A Travellerspoint blog


At the Height of Cultural Events

Aotearoa is a unique country in many different ways. Both halves are special in their own way and offer an amazing experience for anyone. While the North tends to be mostly warm and muggy, the further south you go, the colder and less muggy it gets. The clear air of the South makes it great for doing outdoor activities, which is how it has become so famous for its adrenaline activities. If you're interest in volcanoes, beaches and geothermal activity, the North Island is your place to go. The South being traversed by the Southern Alps is considered more scenic on the other hand. And what I was to experience the upcoming days was what made the North stand out the most - its cultural richness.

During the hours I had spent on the bus by now, the others and I had learned heaps about the Maori culture. Like Kupe, the Maori chief who was first to arrive in New Zealand. He traveled from the mythical homeland Hawaiki in a canoe called the Maataa-hourua. He is said to have landed near Wellington, in the south of the North Island, in a place called Whanganui-a-tara and when he first spotted the land he said, "He ao, he aotea he aotearoa" (It is a cloud ..a white cloud .. a long white cloud) - the Maori name for New Zealand.

Doing a big leap from Maori culture to a different one - the Lord of the Rings culture. Not particularly an actual culture, but for many thousands including me, it is a more than just a book to get hooked on. That day, I fulfilled myself a dream. That day we were heading into a different world, we were heading to the land of the Hobbits, we were heading to Hobbiton! The minute I woke up that day I was excited as a little kid. Having read all the books and obviously watched all the movies. The Lord of the Rings had captured my imagination. Being at one of the actual movie scene which is still maintained made me walk around stupidly with a big smile all day. When we pulled up to the welcome center, it couldn't go fast enough. After what felt like years of waiting, we finally got on the special tour bus which would bring us to the once so secret location of the film set. Over green hills, fog hanging in the air, we entered the Shire, the land of the hobbits. But it wasn't until we walked on the famous path Frodo, Bilbo and so many other characters took when they left Hobbiton that we were totally beside ourselves... We were in Middle-Earth.

The Hobbiton guide tried hopelessly to get the groups attention, but everyone had their cameras out and was in the zone. The whole scene looked exactly as like in the movies. Even the fog and clouds disappeared and the blue sky gave the place the last touch it needed to be fully authentic. The only thing missing were actual hobbits walking around, then I'd have thought that I'd be in the movies. Even without the hobbits, close attention was paid to every detail. (Fake) fish was outside to dry, fruits were laying outside of the little hobbit holes and requisites displaying the job the particular hobbit. On top of the hill, watching over the village, was the most famous hobbit hole of all - Bilbo Baggin's. Of course we weren't allowed to come in :) After another hour or so of strolling around, taking in as much of that place as possible, we entered The Green Dragon Inn. The complimentary ale was followed not long after. In my mind I could swear I heard hobbits chanting the Green Dragon song:

"Oh you can search far and wide,
You can drink the whole town dry,
But you'll never find a beer so brown,

Oh you'll never find a beer so brown,

As the one we drink in our hometown,
As the one we drink in our hometown.
You can drink your fancy ales,
You can drink them by the flagon,
But the only brew for the brave and true...
..Comes from the Green Dragon!!"


It wasn't easy but at one point we did have to leave the Shire. The amazing feeling that place gave me, I'll never forget. The journey continued to the town of Rotorua. The North is known for its geothermal activity and in the region around Rotorua this is extremely strong developed. Steam coming from under the streets, boiling mud pools and geysers. The town is also known as Sulfur City. The Maori call that place Whangapipiro (Fong-a-pe-pero) - the evil-smelling place. That description was more than fitting!

As the next cultural highlight that day, we were about to visit an authentic Maori village. Of course it wasn't original, but it was reconstructed as original as possible. We didn't know what we could expect from spending a whole night in a re-creation of a traditional village from the 1600's. But we were about to find out. At the front gate we were welcomed traditionally by one of the tribe members and gathered inside the village to do our first duty as a new "tribe" - voting our tribe chief. After Sam was named chief, we and other tour groups which were then different tribes, came together for a Maori ceremony of ensuring the different chiefs are coming in peace or were foes. Following the ceremony, the tribe welcomed us in their village, everything being as authentic as possible. Lightened up by torches, we were introduced to different Maori traditions, like games, daily living styles, the world-famous Haka, weaponry displays and the preparation of the feast. Its called hangi (a meal steamed in the ground on hot rocks). The feast with some traditional Maori kai (food) and more Western-style dishes was delicious. After the hangi, most of the other groups left and only a small number of us stayed for the overnight experience. Having the entire Maori Tamaki Village for ourselves, a full belly and heaps of friends around, the whole night was a memorable adventure. Hot tubes were to our disposal as well. Not too traditional, but much welcomed by all of us :) It was an unforgettable Maori cultural experience which in addition to being in Middle-Earth earlier that day made the whole day beyond special.


