Stories from New Zealand #6 Hiking the Copland track

“At 11.30am we reached the Copland Hot springs, which are hidden away in the bush, and only to be traced by the continuous cloud of stream that hovers round the tree-tops. To our disgust the water was too hot to bathe in, as we had been looking forward to doing the whole morning. This was my very first experience of a hot spring, and I examined it with great interest. (…) The ground between the pools was hot to the feet and crusty, forming into terraces which shaded from yellow to chocolate brown. The air was pervaded with a saline sulphury smell, that requires a week’s residence before it can be assimilated with tolerance”

Freda Du Faur, The conquest of Mount Cook, 1915

Have you heard of Freda Du Faur before? She was a keen mountaineer from Australia who spent a few seasons in New Zealand climbing peaks that had never been climbed before around Mount Cook. She was also the very first woman to summit Mount Cook (3754masl, slightly less today) in 1910 together with her two guides, Peter and Alec Graham. She then wrote that delightful book that I’m reading at the moment which is incredibly well written and very informative about what mountaineering was like back in the days. For instance, what does a lady wear to go climbing? Forget about goretex and crampons…

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Freda Du Faur in her self-designed climbing outfit (Photo of a photo at the DOC office Aoraki/Mt Cook)

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Freda Du Faur with her climbing partners (photo of a photo from her book)

Obviously times have changed since Freda du Faur’s visit of the Copland track at the beginning of the 20th century. After years and years of struggle the track was to become one of the most popular traverse from Aoraki/Mount Cook to the West coast.

From Arthur’s pass  where we stopped in the last post, follow the road to the west. The landscape quickly changes to a flatter sea side road. Drive a couple of hours south on the SH6 and you will get to the extremely popular (also extremely overrated in my opinion) townships of Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers. There was a time when you could hike to the lowest part of the glaciers, which probably was much nicer than the boring hikes that lead to a distant viewpoint over a worn out glacier. But glaciers are melting and accident happened so it has become too dangerous to do so. Instead, it’s a constant buzz of helicopters flying people up for a quick glacier stroll in exchange for a few hundred dollars. Unless you don’t mind spending that kind of money, what I’m trying to say is don’t waste your time when a myriad of other wonderful glaciers can be admired further along. But we’ll talk about that later.

Drive 26km south of Fox Glacier to the Karangarua bridge and you will find yourself at the beginning of one very fine tramp (in New Zealand people don’t hike, they tramp!); the Copland track. Looking at a map of the southern Alps, I always find it incredible that this mountain range creates such a barrier from one side of the country to the other. There is indeed no road crossing over the mountains for more than 200km! This is a major information to understand the importance of the Copland track despite difficult beginnings.

Following the Karangarua river for a while, the track swings around to carry on along the Copland river in the Tai Poutini national park.

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The gorgeous glacier waters of the Copland river

After a couple of hours of walking through the  forest, I hear something foraging around in the bush. Wondering what it could possibly be, I freeze to lure it out of the bush. A few seconds later, that big bird jumps on to the middle of the path. It has a longer than usual beak and wide spread claws. My lack of knowledge of New Zealand bird never fails me and I immediately recognize a kiwi, the (legendary I suppose) native bird that very few people have actually ever seen.  No need to extend on how disappointed I got when admitting my mistake, looking at a bird encyclopedia at the hut. Ah well, wekas may not be that rare but pretty funny inquisitive bird nonetheless. They are endemic and flightless, like all birds used to be in New Zealand as they had no predators.

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A Weka, native New Zealand bird

Walk about 3 hours and here comes the first hut on the track called Architect Creek hut, a very cute one with just a bed bunk, a table and a fire stove.

It’s a rather long (18km) but also rather flat hike to Welcome Flat hut and a lot of fun with a bunch of high and long swing bridges suspended over powerful creeks.

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One of the many swing bridges along the path

Due to the weather and a certain lack of labor, it took about 10 years for the track to officially open in 1913. It was a big deal though as it quickly became the busiest route to link the West coast to the Mount Cook area through the Copland pass.

