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New Zealand

December 2014

Expectations could not have been higher, as everyone was just too enthusiastic about New Zealand. It really took awhile to align these expectations with reality, but in the end we left NZ as it should be: crying with one eye and laughing with the other.

Canterbury & Otago

We arrived in Christchurch right after spending some weeks in Australia. Endless sun was replaced by rain and clouds, the temperature was 10°C instead of 30. After the devastating earthquake in 2011 most places in the once beautiful city center of Christchurch are still either a demolition site, a construction site or something in between. And Nozmo, our camper van… no, let's not talk about this camper van… Roughly speaking: We could have had a better start in New Zealand. Our first stop was Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. We found out that it is unlikely to meet the famous dolphins living in the bay if you don't get on an organised boat trip, so we rather went for our first hike through misty forests and countless hills.
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Nomadism

We found a great spot for our first night with the camper van: right next to the sea with (what we thought would be) an amazing morning view over the bay. Constant rain and coldness made the whole thing way less idyllic… As the weather forecast was much better in the south, we packed our stuff in the early morning and went on.
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Sandfly Bay

After passing the massive Moeraki Boulders and the city of Dunedin, we arrived on the Otago Peninsula. Not yet knowing what horrible beasts sandflies are, we hiked to the bay of the same name. Still no sandflies, but some way bigger animals were waiting for us: Hooker's sea lions. And eventually even some rays of sunlight – finally.
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Southland

Two days of driving around the Southern Alps brought us to the Fiordland National Park. We found some more Department of Conservation (DOC) campgrounds – nothing more than pure nature, a dry toilette and finally: sandflies. Thankfully they don't like mountain hiking as much as we do, so at least on top of Key Summit we could enjoy the breathtaking landscape in peace. It looked and felt a little like home up there.
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Milford Sound

The early bird catches the worm. Not only is the obligatory tour through Milford Sound way cheaper if you take the first boat in the morning, it is also way less crowded. Anyway, taking a shower in a freezing mountain creek at 6 in the morning is the price to pay…
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Northbound

One of the most fascinating places were the Mavora Lakes. On the loop from Milford Sound to Queenstown we went for this 50 kilometers side trip on gravel roads. This place was like we expected New Zealand: Endless wilderness and remote lakes surrounded by mountains with just nobody else around.
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Queenstown

The place where our campervan decided to die. At least it found an amazing spot for that: A DOC-campsite right next to Lake Wakatipu, just ten kilometers away from Queenstown. Not the worst place to spend some time waiting for Nozmo's resurrection.
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West Coast & Tasman

To get all the way up to Picton and catch the ferry to Wellington on the North Island, we took the highway along the west coast – one of the most remote areas of New Zealand. The famous Fox and Franz Josef Glacier there were a big point on our wishlist, and a little bit of a disappointment. Friends of us visited them just a couple of years ago, walking into and onto the glaciers right from the bottom. When we stood were they probably entered the glacier, there was nothing but rocks and stones. Within a few years, both glaciers melted dramatically. Nowadays the only safe and allowed way to enter the glaciers is by helicopter – not our kind of mountain experience (and travel budget).
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Abel Tasman National Park

A beautiful national park at the very northern peak of the South Island. Out of all the things you can do there, besides the the obligatory hike, we picked stand up paddling. No photo evidence from that, but it was great fun anyway.
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Cook Strait Crossing

One of the most windy passages in the world, the Cook Strait luckily was more than tame when we got on the ferry a few days before Christmas. Wellington and the North Island welcomed us with the same unsettled weather we already experienced in the south.
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Tongariro National Park

As the weather forecast was not too bad for the next days, we speeded up a little and went from Wellington straight to the Tongariro National Park. We spent a rather strange night in an abandoned garden, that turned out to be a not so abandoned pasture the next morning. After making friends with these three fellas we took a bus to bring us all around the national park to start the Tongariro Crossing.
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Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Considered one of the best day hikes in New Zealand, it is actually pretty crowded and in the beginning even a bit boring. After climbing the "Devil's Staircase", we decided to do an extra three hours on top of the Ngauruhoe – a volcano cone so perfectly shaped and steep, that it was used as Mt. Doom's double in the Lord of the Rings movies.
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Volcanism

Mount Tongariro with its several craters is still active. After passing the Emerald and Blue Lakes the trail is crossing the Te Mari area, were in 2012 the last eruption took place. The Ketetahi Hut later on the track impressively shows the power of such eruptions, with perforated roofs and mattresses still visible.
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Done

The Tongariro Crossing is a fascinating hike through an unreal mountainscape, especially the side trip to Mount Ngauruhoe is worth the pain. Nevertheless my feet and whole body appreciated getting out of the shoes and the backpack to dive into Lake Taupo later that day.
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Waihohonu Hut

Two days later we were back to the national park, but this time without climbing a volcano. We hiked to the Historic Waihohonu Hut, one of the first alpine huts in New Zealand and still preserved in its original state.
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Unsettled Weather

On our way back from the hut, the Kiwi weather dumbfounded us once again. Within a few minutes, the weather changed completely. The upcoming thunderstorm was more than scary, as we were in the middle of a huge flat plane. We found a sink to hide until the worst passed by. What used to be the trail earlier that day, turned into a creek on our way back to the car. As great as the nature in New Zealand is, as bad the weather can be.
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Kauri Trees

In the Bay of Plenty region we did our last hike in New Zealand to find some of the remnant Kauri giants deep in the forest. The DOC's track description told "multiple river crossings required" – in numbers, that means 16 crossings to find just two (but huge) Kauri trees. After the third crossing, we kept on walking barefooted, what fitted our hippie lifestyle better anyway ;) Some days later were visiting friends in Raglan – to find out they have a Kauri growing in their backyard.
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© 2017 Benedikt Altschuh