Posted by jan.wegener 12:15 Archived in New Zealand Tagged people night rotorua adventure party maori nz campfire newzealand lordoftherings northisland hobbits Comments (0)


Going Underground to the Glowworm Caves

Leaving Hot Water Beach behind us, we rose early for a stop at the Karangahake Scenic Reserve. Our driver directed us around the stunning bush-clad gorge. Walking over two swing bridges, we could feel the old gold mining history of that place. With gold mining relics still scattered along the trail, we followed the Ohinemuri River as it tumbles over rocks and boulders. At the end of the loop walk, we passed through a 1,100 meter tunnel.


Back on the bus and on the road, we passed by Mount Te Aroha - the mountain of love. Back in time, the mountain gained its name from a Maori legend.

One story tells how the son of Arawa chief, Kahu-Mata-Momoe was on his way home from visiting a kinsman at Kaipara. As was the habit with this explorer, he ascended to the highest point possible along the way. As he stood on top of the mountain, he was overjoyed to see the familiar landmarks of his tribal home he decided to name it “Aroha ki tai – This shall be called the Mountain of Aroha. Herein shall forever repose the great love of Kahu-Mata-Momoe”.
- Source: tearohanz.co.nz

Next stop on our trip that day was the town of Waitomo - Maori wai for water and tomo meaning sink hole. All around that area are deep caves hidden underground beneath the countryside. They are caved out of limestone by earthquakes and running water. The activity for which thousands of visitors come to this area are cave tours. The most favorite ones are black water rafting and glowworm tours.

I was already excited when I entered the waiting room of the tour operator. We were divided into small groups and took a quick ride with the operators van to a large shack located on a sheep farm in a hilly countryside. There, we changed and got prepared for going underground.
After we were told all guidelines and were introduced to potential risk like getting stuck in a narrow cave section, we took off in our wet suits to the entrance of the caves. What was used as an entrance was a steep latter through a narrow opening in the ground. Then the fun began. Being underground was both fascinating and scary. Without our headlamps it was pitch black. You couldn't even see your hand. One reason we kept them on and also because we didn't want to bump our heads on low hanging stalactites. It was amazing down there. Everywhere you looked limestone formed stunning stalactites, stalagmites and other cool rock formations.
We made our way further down the cave, always cautious not to slip, get stuck or hit our heads. The further down we got the more we heard the water stream running through the caves. Positioned at a more open section of the caves, we picked up our tubes for the black water rafting. Who wanted could do a jump in the water from a higher limestone formation. One guy even did a flip - with the tube! Then we formed a line and let ourselves float down the underground river. For more excitement we turned off our headlamps. Damn that was an experience. But further down the river, we saw something lighting up. We got closer and there they were - glowworms. To the millions they were hanging from the ceiling. No other word could describe the scene we just saw better than a sky full of stars.
The glowworms down there are a unique species only to be found in New Zealand. They are called Arachnocampa luminosa . Arachno' means spider-like, and refers to the way glowworms catch their food like spiders do. 'Campa' means larva and 'luminosa' means light-producing. These insects spend most of their life as larvae, growing to the size of a matchstick. The glow that we saw comes from the insect’s tail, which is bioluminescent – the chemicals it produces react with the oxygen in the air to generate light. This light attracts other insects, which then get trapped in the sticky threads the glowworm spins and hangs down from the roof of the cave. That's how it eats. The river that flows through the caves brings them plenty of insects to catch. After the larve stage, those glowworms turn into flies that haven't developed a mouth. Hence they can't feed and die within a day. Ultimately, their sole purpose during this stage is to reproduce. Years of hanging from the ceiling and then a day of saving the species - what a life.
For me, the cave tour with its narrow passages, the underground river and of course the glowworms was a trip to remember for a lifetime. Unfortunately, we couldn't take any cameras with us so I had to take some pictures from the web. But I can ensure anyone, it looked almost as breathtaking as those pictures!!!