Nowadays it has become much trickier. Several reasons for that, the area is geologically dynamic, which make the southern alps some of the fastest growing mountains in the world (although erosion makes up for it). Weather conditions in the glacial valley and alpine environment can also be quite extreme and severe. But the Copland valley has always been of interest for the tourist industry. A road up the valley or even a tunnel straight to the Hermitage in Mt Cook village were suggested but thankfully never happened. The realization that even huge amounts of money would not help much to fix the damages that the dynamic nature of the geology would cause. Nature 1, people 0.

As much as I would have loved to spend several days on the track to go all the way further along the valley, I only spent one night in busy Welcome Flat hut. I did take my time to enjoy the wonderful natural thermal springs, which contrary to Freda’s experience didn’t smell bad at all and were definitely not too hot when I was there at the end of summer!

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I found this quite welcoming after a 18km hike!

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All in all a very easy tramp through a gorgeous valley filled with history. A few people around but absolutely worth it. I already look forward to going back!

A few years later, Freda Du Faur is back on the Copland track and beautifully describes the beauty of the area:

“On the right hand bank the ribbon woods overhung the water and showered their sweet-scented white blossoms into the swift current. On the left they were interspaced with the dark green rata-trees, whose glossy foliage was crowned with a wealth of crimson blossom. Soft puffs of white cloud hung half-way up the mountains sides, and the distant hills in the west were deeply blue. Such a soul-satisfying colour I have seldom seen, and tired though we were with our long tramp, we all appreciated its restful beauty, so different from the ice-world from which we had just come, or the yellows and blues which make the dominant note of colour on the east of the mountains.”

It seems that Freda was thinking a fair bit about the future as in her book she often speculates about possible scenarios concerning the touristic development of the areas she loves so much. Her concerns are usually expressed towards the development of mass tourism making of the mountains more accessible to novices. She was somewhat right to worry as on one side mountain climbing has definitely been made more accessible since her time, involving some (often silly) rescue missions that would not have happened back then (wrong gear, too late a start, lack of knowledge and so on) but also as the big hotel in Mount Cook village actually exists and paradoxically is a bigger and fancier version of the hotel mountaineers used to stay at, The Hermitage. Today it has nothing left from the original one though, mostly because the old one was destroyed after a big flood.

“The hut is only a few yards away from the Copland Hot Springs, so we were all able to enjoy the luxury of a hot bath; if a kindly Government some day provides a cold pool next door, into which one may take a refreshing plunge after being par-boiled, and endeavours to remove the sandflies which are all too active for comfort, these springs should prove a most popular resort. The view from them is superb, and the forest by which they are surrounded a veritable fairyland, in which one may wander for hours. I have no doubt that some day a large hotel will occupy the site of the present hut, and prove a very popular tourist resort, for many charming excursions can be made from this spot. For those on mountaineering it will also be a good base, as there are many fine peaks in the vicinity and much unexplored country.”

Story from New Zealand #5 Hiking up Avalanche Peak, 1833 m.

One of my favorite day hike in New Zealand is  Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass national park. It has everything one could ask for : it’s easy to get to as it starts in the village, it’s challenging enough (pretty steep) but not technically difficult, and it’s a loop which makes it less boring than coming down the same way.
Most people climb up to the summit via Avalanche Peak track and down Scotts track for a reason. Scotts track is a bit longer but not as steep so a bit easier on the knees while walking down.
We got up reasonably early that morning, ready to head off but got a bit delayed by the low temperatures and the thick fog that was covering the village. We double checked the weather forecast and as it was still good we decided to hike up and see what happens past the tree line. After a long while, we got there and found the sun.

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Once above the clouds the sun always shines!

Going up is long (about 1000m ascent) but pretty straight forward and the views gradually become more and more stunning as numerous snowy peaks and glaciers start to make an appearance.

