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NZ Roadtrip – Part 1: Earthquakes, Hobbits, and Weather Woes

As I am writing this post, Michael and I are hunkered down in the communal kitchen area of the Whakapapa campground at our own table staying warm and dry. We are joined by hikers and campers from all over the world. Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany, and the US. And just like them, we are waiting out the cold, rainy, miserable weather to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s known as one of the greatest one day hikes in the world. Our original plan was to camp here for two nights while completing the 12 mile hike during our stay. Well, we all know what happens when you try to plan ahead….so we spent a couple hours today re-working our travel itinerary. The weather is supposed to be nicer tomorrow (Friday) and clear up by Sunday, so we are going to attempt a short trail section tomorrow and possibly do the full hike on Sunday. Then we will finally head back out on the road, but we can’t waste too much more time waiting out the weather.

As most of you know, there was a very strong (7.8 magnitude) earthquake that took place near Kaikoura on the South Island on Nov 14th, which not only caused major damage on the South Island, but was also felt in parts of the North Island. We were far enough north that we didn’t feel anything while we were sleeping in our tent. It also meant trouble for the ferry services that go between the North and South island. Amidst the tsunami warnings, landslides, aftershocks, and road closures there was also major damage to the docks at the wharfs in Wellington and Picton. Our plans to take the ferry across to the South island on Nov 20th got bumped back to Nov 24th. Hopefully that does not change. Also, since we are incurring extra camping costs staying longer in Tongariro National Park and an extra night in Wellington, we needed to find a way to offset those costs. So we are doing what’s called “freedom camping” in a few spots between Tongariro and Wellington (since it’s a pretty far drive). We are also cutting out a few stops on the south island and driving a bit longer each day. The plan is to drive 4-5 hours instead of our usual 2-3 we have averaged. Some campsites throughout New Zealand offer varying primitive amenities and are completely free to stay at for a few nights. We have found a few along our route that are free of charge, have a source of drinking water, and toilets (usually the non-flush kind). Virtually no freedom campsites have showers, so we will be hippie-travelers for a couple days until we get to our nice, cozy Airbnb in Wellington. If you aren’t sure what Airbnb is, check it out here. We stayed at one in Sydney and loved it!

So far we are enjoying our road trip through the North Island. We are grateful to our friends Nicole and Barry for giving us a place to stay and good travel advice!  The driving requires a lot of concentration on both our parts so we have not been driving more than 4 hours per day. Roads here can twist and wind their way through mountain ranges or they can be gravel roads for long stretches. Before heading out on our journey though, we were able to spend some time with our friend Xairah, a Filipino sister in the Auckland Central congregation, and new friends the two days prior to our departure. We walked around downtown Auckland, had yummy Korean food one night, Thai food the following night, and our favorite treat Boba Milk Tea two days in a row! I could totally go for some Boba right now actually…

Anyways, our first stop on the road was a campsite in the Coromandel Peninsula. This is where we stopped by Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. Hot Water Beach exists due to heated rocks deep under the beach. The groundwater is forced up through the sand and comes up quite hot. It’s recommended to dig your sandy hot tub within +/-2 hours of low tide, otherwise that area of the beach is under ocean waves. A short 15 minutes drive away is Cathedral Cove. This place is known for a huge cave tunnel that stretches over a beautiful beach. The carpark was quite full when we arrived, but we luckily snagged a parking spot, then made the 45 minute trek down to the beach. It was completely worth it!

From there, we drove to Matamata and camped at a holiday park that had thermal hot spring pools. That was a real treat since it was quite chilly that day. The area around Matamata has lush, rolling green hills and lots of sheep. This is where Peter Jackson built the set of Hobbiton for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit films. The Alexander family that owns the land that Hobbiton lies within is an actual working sheep farm with 13,000 sheep! It was an amazing experience seeing the same hobbit holes that were used in the films. I was finally able to check that off my bucket list!

To find out more about taking a tour of Hobbiton, click here.

After leaving Hobbiton, we camped at a Holiday park in Rotorua, which is famously known for its geothermal activity and tourist attractions. Local kiwis call it Roto-Vegas because it becomes packed with tourists during the high season. It was rainy the entire time we stayed here, so we did not get to see any bubbling mud pools or geysers. We did do a short hike near some Sulphur steam vents (smelled like rotten eggs) and later went to check out the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest. Now that place was totally worth hiking in the cold and rain. To learn more about the Redwoods in New Zealand, click here.

Once we left Rotorua, we headed further south and into the mountains of Tongariro National Forest. And this is where we are still waiting for the rain to stop. I am hoping for some breathtaking photos since we were robbed of any while hiking in the Blue Mountains back in Australia due to the thick fog and rain. We can only wait and see if the weather cooperates on Friday!

We are so grateful to our friends and family who checked in after the earthquake and who follow us along our journey. We love you all and think about you often! But ultimately, we give all of our thanks to Jehovah God who has put so many wonderful people into our lives and given us some amazing experiences. It has been faith-building to meet new friends in a completely different country who feel like family. There are occasions where something will happen, and Michael and I will glance at each other with the look, “Whoa. That definitely came from Jehovah.” In all honesty though, it has been hard to stay on a spiritual routine since we are travelling and are not settled into a new congregation just yet. But we are keeping to our study on Sundays and Thursdays, and reflect on the daily scriptural text.  We can’t wait to see what else this trip has in store for us and dive into the ministry – minus any more earthquakes!

Our next blog will post will reveal whether we were successful in hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or if the rain and cold defeated us. Stay tuned!

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