.
Beach in Whakatane

The bad Kiwi Experience
After three fantastic weeks on the North Island, I decided to see the South Island as well. I had bought a New Zealand explorer pass for the Kiwi Experience tour buses before I had reviewed my options, so my hands were tied. The bus tour started off in Christchurch, and I had one week left to see everything on the South Island. It really didn't work out well. Being on the Kiwi Explorer bus was like being twelve again, going on a school trip with really annoying British kids. We were probably 50 people in one bus doing the same things at all times, like being a sheep in a herd. It sucked. A lot.

Lesson learned: If you wanna do a road trip in New Zealand, rent or buy a car. Unlike Australia, it's legal to hitchhike in NZ, and practiced by locals. I'd even recommend bicycling NZ before taking the Kiwi Explorer bus.

Christchurch before the earthquake

Thousands of earthquakes are recorded annually in Christchurch, most of them barely noticeable. An earthquake in February 2011 killed hundreds and nearly completely destroyed the city centre. In March 2010, I stayed in Charlie B's backpackers in Christchurch. It was damaged beyond repair during the quake in February one year later. The city centre is now classified as a "red zone"and closed off for public access. Christchurch authorities are hoping to open the "red zone" sometime during 2012. The city has experienced several aftershocks making restoration a difficult process. Have a look at the before and after photos from NZ Herald.

Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier is supposedly one of the most spectacular places to skydive in NZ. Naturally I wanted to try. However the day we'd planned to skydive, a thick layer of clouds was covering the sky. Unfortunately I didn't have time to stay another day to do it. I only had a few days left in NZ and had my mind set on Wellington(that's my official excuse anyways).

Wellington- the Capital of Cool
If there's one place I want to go back to in New Zealand, it's Wellington. There's something magical about Wellington and it has always been in my plans to see it. It's a small, but diverse, friendly and cool (and I never say that) capital. Always heaps of stuff going on, needless to say Flight of the conchords started out there.  I only had one day because of my unfortunate sheep herd experience. So I did what I had to do with my very limited time: take the iconic Wellington Cable Car ride and enjoy the view.

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