Christmas in the sun means board shorts, beaches and BBQs… And of course rafting, caving, kayaking… you get the picture!
For starters: Happy New Year! I hope you’ve all had a great start to 2016.
Christmas over here was a bit odd, I’ve had a warm Christmas before, back when Mum and Dad took me and Erin to Florida, but this was a bit different still… and I still find it a bit odd when it’s warm at a time of year you usually associate with cold!
I spent the Christmas break with my friend Jen – and we set off on a road trip for the break, to take advantage of the warm weather.
We had organised and packed in advance, so when Jen finished work on the 23rd we could be on our way around 4pm up to Turangi – which is about 3 1/2 hours away. The traffic was pretty heavy getting out of Wellington but as soon as we passed Otago we were alright.
We stopped overnight in Turangi, set up our tents to settle in as we had booked on to do a White Water Rafting trip on Christmas Eve morning (with the early start of 8.45).
White Water Rafting was really good – the weather wasn’t too hot, but thankfully it wasn’t pouring down either! It basically involved us, with 4 other people and a guide, being in an inflatable (hard-wearing) dinghy, all dressed up in our wet-suits, helmets and armed with paddles, and then heading down the Tongariro river through the calmer, and faster (more vicious) water.
I’ve attached a couple of photos at the bottom, so you can see a bit more what I mean!
We finished the rafting just after midday, and while we got changed back into normal clothes, the company set out all of the trimmings for lunch.
As soon as we’d had lunch, Jen and I set off, and continued driving up the north island, towards Hamilton, where we were meeting up with Jen’s extended family. It’s pretty standard that Kiwis are just really friendly and welcoming, and we were welcomed and taken along to join their Christmas Eve evening meal – which was really nice, pretty much what our standard Christmas meal is like (just a day early, and in the evening).
After the meal, I took over the driving, and Jen and I headed out to Raglan where we were to stay in over the break.
Jen and I in all of our wet-gear for the day
Some pics from the calmer section…
And also some from one of the rapids!
Christmas morning, we had a bit of a lie-in, then opened the little presents we’d taken along in the car, before having a nice relaxed brunch of pancakes, with bacon, syrup, banana in front of a suitably Christmas-themed movie.
We hadn’t got much planned for Christmas Day, which was good and meant we could just relax – but we’d done a bit of a food shop on our way out to Raglan the previous day, as we were going to cook a big buffet-style meal for the evening.
We did as much prep on the food as we could (which wasn’t a lot to be honest), and set the oven up with the massive pork leg in for a few hours. With that done, it seemed as though we should make the most of the day, and the sun, so we did the ‘normal’ Kiwi-Christmas thing, and headed down to the beach. There, on the black sand beach at Raglan, we had a bit of a kick-a-bout with the football (which needless to say, ends up with black sand covering your feet and legs), and then also walked out on the causeway while the tide was going out, before we headed back to check on the pork and start on the salads for the evening.
After our feast (we’d cooked absolutely loads) in the evening, we had a game of cards – called Five Crowns, which works a bit like Rummy and then headed to bed.
Christmas Day at the beach in Raglan – while the tide was out
Families settled in at the beach with their BBQs at the ready
*Typical kick-a-bout across the sand
*Pics of the feast we made… EPIC food-comas after!
*Thanks Jenny for the extra photos!
Boxing Day, we took as a quiet day to just chill and relax in the sun. It was also probably the warmest day we’d had as well, so all of us were quite happy to just sit reading our books in the sun. Then in the evening we took a quick drive along the coast to walk along Ngarunui Beach and see the sunset
Panoramic of Ngarunui Beach just 20 minutes outside of Raglan
Sun setting across the water, but there are still boarders out!
Jen and I headed out early to Waitomo, which is where there are a lot of underground caves with glowworms. We’d both been to the caves before, on short tours, but this time we’d booked to do a full day (7hr) tour – called the Lost World tour.
