It was 4 in the morning when, tired and exhausted, we put our feet on the New Zealand soil. The custom officers were friendly, and spoke to us as if we were ordinary people, highly unusual! They are obsessed with avoiding any kind of food being introduced to the country, so we were a bit nervous that they would find the jar of Nutella that we did not have the heart to throw away. Once through security we were had a shock from the cold after the good hot days in Rarotonga. We had no idea how to get to Auckland City, or where we were to stay, but when I accidentally checked my email at McDonalds in the airport, I found out that we had a couchsurfing host in town.
Auckland town centre
I called him, and one hour later we were in Hamish` kitchen drinking fresh New Zealand "flat white" which is a very good luxury coffee. Although it was around 5 C outside, there was no heating in his house. In New Zealand there are very few that actually heat their houses, they just wear more clothes instead. Us Norwegians are accustomed to comfortable warm houses, and being able to walk around inside with a T-shirt mid-winter, which is preferable to having to wear a bubble jacket indoors, and yet constantly feel cold. We put on all the warm clothes we could find, and went out to "do" Auckland. Auckland is a very modern and clean city, and the people looked really well groomed. We almost felt a bit left out not wearing a suit and tie. One of the most special things about Auckland was the way the pedestrian crossing worked. The big intersection in the town centre had a system that had a green man in all directions! When this happened the road filled up with pedestrian walking in all sorts of directions, also diagonally. I have never seen that in any other country, but it should be like this everywhere. Many countries only consider making life easy for cars.
Pink bald lady on the pier
Most restaurants we passed were very expensive, so we ended up going to an Asian food market with many different stalls that sold everything from Japanese to Indonesian and Thai food. My favorite food is sushi, whic was very reasonable at most places in Auckland. We walked along the pier and got our first glimpse of the skyline of Auckland. It definitely has a very special skyline, that can not be confused with any other city. “ The sky tower” is the pride of the town. It is one of New Zealand's tallest building with its more than 200 meters , and looks like it is straight out of a science fiction movie. It is possible to pay to walk around the big ring on top of the tower, and if you have enough money then you can also pay to jump off the tower. I would definitely have jumped from the tower if it was a bit cheaper…I promise… Those that do are secured to a line which goes all the way to the ground,, so it is in a way like rappelling into thin air, only with much higher speed. We walked along the pier and looked at the fish market and did some people watching before we went back to Hamish and the other couchsurfers living at his place. Together with another couple, who was from Switzerland, we made a pizza that we shared with Hamish.
The following day we got an even better chance to study the skyline of Auckland when we went out to a small volcanic island called Rangitoto. It is the youngest island I have ever been on, only 500 years old, which is like a potty-baby in geologic time.
After a short and very very expensive boat ride we were on the volcanic island,ready to mount our fifth volcano. The island was formerly used as a getaway for the rich Auckland people, but is now closed of as a nature reserve. A major problem there is all the critters that eat the eggs of some rare endemic birds. For years, conservationists put out traps for rats and hedgehogs, and after much work finally eradicated them from the island. We saw lots of traps on the way up to the top of the volcano. At the top we found out that it did`nt really feel like a volcano as there were lots of trees, and it was hardly possible to see that there was a crater,and not just a random valley.
The view was very good. We could see far up to the beautiful island regions north of Auckland, and then toward the green landscape that rippled out towards the coast
On the way down we climbed through some caves, something that Torunn was`nt too thrilled with considering her spider phobia kicking in again.
The next day we headed back to Auckland city and rented a car to drive around the south island 2 weeks. We decided to skip the South Island, even though everyone says it is so amazingly beautiful there. 2,5 weeks is just not enough time to do both islands, and in addition, it sounds like the nature on the south island is quite similar to Norway. It was also much colder there, even snow in places.
The first day we drove North towards the tip of New Zealand to a village called Whangarei. We drove a scenic route with evergreen valleys and occasional forests. There was no longer any doubt where the Lord of the Rings was filmed! We went past Whangarei and onto the tip of a peninsula called Whangarei Heads. We were staying there with a lady called Donna. We arrived at a converted boathouse and were greeted by a really fat cat who was afraid of his own shadow. We went into the cold boathouse and were served lovely Pad Thai that Donna had prepared up for us. She was an interesting lady who shared our interest in atheism and travel. In the morning, me and Torunn had a walk around the area.
Paddler in Whangarei
It was very nice and peaceful on the stone beach. The water was silent except for a young New Zealander who was paddling standing on a surfboard, which apparently is the trend in the country. After breakfast Donna took us to see some of Whangarei. Torunn learned to weave at the local art center while I ate sushi on the street. We had planned to dive on a very nice reef outside the city, but gave up the idea when we saw the poster outside the dive center "ready to freeze, come on in!"We stopped by a local cave on the way back to our boathouse.
Stig in cave
It was actually pretty cool to find a cave without any entry fee or tours which was always the case in South America. There was only a small sign there that said “enter at your own risk”. I do everything on my own risk, so I was ok with that. I and Torunn had headlamps, and walked into the darkness while Donna was waiting outside.
It was exciting to walk into the dark cave while it got tighter and tighter. After we had been walking a few hundred meters into the cave, we saw that the roof and wall reflected our lights. Minerals in the rock created a stunning effect and atmosphere. When we turned off the lights we saw a starry sky of hundreds of small lights. These were the so-called "glow-worms" that live only in New Zealand. They are bio luminescent larvae that glow in the dark to attract insects. They are really bizarre organisms. They live their adult stage as a fly for 3 days, just enough to reproduce and lay lots of eggs. Their life is so short that they do not even have a mouth or an intestinal system. The eggs hatch into larvae that live for 9 months before they hatch into flies. They drop down several long slimy threads that catch insects in the caves. The insects are attracted by the droppings of the larvae that glow in the dark! I continued deeper into the cave and jumped when I felt something moving in the icy water I waded through, but it was just a small cave crayfish. I tried as hard as I could not think of the movie "The Descent". It was an exciting experience, and I found out that I'm not quite as claustrophobic as previously suspected.
Torunn and Donna under the tree
The area around the cave was also quite magical. Everything reminded me of Lord of the Rings. We even found a little magic forest. I climbed a giant pine needle tree, while Torunn and Donna waited patiently on the ground. In the evening we ate pasta and discussed religion with Donna, who also proved to be a dedicated atheist. We watched a documentary called "Jesus Camp" which was pretty crazy, and quite terrifying. It is mostly about indoctrination, and aboutt incomprehensibly unintelligent people.