North Island – Part I

After the 3 hour Interislander Ferry ride from Picton to Wellington, I touched down on the North Island for the very first time. Having been in NZ for over 6 months it was good to finally start exploring this part of the country. The South Island is actually 32% larger than the North, however, the North is home to 4 million inhabitants compared to the South’s 1. It was therefore inevitable that places were going to be busier compared to what I’d experienced in the South. In some ways, I was looking forward to this, but equally, I had enjoyed the tranquilly and emptiness of the South Island. The first stop was the nation’s capital Wellington (Welly to the locals). It’s a small but lively city, with lots of character, culture, art and nightlife. I would be staying with my friend Ben, those with a good memory, or who read my NZ I Finally Made It Blog, would recall I initially met Ben doing camp America and had subsequently met up with him in QT on my first weekend there. He lives in Wellington with his girlfriend Louise and they very kindly offered to put me up on the sofa for the weekend. I arrived at Ben’s house in the evening and spent the night catching up and getting to know the rest of his housemates.   

The following morning I explored Welly on foot, first walking to Oriental Bay, then down along the waterfront and marina towards Te Papa Museum. I then carried on through the central CBD and shopping district eventually arriving at the other end of the CBD, home to the Beehive, New Zealand’s parliament. As I said it’s a fairly small and compact city so walking from one side to the other took around 40 minutes. After this, I stopped for a bite to eat at a small sushi restaurant before meeting back up with Cian, who was now based in Welly after quitting his job and moving.

We then went onto the Museum of NZ, Te Papa and spent about an hour or more walking around the Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War Exhibition. Having lived in Aus and NZ for almost 3 years now I’ve become very familiar with Anzac Day. It is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. It is the equivalent of our Armistice Day on November 11th. Something I have also heard referenced a lot along with Anzac day is the battle of Gallipoli, however, I didn’t know too much surrounding the history of the battle. The exhibit was outstanding, it went into great broad detail surrounding the battle in WWI as well as individual personal stories. Throughout the exhibition, there were giant, life-like sculptures, depicting various real-life characters, commissioned by Weta Workshop’s Sir Richard Taylor (the people behind all the Lord of the Rings props, costumes, prosthetics, miniatures and weaponry). Honestly, the level of detail behind each one was staggering and I’m not surprised to learn it took 24,000 hours to create them. It was an incredibly moving and informative exhibition and I recommend it to anyone passing through. It was also free of charge. The final statement must be made to those who lost their lives in the conflict, which totalled a tragic 130,842, of which 2,779 were Kiwi, 8,709 were Aussie, and although the Turks technically won the battle, the price was 86,692 Ottomans. With an exhibition of this nature, you leave feeling horrified as to the atrocities and hardship that those who were there had to endure. You feel so much gratitude for the life you are now living and pay your respects to all those that lost theirs.   

Often after something moving like that the best course of action is to go and enjoy a beer which is exactly what we did and were joined by Andy another friend based in Welly. We stayed a while before exploring some other joints along Cuban Street until calling it a night at a reasonable hour. The following evening Ben and all his housemates had a friends birthday party so I was invited along for the night. The theme was Love Island, although none of us lads had a clue so just threw anything on. I ended up with a police hat and pink bow tie on for some reason. Honestly no idea why. It was a great night out though and I was able to catch up with some familiar faces. I’m not quite sure what time we made it home, but it was rather late. Meaning the next day was a bit of a right off. However, in the late afternoon, I did muster up the courage to walk up Mount Victoria, which offers panoramic views of Welly. It was, however, like every other day blowing its head off. In fact, Welly has on average 173 days a year of wind over 60 kph. This can be blamed on the Cook Island Strait which funnels the wind between the two islands intensifying it while it’s channelled through the gap.

View of wellington on sunny day from Mt Victoria
View of Wellington from Mt Victoria

I also prepped a box that contained most of my ski gear that was being sent back home to the UK via Send My Bag and being collected the following day. It was slightly more hassle than I had anticipated but overall it was cheaper than a second suitcase on the plane and I would recommend the company to those looking to send goods abroad in some capacity or another. On my final day in Welly, another friend from QT was in town, a german called Justus who I’d hiked the Routeburn track with. I therefore had a brief catch up with him, although I’ll likely be seeing him again in Mount Maunganui, along with many others from QT who are now based there. As I end this section on Welly I must thank Ben, Louise and their housemates, Brook, Briony and Ash for their hospitality while I was there. I really appreciate it and I hope I’m able to return the favour one day. 