Image: lmschaeffer.files.wordpress.com

Image: lmschaeffer.files.wordpress.com

Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/

Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/

Image: http://sites.psu.edu/

Image: http://sites.psu.edu/

Image: http://www.alltouristattractions.org/

Image: http://www.alltouristattractions.org/

Posted by jan.wegener 12:23 Archived in New Zealand Tagged caves adventure hike nz waitomo glowworms northisland blackwaterrafting Comments (0)

Hot Water Beach

Where You Dig Your Own Hot Pool

After we left New Zealand's largest city, we headed eastward and my adventure on the North Island began.
The first hours on the bus was all about getting to know the new fellow travelers. A new group and new friends to enjoy the journey with.

The drive to the Coromandel Peninsula gave us some great scenic views. It is known for its numerous secluded beaches and untouched native forests. We stopped in Tairua for lunch and supplies. The mountain that dominates the picturesque town is Mount Paku. There was the site of a Maori village called Maori Pa (the fortified village).

Before we head to our hostel which was located close to the famous Hot Water Beach, we took off to the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve - or in English, Cathedral Cove. Leaving the bus at the car park, we went off to the 45-min hike along the coast.


As soon as we stepped out of the forest, we'll found ourselves surrounded by white sand, clear water and the magnificent archway the cove owns its name to. A couple of guys from the bus and I actually dared to get our bathing shorts out and jumped in the water. It was amazing with the steep cliffs around us. The first cold feeling quickly passed and it was a great day at the beach. On the walk back our driver told us a fun fact - Cathedral Cove was used in a music video by Macklemore. And we just took a dip there :)


Back at our hostel, we unpacked and then walked the short hike to Hot Water Beach. Rated as one of the top 10 beaches by Lonely Planet. Dark clouds were to be seen to arrive soon so we head to hurry up if we wanted to dig our own hot tube. Online it can be read that the water can be pretty hot, but all we managed to surface was lukewarm water. The first reaction to the whole Hot Water Beach thing was disappointing. The promised hot tube was more like a cold bath for our feet. And we weren't the only ones. All around us we saw many unhappy faces. Some did look happy though and we checked out what they did differently. We learned that the beach is not evenly "heated" and that you need some time and luck to find a hot spot. Eventually, we did find such a spot and started digging. In the end, we had our own little hot tube filled with decently hot water right on the beach.


And just in time. The dark clouds were approaching fast. The first rain drops dribbled down and we sprinted back to our hostel. Thanks weather, for staying fine the whole day until the end.

Posted by jan.wegener 11:37 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beaches scenic nz hotwaterbeach northisland coastalwalk hottube Comments (0)

South to North

First Days in Auckland

Time flew by working in construction. I enjoyed the routine of getting up early, going to site, driving to the gym and hanging out with the other guys in the self-made hostel. Before I knew, I checked the calendar and realized I hadn't much weeks left on my world trip.
After around a month of working, I decided that I had to leave soon if I wanted to explore the North Island also. A look at my bank account and I had a grin on my face :)
Because of the lack of time I couldn't take the KiwiEx bus which would drive up north the same way I took before already. I booked a flight ticket directly to Auckland in order to save some days which I could use to fully explore the northern part of Aotearoa. Had a great last couple of days in Christchurch and wouldn't have mind to stay another month with the guys at work and in the hostel. But it was time to keep going and so I found myself already sitting in the plane to Auckland...

Source: http://www.ytravelblog.com/

Source: http://www.ytravelblog.com/

Auckland. Knows as the city of Sails by the locals, Auckland is the common starting place for many travelers in New Zealand. For me it was the starting point of the North Island. I moved in to Nomads Hostel downtown for two nights. During the day I explored the town, Queen Street, Albert Park, the harbor and at night Nomads hostel offered popular pub crawls which I readily joined.

Source: http://ucd.hwstatic.com/

Source: http://ucd.hwstatic.com/

Source: media-cdn.tripadvisor.com

Source: media-cdn.tripadvisor.com

I had about three weeks left in total for my world trip. A round trip of the North Island takes about two weeks if I wouldn't add any days to a stop. Therefore, I took the earliest bus I could get which would take me eastwards.

My trip around the North Island had begun.

Posted by jan.wegener 09:47 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland christchurch nz northisland firstdays pubcrawl lastdays Comments (0)

The Issue with the Money

And How Things Turned Out in Christchurch

In Christchurch it would all be decided. There, where I began my adventure in Aotearoa I just had to find a job.
For my upcoming plan, to go and travel around the North Island there simply wasn't enough money in my pocket. So after the few days with some folks of my old group, I had to seriously devote all my time into making cash- asap!
The little time with my friends who were soon off to drive up north following the same way I did weeks ago, I truly enjoyed. Coco and I went on walking around town and I showed him the must-see places since I have already been there and for him it was the first time in Christchurch. In Hagley Park, we took this shot of Coco underneath the 400kg Peace Bell. If you hit it hard enough it actually makes a sound and most likely your hand will be broken too.