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Looking back down the valley

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Going up through tussock ans subalpine vegetation

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Looking back across the valley

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Last ridge to the summit, 80m bluff on both side!

After about 4 hours of steady uphill climbing, there comes the summit that actually can’t be seen from the village. The views are amazing. Mount Rolleston (2271m) stands proudly with Crow glacier snuggled by its side.

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Admiring Mount Rolleston from the Avalanche Peak summit…Wondering how the views are from there…

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Close up on Mount Rolleston and Crow glacier

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And going back down again

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Beautiful valley!

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Flowers on rocks

Going down took a couple of hours and wasn’t that fun as the track is pretty long. Walking down through the forest was awesome though with birds flying around.

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Beautiful walk down through beech forest

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Cute little bird

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Beautiful New Zealand fantail bird

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New Zealand fantail bird from above

Stories from New Zealand #4 – Arthur’s Pass via Lake Pearson

What comes into your mind when you think about New Zealand?

Lord of the Rings? Yes ok fair enough.

Sheep? Yep, that too, they are absolutely everywhere.

Funny ‘acceent’? Yes, that’s pretty cute.

Mountains? Yes! Nature which as you already know is pretty unbelievable here.

I spent a lot of time day dreaming about New Zealand mountains before coming down here. It is when I first drive from Christchurch towards the West coast on my way to Arthur’s Pass that I really experience those jaw dropping kind of landscape.

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Railway linking the west to the east coast

Arthur’s Pass became the first national park of the south island in 1929 but has been a key route a long time before Europeans got there. Maori used to travel west that way in search of the valued pounamu (green stone used for many things such as weapons or jewellery).  In 1864, Europeans discovered gold hidden around there so it suddenly became an emergency to build a road for coaches to cross over (one of those old coach can be seen at the DOC office there). the First European to go through the pass with his brother was called Arthur, thus the name of the village.

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Arthur’s Pass from above

Camping around or just stopping for coffee, you will eventually meet an inquisitive visitor.

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kea, a native parrot

Keas are one the ten endemic parrot species in the south island and are not to be found anywhere else in the world. They are considered very smart and their curiosity will encourage them to approach people which ironically represent a threat. What do people do when an animal comes to them? They look for things to feed then, which is pretty much the worst you could do. As a matter of fact, baby keas are taught to look for food by older experienced keas. Obviously that is very important for them to know where and how to find food in their rough alpine home otherwise they will die.

Their sometimes intrusive behaviors have led to a certain unpopularity as people happened to get their keys stolen, unattended backpack or tent inspected or even their car a tiny bit  damaged. Nothing ever happened to me except for a tent lightly shaken one morning. I like knowing they are around and listening to their peculiar sound while hiking.

There are numerous day trips directly from the village and even more in the area. There are also a few really nice DOC campsites (standard and basic). My favorite was about half an hour from Arthur’s pass, a free campsite on lake Pearson, gorgeous little spot.

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Admiring the scenery and enjoying the hot weather

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Lake Pearson on a fine day

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A rather fine campsite!

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Reflection on lake Pearson

Here are a few photos of my favorite day hikes before a longer story about the one that should not be missed.

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Hut at the end of the Temple Basin track

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Amazing views over Mount Rolleston (2275m) from the hut

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Beautiful Devils punchbowl 131m high waterfall

Stories from New Zealand #3 – The best of North of the South island

Here is a list of my 5 favorite things I got to experience in the north of the south island…Kahurangi national park is not part of it as I didn’t get to explore but will do, one day!

1 -Wander around the Marlborough Sound

If you are crossing over by boat from Wellington, chances are you will arrive at Picton. From there, you can drive to Havelock (the capital of the green lip mussel!) via the beautiful Queen Charlotte drive. Then you can follow the road up to Okiwi Bay and the French Pass.