Group of friends pose for photo
Some of the gang in Welly before the party

After a wonderful weekend in Welly seeing the sights and catching up with numerous friends I departed to continue the journey north. My first destination was Castlepoint on the lower east coast. If I thought Welly was windy, today was even worse. Gusts of 140kph were forecast across much of the country and on arrival at Castlepoint, the wind was raging. I parked my car and set off having a little wander about looking at a few of the information signs that were stationed there. I returned to my car to change into some different clothes, which are all stored in the boot. With the wind being so strong I had to fumble around with one had to get what I was after while holding onto the boot with the other to stop the wind from ripping it up off its hinges. In doing so I put my keys down in the boot and in my haste to close the door before the wind blew me away I forgot to pick up my keys again. It was at this moment I realised I had just locked myself out of my car…. Due to the older nature of the car, the boot can only be opened with the key itself, plus the central locking on the car only works on 3 doors and not the driver side door. This means that when I go in the boot I often don’t unlock the car. I’d often thought I’m going to balls this up one day and lock the keys in the boot, as I’ve been close a few times and low and behold that’s exactly what transpired at Castlepoint. Everything I owned was in the car, including my phone and wallet. All I had now was a stupid face mask in a back pocket and a change of clothes. After the initial “Doh” moment, I had to laugh a little. At this moment another car pulled up and I asked the driver if he had any ideas, he suggested worse case you smash one of the smaller back windows on the car, which in my eyes was the last resort but would have likely proved more cost-effective than calling out a locksmith. Before this though, I wandered into the little town at Castlepoint, I say town there are about 50 houses, a shop and a holiday park. The shop had no ideas and suggested I head to the holiday park. Once here I used their phone to call my insurance who were useless. Stating that because I knew where the keys were, they weren’t lost or stolen, so they weren’t covered by my policy. Money well spent there. Thankfully the owner and handyman of the holiday park used to be a mechanic. He went to get some tools and then drove the two of us back to my car. Within 5 minutes he had broken into the car with not so much as a scratch. It’s a little scary how easy it is for someone who knows what they are doing. I won’t give away his secrets in case there are any budding car thieves out there but at least I now know. Although I hope it’s knowledge I don’t have to ever recall again. As a thank you, I stayed at their holiday park for the night which was a great spot right on the beach and gave the guy 40 bucks to buy some beers for his troubles. It was too windy to do much else so I just chilled at the holiday park and snapped some photos at sunset. The following morning the wind had settled and I was up at sunrise to explore the lighthouse, Deliverance Bay and Castle Rock. I actually attempted a trip up to the lighthouse the previous day, but it was too windy and I was getting battered by small rocks whipped up by the wind. Genuinely never felt the wind that powerful, you could pull off the Miachel Jackson move where he leans forward at an impossible angle with ease, hehe. 

It was certainly an eventful 24 hours at Castlepoint, with more action than I’d anticipated. But like the wind, I was also gone, making my way to Palmerston North, another reunion lined up. I would be meeting Kaytie a friend who I’d known from back home and went to school with. She was living in Palmerston North with her partner Dan and had been in NZ for a few years now. I probably hadn’t seen Kaytie in over 5 years so it would be great to catch up. I was also staying in their lovely new built house which was a luxury after being on the road for so long. When I arrived I was welcomed with open arms and had the best 24 hours catching up and chatting away about everything that had happened in our lives since we last saw each other. We went on a walk along the river in Palmy North with their two dogs and had a lovely slap-up dinner. I was even treated to a tour of the company business which Dan founded and owns. A high-end rifle company. I know nothing about guns but it brought all my years playing Call of Duty to life seeing the craftsmanship in the companies work. It was amazing to spend some time with someone who grew up and came from the same place and we had lots of fun talking about all the little things we missed and remembered from home. I was even lucky enough to be allowed some Little Scarlett Wilkin & Sons Jam. A speciality from little old Tiptree, my home town in the UK. Thank you so much Kaytie and Dan for your hospitality and for welcoming me into your beautiful home. It was so good to see you and even better to hear how well you’re both doing.   

After a 24 hour stop in Palmerston North, I was on my way again. This time heading for New Plymouth and Mt. Taranaki (which is actually a volcano). I elected to take the scenic route via State Highway 45, otherwise known as the Surf Highway. The Highway starts in Hawera and works its way 105 km to New Plymouth, a great basecamp for exploring Mt Taranaki / Egmont National Park. Quite obviously the route is renowned for a large selection of good quality surf breaks, but I was there more for the drive than the surf. I had a quick stop in Hawera for lunch and a look at the old water tower before I continued on to Opunake. After that was Cape Egmont Lighthouse, where I had a very close call with some kind of bird taking a swing at my drone.

Cape Egmont Lighthouse New Zealand
Cape Egmont Lighthouse

The final stop before pulling into New Plymouth itself was Oakura. Not being content with my days’ work just yet, on arrival in New Plymouth I went on to explore Back Beach and then summited Paritutu Rock, which offers amazing views along the coast and back towards Mt Taranaki. However, it isn’t for the faint-hearted. Although it’s only a quick 20 min hike (probably more for those less able), it’s more a climb than a hike with the gradient and incline being very extreme. In fact, there’s a metal chain that’s used to hoist yourself up the cliff face. Worth it for the views at the top though. To finish the day, which had been a big one exploring and what with being by the coast, I treated myself to fish and chips which I ate sat on Fitzroy Beach.  