Later, I went with some other friends to a really sick exhibition which was presented in the YMCA and the Canterbury Museum while we were there. Spectrum - Street Art Festival, was a colorful, vibrant, mind blowing and crazy display of all kind of artistic exhibits. From graffiti, trance-like videos that trick your mind over design T-Shirts, everything was an interesting eye-catcher. Especially the trance video was fascinating me. Standing in the pitch-black room fully surrounded by the rhythmic colors and designs moving to the sounds really left me spaced out a bit. Make sure to check out the video to it on YouTube (mine turned out crap; probably because I wasn't paying attention to it^^) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2E1Zw6RRiw.








Then, it was time to say goodbye. I waited with Coco and the rest of my friends from the group until the bus arrived. The green Kiwiexperience bus was bringing them up the coast to Kaikoura and then off to the North Island via the Cook Strait ferry. I, however, was officially starting my job search in town. First, I moved hostels. I needed a new place which was cheaper so I changed to smaller, local-run hostel. The owners are a Maori family and do most of the maintenance and cleaning themselves. I was in luck when I asked them for a care-taking job. For cleaning rooms, hallways, kitchen and common area I was giving free accommodation. There we go - I just got myself more time to find a well-paying job!

During the following two weeks, I handed in my CV to all quality restaurants, bars, shops and stores. Eventually, I even got invited to a couple interviews and was promised to hear an answer soon. Of the several locations where I applied to, two even called back. Unfortunately, the job would require a minimum of two months commitment. So I was back at the beginning with my job search. Meanwhile, I was also meeting up with Japp. I thanked him again for his hospitality when I first arrived in Christchurch and we had some beers in a pub.
One day while doing my daily cleaning job at the hostel, I was noticing some guys coming back from their job. They were wearing safety helmets. I stopped to talk to them and learned about a job agency which promotes construction jobs. Next day, I was knocking at their door and before you know I was sitting in the training room to receive my safety training for the construction. My money issue was solved - I got a job!

That night I was celebrating at the hostel. The Maori family was happy for me even though they lost a hard worker. My new daily routine now involved waking up extremely early, gear up, take the bike I was borrowing half-way through town and show up on a construction site of a new office building. The agency placed me in a team which was responsible for installing huge window frames all around the building. The team I started in was made up of three Filipino workers, now all good friends of mine, one local Maori, another traveler from the Netherlands and our boss Daniel. We were a pretty cool mix of people. The Filipinos were the hardest workers and always up for some fun, Marcus the local, is a musician and sometimes sings while working. Made long days entertaining. Matt, the other traveler, was the cool kid in the round. And Daniel, our boss, was nothing like you'd imagine a superior. He was a laid-back, buddy type of guy while still authoritative. Every morning it was great to come to our container which served as our common room, kitchen and Daniel's office. We'd all have a little chat, cook some breakfast on our camping burner and then get to work.
Work consisted of different tasks. From general construction work to high-level installing of huge window frames while being strapped in a harness, we did it all. Climbing in and around the scaffold to reach a spot was one of the most fun parts. Scraping off glue from the frames which was mistakenly applied to it wasn't. We worked our way from level to level. Always preparing the lower frames to put the new ones on top, secure them and then get the next row. Each and every step involved heaps and heaps of preparation such as measuring and leveling, tightening or loosening stuff and much more. Every other day we received a shipment of a container full of new frames. Then, the majority of the day included clearing it out without giving any window frames a scratch. Precision was key. To get the window frames up to the specific levels, we hired a crane to assist us. The raised frames were then put into stacks, neatly separated by pieces of wood and cloth. Oh, I almost forgot. Winter was coming and temperatures were dropping rapidly. Rain turned to snow occasionally and the freezing wind from the open fields of Canterbury made some days pretty nasty.

Boss brought his dog to work

Boss brought his dog to work


After one week, I had moved places again. Via couchsurfing I found a place where I could stay for cheaper than were I was at that moment. A local had build his own "hostel" in his backyard. He actually did a pretty good job. The whole setup was made up of a room with 4 beds (this was my room), a toilet room, an outside common area with a pool table and a hot tube, a larger inside common room with a PC, TV, food compartments and 4 beds and an actual bathroom. Strangely enough, pretty much all of us were working in the construction business. And all of us were obviously travelers.