Picture – Map of the Lost World Epic tour in Waitomo
It was really good, the start of the tour was really cool, and involved doing a 300 meter rappel down into the canyon below.
After the rappel, we had a break for lunch and then started working our way down through the cave system. There were a couple of parts within the cave that I avoided doing (like any of the sections where you chose to swim under rocks) as I’m not a massive fan of swimming, and was wearing contact lenses which I didn’t exactly want to shift or move in my eyes while in a dark area. There was also one section where you could try to climb up a small (5 meter) waterfall to the higher ledge – which I attempted but I just couldn’t get the grip early on, so I took the ladder instead!
Other than that it was pretty cool over all. The final test was actually once we were back out of the caves, as we then had to walk about 45 minutes to an hour in the sun (in our thick black wetsuits) across rolling hills and around other sinkholes, back to the starting hut.
Once we’d finished the tour, and taken showers back at the starting hut, the two guides put on a BBQ for us all, and we could dry off and warm back up in the sun.
It wasn’t too late that we finished the tour, so we drove back to Raglan (stopping off for an ice cream and cold drinks on the way) for the night.
All suited and booted, and testing the gear.
Jen and I getting all hooked up for the 300 metre rappel…
After our early start, we were a bit too tired to do much on the 28th, so did another rest day in Raglan enjoying the sun.
We set off from Raglan on the 29th, and headed across the country to join the Coromandel Loop. We stopped off in Thames, had lunch and took a wander around the town before heading slightly further around the coast to Tapu, to stay in the campsite there.
Picture – View from Tapu campsite across the Firth of Thames
The following day, we headed further around the coast, and stopped on the peninsula for us to walk over the headland (and through the waist high inlet) to New Chums Beach. It was really nice to get out and just wander for a bit, and then people watching at the beach is always fun! We continued around the east coast of the peninsula and stopped over night at Hot Water Beach.
*Looking across New Chums from the headland
*Clear skies on New Chums Beach
Panoramic and section of New Chums Beach
*Thanks Jenny for the extra photos!
New Years’ Eve
We stayed at the Hot Water Beach for New Years Eve too, as we had booked onto a kayaking tour just up the road, in Hahei, to kayak around the famous Cathedral Cove in the afternoon. So after a lazy morning, then heading into the town for lunch, we went down to the beach to meet with our tour.
We’d originally wanted to go on the evening, sunset tour, but a weather front was moving in, so the tour group had cancelled their evening tours, and we went in the afternoon instead.
Picture – Panoramic of Cathedral Cove
Kayaking was great fun, and a nice change from walking, or driving around places – but when we got to Cathedral Cove it was (predictably) packed with people – after all it is summer and a beach… Think it’s one place I definitely prefer in winter!
Various stages of kayaking, from Hahei beach and around Cathedral Cove.
Check out the girls in the kayak across from us, getting a tow from the guide too!
We had dinner in one of the restaurants in Hahei, before heading back to the campsite to see in the new year.
Picture – Great reward after a day out kayaking, burger from The Pour House in Hahei
New Years’ Day
We headed out to ‘The Mount’ (aka Mount Maunganui, in Tauranga). The weather wasn’t great – getting quite windy and spitting with rain, so we found our campsite, and set up the tents in one of the short breaks in the weather. Then we headed to the local shopping centre to pick up food for the next few days, before we headed into town and to the local salt water hot pools, which look up at the Mount. We spent most of the afternoon and into the evening there, and then headed back to the campsite, picking up a hot chocolate each on the way.
Picture – according to Google, the view from the hotpools can look like this… on the day we were there it didn’t!
2nd January 2016
We stayed in Tauranga town for the morning, and grabbed brunch from a great little café – I’ve come back and since looked up the recipe* for spiced pancakes thanks to them!
Spiced pancakes picture (not mine, I ate them too fast!) and the best recipe I’ve found for them from Yummly
Although the weather was still rubbish, we managed to have a pretty successful day, by wandering around the town and stopping in many of the shops.
