overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Adrenaline Fix NZ

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 1 May 2007.

New Zealand, Country 28, Diary entry, 4th April - 8th April 2007, Total distance in New Zealand: 2,011km, Total overall expedition distance: 93,550km

We woke to a cloudy, misty morning in Whakapapa car park and were pleased that we didn't wait until today to do the crossing. Two girls we met on the hike yesterday said it'd been their third attempt as the weather had been bad on the previous two, reducing the visibility to less than 100m! After sneaking into the campsite up the road to freshen up, we said our farewells to Kate and Graham, then set off for a drive around the outskirts of the Tongariro National Park, taking in the views from various angles. It was late into the afternoon when we arrived back in Taupo where we seemed to have passed through in either direction a number of times by now. Checking up on internet we had been kindly offered a floatplane flight with Taupo's Floatplane, across the lake and over to Orakei Korako another thermal park within the hidden valley.

Mt Ruapehu About to take to the skies

Not being able to track down the pilot to confirm a time, we decided to stay just out of town then pop down to the office in the morning. Over by Huka Falls I'd caught sight of what looked like a campsite by the river. On further investigation it was indeed a free campsite where one of the local farmers who owns the land allows travellers to park up and camp. What a great idea and very generous of the farmer. It proved quite a popular spot, but we found ourselves a little area to park the campervan and got busy with dinner. Still in recovery mode from our rambling it was early to bed so that we could be up bright and early to make the most of the following day.

Sweeping views

Arriving at the boat harbour we met Neil from Taupo's Floatplane and we were soon strapped in the plane and ready for takeoff. Having flown in a variety of aircraft in our time, this however was a first for both of us, taking off from the water. Being a small 6 seater plane I got to sit in the front, but all seats have a great window view as you taxi across the lake then build up speed to skim across the water before gently lifting off into the sky. Neil told us about Lake Taupo and pointed out various areas of interest. About 15mins later we were on approach to land at the hidden valley and the floatplane gently touched down with a splash then taxied over to the pontoon to tie up. You then get a little boat across the Waikato River to Orakei Korako where you follow a pathway around the geothermal sights.

The colourful Orakei Korako The colourful Orakei Korako

From earliest times, the Waikato Valley near Orakei Korako was occupied by Maori of the Ngati Tahu sub-tribe Tuwharetoa. By the early 1800's, the Maori population had congregated at Orakei Korako, attracted by the hot springs. "O" is the place of "rakei" adornment. "Korako" meaning white, describing the glittering (sinter) flat. A diary entry for the 11 March 1850 recorded that the Maoris lived in this spot "to spare their woman the trouble of procuring wood for fuel. They seldom light a fire; everything is cooked in the springs." The name Orakei Korako can be interpreted as "Place of Adorning" as Maori women used the pool to bath and beautify themselves for ceremonies.

The colourful Orakei Korako The colourful Orakei Korako

The Silica Terraces that form the base of Orakei Korako are believed to be the largest of its kind since the destruction of the famous Pink and White Terraces in 1886 on the edge of Lake Rotomahana beneath Mount Tarawera. At present, there are up to 23 active natural geysers that play freely throughout the area. There are a vast number of boiling hot springs to view as well as mud pools, however the highlight on the walk through the valley is the thermal Ruatapu Cave (sacred hole). The cave extends 120 ft down to a hot pool at the bottom named "Waiwhakaata", which means "pool of mirrors". The water is so clear that you have to be careful not to accidentally step in and it's claimed that it's able to clean jewellery if left in the waters for about 5mins.

Looking up from Ruatapu Cave Maz tries cleaning her jewellery

Having stretched our legs it was back across the river, strapped back into the floatplane then takeoff again to see the sights once more from the skies. After a quick pass over Orakei Korako, we then headed over to the 'Craters of the Moon' before a fly past over Huka Falls then back to Lake Taupo for a slightly bumpy landing as the wind had gotten up causing a bit of a lumpy lake surface. It was a great way to spend the morning and our thanks go to Neil and all at Taupo's Floatplane. Whilst we were walking around Orakei Korako Maz broke her flip flop, instantly reducing her to a state of not actually having any remaining shoes to wear! Hence the afternoon was spent scouring the shops for some new shoes. When all seemed desperate we finally stumbled on a shop that had exactly what she was looking for and conveniently a suitable new pair of shoes for me too!

Maz gets front seat It's a hard life!

