North Island Finale

Alright good people of the blog-o-sphere. We have been bad bloggers and we know it. I will fully admit I have the attention span of a concussed goldfish, and between that and the new “to-do list” of prepping for the Appalachian Trail we let the blog fall by the wayside. I’m going to make an effort over the next week to publish some of the highlights of our last two months in NZ but also not get bogged down in the weeds with every little story. For those of you interested in what we ended up doing with our time and needing some closure on the Mushu saga stay tuned for the next couple weeks. (This will also help people that are doing research on what to do in New Zealand!) We’re also going to be adding posts on our AT prep, but we need to finish prepping to actually write about it.

So without further a-do…

Kerosene Creek: After our eventful night on the couch of a Wellington hostel we headed north with our guide book and a rented car. Our book, NZ Frenzy, specialized in “off the beaten path” attractions and mentioned a little known hot springs called Kerosene Creek. A previous WWOOF host also told us to stop in there, so we decided to give it a little look-see! Kerosene Creek has a lot of bad press because it is a local party spot and allegedly crime is high as a lot of break ins and other nefarious activities take place there. Well, we showed up to an empty parking lot on a Tuesday night so we figured ‘why not!’ we might be in for the relaxing hot springs experience the books talk about after all. The book couldn’t do this little place justice; when you think of a stereotypical hot springs experience, this is it. We took a beautiful 5 minute walk along a little creek lined with trees that had rising steam floating above it in the thick evening air, and came to an unassuming little camp site with an old fire pit and a well-worn tent plot. Next to the camp site, between two old stumps, hid a set of stairs built out of chiseled rock for foot holds and old tree roots that lowered down four feet to crystal clear pool of water at the perfect bath temperature. This pool was not a typical little hole in a rock, rather between Mother Nature and a bit of man-made help, a 20 foot wide wading pool grew consistently deeper and warmer until you were standing under a 6 foot, steaming hot waterfall. We spent at least an hour in the pool alternating between the falls for hotter water and taking a break in the cooler, shallow water at the stair, all the while soaking in the warmth and drinking the last of our precious Renaissance Brewing Company beers.

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Lindsay soaking it all in at Kerosene Creek

Giant Kauri Trees: We’ll be the first to admit that we didn’t plan much for our New Zealand trip except for buying flights and getting our visas (more on that in a couple posts). Both Lindsay and I had this image of New Zealand as tropical, Jurassic paradise of old growth forest, ferns, birds and the occasional penguin or dinosaur. Well, between the Polynesian and European settlers, we humans managed to destroy all but about 10% of the old growth “native bush” that New Zealand once had. One of New Zealand’s greatest natural treasures is the massive Kauri tree, the third largest species of tree in the world and only a limited number of them remain after decades of unrestrained harvesting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lindsay and I made the drive north past Auckland to the Northlands Region, the natural habitat of the few remaining giants. It reminded me of the Wanganui River with the prehistoric nature and wild, primal feeling that came from standing amongst these trees (away from the heavily touristed parking lots, of course). There is something scary about standing next to a massive tree.  Like mountains, these giants made me feel completely insignificant; I’ve been on earth for 1/4 of a century, they have been here for over 15 centuries…

Lindsay hiding under one of the biggest trees in the Southern Hemisphere!
Lindsay hiding under one of the biggest trees in the Southern Hemisphere!

 

90 Mile Beach: This is the perfect example of Crossing Shit Off the Bucket List!* So everyone has heard about drivable beaches all over the world, and in my limited NZ research I read something about a beach that doubles as a state highway. That was cool on its own, but when I saw Jeremy Clarkson driving 90 mile beach in a rental car on a Top Gear episode, repeating the feat became a bucket list item. Now, Lindsay informed me that the rental agreement states that you lose insurance coverage if the car is on sand, and the map may have said that 4wd is highly recommended, but the tides were right and I figured that if they could do it on Top Gear then why couldn’t we? We hit the on ramp in the pouring rain with our little hatch back and put the pedal down… both a bit white-knuckled and not really sure what to expect since it was our first time driving on a real beach-highway, for 50 miles. (The highway section of the beach is about 50 miles and the beach itself is only 70 miles. No one knows what it is called 90 Mile Beach).