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Okiwi Bay

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Geraldine on the pier at Elaine bay

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Beautiful jellyfishes around

And look who showed up swimming around…

2 – Walk or kayak in Abel Tasman park

Ok ok, everybody knows that but it is truly beautiful, even though yes, I can’t lie, it was heavily raining pretty much all day when I was there with my dear friend Geraldine. Also it’s one of the cheapest spot in the country to hire kayaks and probably one of the most beautiful as well. Even under pouring rain, you could see the bottom of the water that was crystal clear.

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Hello look at us having fun

3 – Go spend hours observing the life of a seal colony at Ohau Point, Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a little town between Picton and Christchurch. It doesn’t really have much but a nice 2 hours walk around the Peninsula…

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Kaikoura peninsula walk

…BUT! if you drive about 15 minutes north, there is a place you should absolutely not miss. It is called Ohau Point and it truly amazing because this is what you get to see:

Check out those baby seals!

4 – Get inspired by fascinating Christchurch

You will be surprised by the biggest city of the south island. First because even years after the bad earthquakes, it is still being rebuilt. Second because it feels like a real effort has been made to distract people from the damages by being overly creative with street art at each corner.

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Wizard walking around

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Trompe l’oeil

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Keeping what is still standing

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Cute fences

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Remains of the cathedral

5 – Do visit the old French settlement of Akaroa

Not because it’s fun to read French everywhere but because it’s a pretty cool drive over the hills and the Peninsula has a very special atmosphere.

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Random street in Akaroa

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Onuku farm, a pretty amazing cosy place to stay. High on a hill, you can stay in a room, camp or even better stay in those little huts called stargazers.

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And what do you do in a stargazer…

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A Sheep in a very kiwi kind of weather

That is all for today, any more tips? Leave a comment!

enough!

Couldn’t resist not putting that one on 🙂

Stories from New Zealand #2

Today is my birthday and I’m sitting in the ferry that is bringing us to the south island, yay!

This is where we’ve been the last 3 weeks:

NZ2So it ended up taking a couple of weeks to do things properly but there we are, ready to head off, with our brand-new old car. It’s red and (so far) reliable.

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Meet Corolla (Neh pour les intimes)

Our next stop was Waihi beach in the Bay of Plenty, named back in 1769 when Captain Cook arrived there and was given supplies from the abundant resources of the Maori. Today a lot of fruits and vegetables are cultivated there and you cannot ignore the giant hedges surrounding kiwi orchards to protect them from the wind. Oh and the gold mines too: these are presently devastating the nearby town as the tunnels dug underneath are sinking the houses.

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Gold mines in Waihi, with the remnant of an old pumphouse on the side.

In Waihi beach we were warmly welcomed by Matthew’s sister’s boyfriend’s family. If you travel yourself you know how amazing it feels to be offered a home base for a few days. From there we explored the Coromandel Peninsula.

The hike we chose leads to a place called the Pinnacles. While not a mind blowing hike, this track has a very interesting history.

After driving 20km up a gravel road in the Kauaeranga valley, we reached the beginning of the trail. This area is home to native Kauri trees that are dying from a fungus-like disease called kauri dieback, spread on the roots by hikers. That is why we are asked to rinse our shoes and hiking poles at the start of the trail and not wander off the path.

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Coromandel Peninsula

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Small birdies jumping around at the campsite

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in order to disinfect our equipment so as not to spread the disease

A long time ago, kauri trees were covering these hills and were important in the Maori culture, in the mythology, rituals, wars, art and every day life. Some trees were so massive that they were given names and declared chief of the forest. Occasionally their massive trunks were used to build boats and their resin was collected for various purposes like insecticide or tattoos.

The use of gum and timber obviously appealed to Europeans too and soon they started chopping kauri trees and transporting them down the mountain, either using the water force created by the dams or via railways. Unfortunately they take many many many years to grow but it was too late.

All this happened between between 1850 and 1930 and pieces of railways can still be spotted from the Billygoat track that we chose. The sun is hiding behind the clouds that day which made the hike a lot easier as it is pretty (actually vey) steep all the way and it gets really (really really) hot in New Zealand when the sun shines. It takes about 4,5 hours to reach the beautiful campsite, some 45 minutes away from the Pinnacles, but close to the beautiful Pinnacles hut.

