Catch up on my New Zealand adventures in Part 1!
Days 10-12: Lake Taupo, Waitomo Caves, National Park
A couple of whirlwind days up ahead. First stop: Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake, larger than the entire country of Singapore. But what I really enjoyed about my time here was this:
The Waitomo Caves themselves were nothing to write home about (look, it's a cave, you can find similar in many other places in the world, for much less money), but the surrounding area?
And this was the view from my National Park hostel (LOTR fans should get a kick out of this):
The boy and I wanted to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which some people say is the best day hike in all of NZ. Unfortunately, the one stormy day we had in NZ occurred on the day of the hike. Park Services closed off the mountain, and so we spent the day indoors, alternately watching the Super Bowl (what was up with that power outage?) and the wind dipping saplings like dance partners.
Days 13-14: Wellington
Kiwi cities are astonishingly lovely, laid-back, and walkable places to be. "Windy Welly" deserves its reputation--the afternoon we arrived in the city, the wind was so typically strong that our backpacker bus was rocking all over the place--but on the second day, the wind died down, revealing crystal-clear skies and water, and a whole city full of people ready to relax in the summer weather.
Day 15: Interislander Ferry, Coastal Pacific Train
Goodbye, North Island! Early this morning we boarded the Interislander Ferry to go between NZ's two islands. The ferry is like a stripped-down cruise ship that makes numerous three-hour trips across the Cook Strait and takes you through the Marlborough Sounds so that you can see sights like this:
After a quick break in Picton, it was all aboard the Coastal Pacific Train, a scenic five-hour ride down the spectacular east coast of the South Island. If you thought the North Island was rural, the South Island is a whole other story. There are more people living on in the Auckland region (on the North Island) than in the entirety of the South Island. It makes for lots of scenic vistas, where one can imagine the place untouched by human hand:
Day 16: Christchurch
The train dropped us off in Christchurch, traditionally the most English of NZ cities--until the 2010-2011 earthquakes, of course. You may have heard of the particularly devastating one that occurred in February 2011. The succession of earthquakes had a permanent impact on the city's appearance: approximately a quarter of the city's buildings were damaged or condemned as a result. Now, the CBD is still cordoned off, with familiar structures like the Christ Church Cathedral possibly never to return to their former glory. Even out in the suburbs, you see empty lots on every street, the final bit of evidence that a house used to stand there until it was deemed not earthquake-worthy.
However, this rebuilding also gives Christchurch the chance to redefine itself and put itself at the forefront of 21st-century urban design. The Re:START Mall, for instance, is the most happening place in the city center, and consists of shops and cafes made entirely of old shipping containers:
Nevertheless, some parts of Christchurch are still as stunning as ever, notably the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, where the classic Christchurch activity of "punting on the Avon" still occurs amid green beauty:
And Part 2 wraps up here for now. Deep breath as we remember to breathe and I work on the final part about my NZ trip!