Waving a final farewell to Taupo, we headed onwards towards Rotorua, however Kate and Graham had told us of a great thermal pool with its own campsite just before Rotorua which we were aiming for to spend the night. Waikite is a small collection of three pools all at various steaming hot temperatures and is an ideal way to lounge and rest tired aching muscles... this should have been on the agenda for our first night after the Tongariro crossing! With a small campsite, it is a great little hide away and we whiled away the time trying each pool in turn... the middle temperature one was just perfect for me and had the best views across the small valley. To interrupt our soaking IBM had rudely arranged a conference call to bring me quickly up to speed on my first project which I'd be running and was parachuting straight into on day one of my re-entry into 'normal' life!

Resting weary bones

As we discussed the finer details, Maz kept my wine glass topped up. I needed to meet a colleague at the airport Tuesday morning on the 07:30 flight to Melbourne and we needed to work out how to recognise one another... easy I said, I'll be the one looking frantic and out of place in a suit, probably in an advance state of shock! Day one I'd be straight into running customer workshops for the next few weeks on a subject I thought I'd left long behind me... Maxi-who? Not having the opportunity to be 'inducted' into the company I'd be without a laptop or any other normal consultancy 'toolkit', talk about hitting the ground running - I could hardly wait! But for now another soak in the hot tub was beckoning, I'd worry about work when I was face to face with the customer on Tuesday!

Let's raft.. Just a small rapid!

Bizarrely in the morning when we were enjoying our last soak, we met a French / Canadian couple that we'd bumped into on the road in Laos, literally a year ago - how freaky is that! They'd been riding their bikes around the world for a good few years now and offered their condolence to us on our final days of adventure. Next stop for us however was more adrenaline... white water rafting! Meeting at the rendezvous point we received the normal safety briefing and yet more damp wetsuits to struggle into. I was a little concerned that we didn't get tops, but they assured us the water was 'really warm' - yeah right. Into a damp smelly minibus the rafting teams set out for the mighty Kaituna River. Although short and sweet at only 14 rapids the actual getting wet part is only about an hour, however the attraction happens to be that one of the rapids is a 7m waterfall... yup a WATERFALL...!!

Now the BIG one! Hold on to your hats! Down we go...

They start the adventure with a Maori prayer to the river then we all pile in and go through a bit of training. There are all the normal forward paddle, back paddle manoeuvres, however they were particularly concerned that we got the get down absolutely spot on... I guess they didn't want to loose too many in the waterfall! The early rapids were indeed fun and the river is quite beautiful as it meanders through the dense bush. We had too Brit backpackers in our boat who were like over enthusiastic Jack Russell's! Their forward paddle was like a blur, totally ineffective but incredibly funny! We did a couple of small 3m waterfalls, before the main event loomed... GET DOWN and we were over and going down... down... down..! The entire raft with all onboard totally disappeared under the water then popped up in a burst of bubbles and spray, with us all holding on for dear life... absolutely incredible...!

Where've we gone? Up we pop! Drowned rats!

That night we'd booked a cultural experience at Mitai Maori Village. The evening starts with all the tourists (and there were a lot of us) lined up on either side of a small stream to watch warriors in traditional dress paddle an ancient warrior canoe (waka) down the Wai-o-whiro stream. We were then led to the performance hall where we were entertained by displays of song, weaponry and combat, coupled with the grace and beauty of the poi dance as well as learning a little about their past, carvings and ta moko (tattoo art). At one stage it was audience participation where we joined in with some of the dance movements, which made rubbing your tum and patting your head seem easy in comparison! The show finale was a display of the much renown haka before we retired to the dining areas to feast (I mean gorge) ourselves on a traditionally cooked hangi meal, which is slowly cooked by thermal steam in the ground oven over many hours. It was sumptuous and they even provided 'modern' stuffing and mint sauce to accompany the delicious lamb, chicken and sweet potato dishes.

Bubbling hot mud Hangi steamed chicken - yum!

We rolled ourselves back into the campervan and headed back towards the rafting hut to find camp as in the morning we were white water sledging! Sledging is a much more personal way of taking on the river rapids. A custom made plastic sledge is ridden down the river, steered by the rider wearing little paddles on their feet. It is a given that you'll be tumbled and rolled at some point, so they teach you in the sheltered waters how to right yourself, stressing never to let go of the sledge... as that's 70% of your buoyancy. It sounded like fun and it was. With just Maz, myself and two guides, we quickly got the hang of it and 'expertly' rode the rapids... ie raced down screaming! You can use the eddie currents to find shelter or actually approach the turbulent water from down stream quite easily to kick off and 'surf the wave' before being dumped and spat back out. Screwing my eyes up tight to save my contact lenses the force of the water simply delights in inverting your eyelids! Of course we weren't allowed to tackle the 7m waterfall - that would be suicide!