Mid-afternoon we headed off, and back inland a little to Rotorua, and again spent the afternoon wandering around the town, before we headed to the cinema in the evening (it was a good way to pass a couple of hours and stay dry).
3rd January 2016
We visited the Redwoods Treetop walks – where they have built platforms and walkways up in the trees. It was a pretty good way to spend the morning – although it then started to absolutely pour it down… so we retreated to the car, and read our books for a couple of hours.
Across the walkways between the Redwood trees during the brief dry-spell…
And then the heavens opened!
In the evening, we went to the Skyline park in Rotorua, and got the gondola up to look over the lake. There we grabbed some dinner, and did several luge rides – which was so much fun!
The luge is like go-karting, but without engines, they just rely on your downhill momentum – but don’t let that fool you, they get pretty fast!
Gondola trip up to the Skyline park
Panoramic and normal photo across Lake Rotorua from the summit
“Once is never enough…” so true for the luge! One of the tracks in the background…
Getting my speed back up after a sharp corner
Both nights in Rotorua, we stayed out by one of the lakes (right on the side of the lake), which was interesting, as it was getting windier! We decided it was safer and easier to set up one tent and just share for those nights – so we definitely weren’t going to fly away!
4th January 2016
Woken up by the ducks* quaking over Lake Okareka, Rotorua
*Thanks for the extra photo Jenny!
We headed out to Gisborne on the east coast again, and after setting the tents up in the sun (finally a chance for them to dry out!) we headed to the local supermarket to pick up some food for the next couple of days.
5th January 2016
We got up early in the morning so that we could go out on a tour (thankfully right beside the campsite) which was to walk out onto the reef and feed the stingrays!
It was really cool getting up close to them – although there were some pretty big rays out there – one was probably about 1.5 meters across! And we were also joined by some Kingfishes – which were good to watch, but vicious if you had your fingers in the water…
In the afternoon, we went out to where there was a natural rock slide… we were both going to have a go – but although it was no longer raining, or as windy, it still wasn’t really warm enough for that!
Cloudy early morning out in Gisborne
“Puppies of the Sea” (giant ones) – aka Stingrays
Then the kingfishes came to steal all the food… (and they have sharp teeth!)
6th January 2016
After breakfast we headed back out to the rockslide to see if it was any warmer – but both decided it wasn’t, and wasn’t worth getting cold over, so we headed back across country, via Hastings for lunch, a wander around and an ice cream, to the Tongariro National Park.
Rere Rockslide out in Gisborne, which you can hire wetsuits and body boards/inflatable tyres from the Gisborne i-Site
Rere Falls – supposedly you are able to climb out and stand behind the waterfall (but it wasn’t warm enough on either day to try out that theory!)
We stayed at one of the sites high in the Tongariro Park range, where the following morning, at 6am we caught the shuttle bus to the start of the Tongariro Crossing.
The Tongariro Crossing is a 19 km hike, with some great scenery along the way, lots of lakes, lots of volcanic features… but that morning we could see about 30 metres in front of us at the start of the track, and the shuttle driver (who grew up in the area) said he thought that would be the best of the weather we’d get – with it more likely to become us walking through the clouds…
So Jen and I had a quick discussion, and as we were not ‘walking for the sake of walking’ we wanted to see stuff, decided it wasn’t worth it that day… especially with the weather for the following day looking even worse with gales heading in, so it sounded like they would be advising against any walkers doing the crossing…
We decided instead of staying there, and seeing if our tents would stand the wind (they’d already taken quite a battering), we headed back to Wellington…
*Start of the Tongariro Crossing… (and this was the ‘best’ it would be)
*Passing Mount Ruapehu on the way back to Wellington, through the Tongariro National Park – it might be summer but there’s still some snow!
*Thanks for the photos Jenny!
Alongside all the travelling, I’ve also been working on the freelance projects I have on – so it’s nice knowing I have a trickle of money coming in still – although I’m working on trying to find a more stable design job in New Zealand.