With the new place to stay, I was even able to ditch the bike and catch a lift with Marcus. That let me sleep in some more in the morning. I also joined the gym with one of the guys from the self-made hostel. He is Italian and for helping him with his workouts I got a ride to the gym. Good deal for both.

So days went by and my account was filling up more and more. I quickly developed a routine - work from early morning to late afternoon, gym, dinner and then hanging out with the other construction travelers.
Life had taken a turn for the better.

Posted by jan.wegener 08:01 Archived in New Zealand Tagged art work job christchurch money construction nz goodbye newzealand southisland Comments (0)

Stay and Work or Go On?

Deciding between Queenstown or hitting the road again

My Deep South trip and the good times with the small group we were were now over. We arrived back in Queenstown where I stayed in a different hostel this time. From my visit at Lake Wanaka a bunch of the group at that time received a voucher or discount for another stay in a leading hostel chain (not mentioning the name, but if you ask I tell you^^). So I used that voucher to save the little money I was left with. The couple of days I had in Queenstown to decide whether I stay or not weren't that pleasant though. I was down to a couple hundred bucks, which in terms of travel money in NZ isn't that much. Up to that point, I was spending something between 30 and 50 dollars a day. Most of it was for an accommodation and the rest pretty much for food. No more expensive, thrilling and adventurous activities in the next weeks for me... My plan was to check what my first application round had brought up and then do a second attempt on finding a job in Queenstown. I went back to every single place I handed in my CV before my Deep South trip and asked on a status update. And every single place said the same thing: "You'd have more luck in a few months when the winter season starts". I was too late for the summer season and too early for the winter season in Queenstown. There was nothing left for me there...

I had booked my next travel leg with Kiwiexperience to Lake Tekapo. I looked forward to go on on my trip around the South Island of Aotearoa and was optimistic about finding a job in the next biggest city on the way - Christchurch. Where I began my NZ adventure I would find a job I thought.
On the way to Christchurch, we had one more overnight stop. What made things heaps better was that some of my old group who I said goodbye to before my Deep South trip had stayed longer in Queenstown and so I knew some familiar faces when I stepped into the neon green bus. A good friend of mine, Coco, could be bus buddies once again. Along the road of MacKenzie Country, named after a notorious sheep hustler, we got spectacular views on several of the 22 mountains over 3,050m, including the highest of all Mount Cook with its 3,754m. Its top actually changed dramatically when 10m broke off in 1991. The maori call it "Aoraki", the cloud piercer. A much cooler name than Mt. Cook I think.

We took the Lindis Pass. Often we just had to stare outside and take in the picturesque landscape. Coco and I more and more felt like we would enter the steppe-like terrain of Middle Earth. It gave the whole journey a cool touch we thought. Here is one of the first pictures I took on that trip that day. We just stopped the bus aside the road and stepped out to take a picture of the valley.


As we traveled through we got out at Lake Pukaki with its stunning blue color. Far in the back we could make out the peak of Mt. Cook. The sunny weather really gave us the full experience that day. Those who finished taking pictures enjoyed the sun while sitting close to the cooling water.


Arriving in Lake Tekapo, we moved into our little lodges almost at the edge of the lake and surrounded by forest. Our food stocks were still filled from our grocery stop we had earlier, so Coco and I decided to explore the area some and ended up hiking a near mountain (a small one) called Mt. John. The hike up there was fun and we got back in the mindset of Lord of the Rings again. The entire terrain and area of and around Lake Tekapo looked without a doubt like the fields of Rohan. On top at Godley Peak, we had an amazing view all around us and stayed for quite a while to take it all in.


The way back was all of the sudden becoming more eventful than it should have been, when we discovered a hurt duck sitting openly in the forest near the edge of Lake Tekapo. With the help from other group members we took care of it and put it safely hidden from predators in a bush.
That evening, many caught up on doing laundry (since it was for free) and we also had some good dinner. The earlier discussed dip in the lake was quickly forgotten when we checked the temperature. It felt as cold as the glacier water we jumped in from the bridge a few weeks ago! So none of us were too thrilled to give it a try. Sitting together in a group, we let the evening fade away.

Posted by jan.wegener 04:27 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains lakes queenstown hike scenic money nz newzealand picturesque southisland laketekapo lordoftherings Comments (0)

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