Maz drifts downstream Maz catching the wave!

By the end of the trip we were exhausted, smiling from ear to ear and bruised all up our elbows... definitely far more exciting that rafting, but you have to be fit. Apparently we'd done all right and the girl guiding us was actually quite nice once she'd got over her 'sweet as bro', hip and cool dude attitude! To continue the adrenaline flowing, next on the agenda for the afternoon was sprint car racing... we were packing as much in as we could! These were high performance Formula 1500 Sprint cars which are raced on an oval undulating track. Each driver gets 12 laps to perform and a passenger can come along for the ride. Maz went first and sedately in a 'Driving Miss Daisy' style drove 12 times round the circuit to my continued persuasion to try and get her to go faster. I was more than a little surprised at her leisurely pace as she doesn't normally go so easy on the gas!

Alex enjoying the soak Alex holding that wave

She clocked up her best lap at just over 15secs, to much mickey take from myself. Well at least she got a longer drive in total I guess! The gauntlet was then thrown as Maz challenged me to beat her by 2 seconds if I was sooo good. On the starting blocks I stalled it first off... not the best start I warrant... but then a flash of lightening emerged from the pits and we screeched around the circuit, occasionally with wheels in the air and once or twice nearly loosing it and skidding off the track completely. Big smiles later we rolled back into the pits to find I'd comfortably beaten her best lap by 2secs and actually was only a few tenth of a second off the fastest lap for the day. The track record however was well and truly out of reach at around 11 seconds... now that's fast.

Driving Miss Daisy adjusts her gloves!

Leaving New Zealand's thermal wonderland behind we decided to continue across to the coast passing many beautiful lakes before joining the coastal highway and turning to head north towards Auckland. Fancying a nice feed for dinner we started to keep an eye out for a suitable town that might have a respectable restaurant, but as time ticked by and each town seemed smaller than the last our stomachs began to rumble. Eventually we arrived at what appeared to be a seaside holiday town, but even then it took some hunting before we found somewhere that looked good. It was a BYO, so with a bottle of white and red wine in hand we ordered a tasty feast, once more seafood and lamb featuring highly on our choices. As we have come to expect here the food was first class. Now late and a little tipsy, we agreed the campervan parked along the seafront was as good as anywhere to spend the night, something we probably wouldn't have gotten away with in Tinfish.

Now that's what I call a steak!!

After a leisurely morning fry up, we setoff to return to Auckland and the final leg of our brief NZ journey and our expedition as a whole! With the campervan checked in we managed to squeeze our growing possessions into a mixture of our luggage and plastic bags... another shopping excursion to find a wheelie bag ensued once back in town. Having so enjoyed our evening meal down at Viaduct harbour on the previous occasion, it made sense to return for our last diner of the expedition - wow, what a thought. All the places we've eaten and all the flavours we've savoured, we had high expectations and the meal didn't disappoint, a portion of HUGH green lipped mussels for starters followed by a rib-eye and tuna steak, all washed down with our favourite bottle of Sav Blanc - divine!

Looking the yachtie part Working up a sweat on the grinders

With our flights back to Sydney not until the afternoon, we had one more adventure in mind to fill the morning... sailing on an America's Cup boat NZL 40, quite apt in the 'City of Sails'. The America's Cup is the world's oldest and most prestigious yachting regatta. Usually the domain of billionaires and elite professional yachties, NZL 40 was built for the 1995 America's Cup but now offers the unique opportunity for everyone to participate sailing on these grand prix racing machines. Us punters simply become the crew and were eagerly encouraged to exert energy on the grinders to help winch or lower the sails, or the more sedate job of taking the helm and steering the boat down Auckland Harbour. We had great weather for it, a nice sunny day with moderate winds that got the boat racing at over 10 knots.

You're supposed to look where you're going!! NZL 40 America's Cup yacht

Once back on terra firma, we counted down time having lunch at the harbour, before finally returning to the hotel to pick up our baggage and catch a taxi to the airport... the time had finally arrived... after 28 countries, 93,550 km's and 615 days our adventure of a lifetime was coming to an end and the start of a new life in Australia was waiting for us back in Sydney, where that path is likely to take us, no one knows... but one thing is for sure we are both richer, stronger and wiser after our incredible journey!

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Comment from Marion
white water rafting looks great. steering the boat is such an important job Maz :-)
02 May 2007 @ 12:57:20