The highlight of the region and also the prominent feature of the skyline for miles around though is the breathtaking Mt Taranaki. Although it was a very last-minute decision and I also booked the final bed in the hut, I elected to spend a night at Pouakai hut, which can be accessed by the 2 hours Mangorei Track. Staying in the hut meant I could capture both sunset and sunrise, plus have much more time exploring around as opposed to just doing an out and back day walk. The hike up to the hut was pretty boring, it’s all just wooden boardwalk, which while very helpful and keeps your feet dry, there wasn’t much going on and it’s a bit of a boring slog up the thousands of steps. The views once you reach the hut and then beyond are totally worth it though. I arrived at the hut around 4pm, claimed my bed, then chilled out for a little while taking in the view back towards New Plymouth and the beautiful weather. I then packed my little day bag and headed off to explore further above the hut. 5 minutes after leaving the hut you get your first view of Mt Taranaki from a plateaued area which is beautiful. From here it’s another 5 to 10 minutes to Pouakai Tarn. If you google Mt Taranaki you’re guaranteed to see several photos taken from this reflective tarn which sits in the perfect spot to capture the mountain reflecting in the water of the tarn. The photos are a little deceptive as the Tarn looks rather big, however in reality it’s no more than 20x10m or a small swimming pool. The conditions were perfect though, any wind creates ripples on the surface of the water which interferes with the reflection, however, I was lucky enough to be there at a perfectly still time. It was so still you could have lit a candle up there.

After marvelling in the awesomeness of the place I still had a few hours until sunset when I wanted to capture some more photos. I, therefore, made the short 40-minute hike from the tarn to Henry Peak Lookout which sits at an altitude of 1220m. It offers 360° panoramic views, taking in the river valley in front of Mt Taranaki, the mountain itself, views out to New Plymouth as well as further up the coast. From this vantage point, I was even able to see Tongariro National Park in the distance and the two volcanic mountains of Mt Ruapehu & Mt Ngauruhoe (also famous for being Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings). It was a stunning spot which I had all to myself, standing there gazing at Mt Taranaki with no one around me will stay with me a very very long time.

View of Mt Taranaki from Henry Lockout
Henry Lockout

It was then time to head back to the Tarn for sunset, but after arriving some low hanging cloud came in and obstructed the view, so I headed back up towards the plateau area not far from the hut and this was spectacular. I was now above the cloud which hung in the valley below the mountain, the sunset was phenomenal, with the setting sunlight shining off the mountain snow and clouds.

To top it off, there was a partial lunar eclipse (97%) that night too. I wasn’t even aware this was happening when I set off and it wasn’t until speaking to a few people at the hut did I find out. This meant along with the sunset the moon rose and was already partially blocked due to the earth being positioned between the moon and the sun, casting a shadow on the moon. By 10pm the moon was all but covered by the earth, glowing a beautiful orange hue. It was also the longest partial lunar eclipse visible in New Zealand in more than 800 years. How the bloody hell is that for luck and timing haha. Of all the nights I picked and happened to hike this beautiful spot, I was also able to witness a once in 800 year event, as probabilities go that’s a 1 in 292,000 chance. If you wish to witness the same I’m afraid you’ll have to wait 648 years until 2669 (at least for one as long). I do, however, have a viable alternative for you. If 97% coverage wasn’t good enough, the next total lunar eclipse visible from New Zealand will be on November 8, 2022. 

There was still more in store though, after a quick sleep I was up at 5am to catch first light and sunrise which again was beautiful, sadly the tarn wasn’t quite as still but still gave some amazing shots. I can’t believe how lucky I got with the weather for everything, it could not have been more perfect. My final activity before hiking down was to head to the Trig (a survey marker) on the Pouakai ranges which was about an hour 1 away from the hut. It was fairly easy going until the last few hundred meters climb to the summit, which again offered amazing views of Mt Taranaki and this time off towards the Surf Highway Coast. It was the opposite direction and vantage point to that of Henrys Lockout. With that, I then headed back down towards my car after the most incredible 24 hours. Things could not have been more spectacular and I’m incredibly grateful I got to experience so many amazing things while I was there. Even one on their own would have been phenomenal but to combine everything was absolutely crazy. 

Mt Taranaki at sunrise in reflecting Pouakai Tarn
Mt Taranaki at sunrise

I’ll leave it there for my first blog about the North Island but stay tuned in the coming weeks for the rest of the trip. Also if you haven’t already subscribed to the blog you can do so below to receive an email notification every time I publish a new post. You can also follow my Instagram account Everitts Adventures, where I post lots more travel content. Thanks for reading 🙂    

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