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Dam near the Pinnacles hut. The idea is to stop the water and release it to bring logs down using the power of the water. It worked, even though some logs got broken on the way.

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Remnant of a railway used to slide the logs down the mountain

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Pinnacles campsite, so nice to camp in the forest

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Even nicer with coffee of course!

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Dead kauri tree near the Pinnacles

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suspended bridges

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The Pinnacles (759m)

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View from the Pinnacles right before sunset

We had big plans for side trips back but the forecast turned pretty wet so we decided to go back to Waihi beach and head south. There are hips of exciting things to do on the north island but the temperatures still being way above comfortable hiking ones, we decided to head south to spend a few days in Wellington before crossing over to the south Island.

We drove through the vineyards of Gisborne to spend a couple of nights by Lake Waikaremoana and crossed the lamb country further south.

I requested a sightseeing stop at a place called Norsewood where Scandinavians settled down during the New Zealand wars in the 1860s, when Brits didn’t want to come downunder anymore. It really looks and feels like a little Norway, I felt homesick! Close to Norsewood is the Danish settlement Dannevirke, bigger but not as charming.

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Driving past volcanos near Rotorua in the background

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matching colours

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Bridge

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Lake Waikaremoana

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Swans at the lake

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Norsewood and its Stavkirke

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Scandinavians were there

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Troll were there

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Gift from Norway in 1992

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Landscape approaching Wellington

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Sheep in vineyard

Stories from New Zealand #1

I know you’re all dying to hear about our trip so here are some updates of what we’ve been up to since getting to New Zealand! Actually, not that much. We landed in Auckland and decided to look for a campsite as we didn’t feel like going to the city. Ambury regional park was the perfect spot to spend our first night in NZ. It’s just 6km away from the airport (people are so sweet here we didn’t even have to raise our thumbs to get a ride all the way there) and is also a sort of educative farm with lots of sheep (well, obviously), goats, chickens, horses and so on. Super quiet, hilly and green, everything you expect really. We then headed south towards Raglan to meet up with my dear friend Jonathan. He’s a great surfer and wasn’t scared to take us for a ride on the beautiful Raglan waves. We also did some kayaking, cycling and hiking, great little spot.

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Raglan and mount Karioi in the background

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Kayaking aound Raglan

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Meet Jonathan!

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Matt and me

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Post surf discussions

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Mountain biking around Mount Karioi

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Hiking up Mount Karioi

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A field with a view

We decided to travel with the bare minimum but figured out pretty quickly it would be quite challenging to get off the beaten track without any car here. We started to look for one in Raglan, then Hamilton, but there weren’t much to chose from so we decided to look in Auckland so we can get to know the city while checking out cars. If you ever look for a car in NZ, make sure you take it to a pre-purchase inspection so you know what is right and wrong with it. Basically everybody here had a tragic story about buying a car and they all warmly recommended it. We took one car which happened to be in “poor conditions for its age” which saved us spending money on a piece of s***. After hours of reading about cars (well, mostly Matt I admit) we found The One and bought it. It’s even red, can you believe that? There we are, about to leave Auckland with our brand new old car!

I had very often been told Auckland wasn’t that exciting but it was actually much nicer than I thought! Very green and hilly, we quite enjoyed walking around, interesting museums and city stuff, the Art Gallery is awesome (and free!).

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Random Auckland #1

Random auckland #2

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Random Auckland #3

Random Auckland #3

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Random Auckland #4 Vulcan Lane – used to be a locksmiths street, now just shops and cafes

The famous skytower

The famous skytower

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Random Auckland #5

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The Wintergarden near the Auckland museum – all around is the (massive) Domain with several trails in large forest areas

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Inside the glasshouse

Water lily

Water lily

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Orchids

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More orchids

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Random Auckland #6 – Camouflage building