Maybe we wouldn't have hit the bump if I drove with my eyes opened...
Maybe we wouldn’t have hit the bump if I drove with my eyes opened…

Now, I’ll admit I may not have been totally comfortable with driving our 2013, 2wd rental car on a beach and may have been going over in my head how I was going to explain to our financial adviser that we needed $20k to buy a rental car in New Zealand. I may have been driving 115kph (70mph) down the beach when you’re supposed to be going 80kph (50mph) and may have missed a slight depression in the sand that we hit going full speed. We definitely know we hit it though because our heads bounced off the ceiling and all four tires may have come off the ground… after that we slowed down.

 

The view from the passenger's window!
The view from the passenger’s window!

Not to worry, the Mazda Demio kept on motoring down the “highway” (yes, it really is an official highway that people actually use to commute to work on a daily basis) and all too soon it came time to leave our sand road for an asphalt one. Some very nice locals took pity on the developmentally challenged tourists and offered to show us the way off the beach. The books and maps forgot to mention this part: the road off the beach is a 4km (2.5mi) long, sand-bottom stream that may have quicksand pockets in it. So just don’t slow down. The signs at the far end of this “off ramp” did tell us not to drive the stream in rain because the water gets deep. Good to know since it’s been raining the last 24 hours.

Our "off-ramp" to get from 90 Mile Beach to the main road
Our “off-ramp” to get from 90 Mile Beach to the main road

Let’s just say we made it up the stream and cooked dinner next to the sheltered picnic tables as we let our pulses drop a bit. Our car ran just fine afterward… it just needed a few pieces of string to hold the bumper in place when it came time to turn it in at the airport a few days later. Remind me again why you should never buy a rental car?

Cape Reinga Lighthouse: The last epic piece of scenery to see on the North Island; the very northern point where the Tasman Sea crashes into the Pacific Ocean. From the lighthouse at the road’s end you can see an incredible “checkerboard” pattern in the ocean where the two bodies of water meet. This is one of the few places in the world where a person can see this, and combined with the historical and spiritual importance the place has in the native Maori culture, Lindsay and I couldn’t miss it. Well, a picture is worth 1,000 words and you can see how incredible our view was! For 3 days of on the North Island including Cape Reinga, the “million dollar drive” and countless beaches, it poured on us. We couldn’t even see across the parking lot at Cape Reinga. I’m still bitter.

Our "Priceless View" from Cape Reinga
Our “Priceless View” from Cape Reinga

Driving Through Auckland: Our last day on the North Island consisted of me doing one thing I vowed not to do in NZ: drive through a 1.5 million person city, in the middle of the day, using a 5 year old map and driving on the left side of the road with a steering wheel on the right side of the car. Well it just so happened that our rental car return depot was downtown Auckland and because these are asphalt highways the insurance was valid the entire route, why the hell not! Alright so look, I’m not going to give a blow by blow narrative of what happened but here is the basic gist of things: Lindsay navigated with an old and 80% accurate paper atlas map book (no GPS, no cell phone) while I had collision avoidance duties behind the wheel. Let’s just say that Lindsay and I have gone through a lot; long distance relationships, a year separated while I served in Afghanistan and now driving across Auckland at rush hour without killing anyone or ourselves… it was a major physical and emotional event! We made it without a single wrong turn (so Lindsay claims to this day) and without a scratch, so naturally we gave each other a high-five when we parked the car in the rental return space!  And then we crossed our fingers hoping that our ‘fixed’ bumper would hold… no miscellaneous charges from the rental company yet!

Somehow Lindsay would navigate and we would "get lost" and then she would realize we had to turn around as we drove towards a gourmet chocolate shop. Naturally, if we used their driveway to turn around we might as well go in and buy something...
Somehow Lindsay would navigate and we would “get lost” and then she would realize we had to turn around as we drove towards a gourmet chocolate shop. Naturally, if we used their driveway to turn around we might as well go in and buy something…

 

* Credit for this phrase goes to Jared Ranger.  He renamed our book Our Bucket List: Crossing Shit Off! and we’re considering it!

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