PART 2: WILD WILD WEST
Flo, aka Monsieur Wellington, and I are leaving Northland driving our Nissan Tilda to explore the western part of North Island which neither of us had seen before. After dropping Martin and Wiebke in Paihia, here we are, just the two of us, singing at the top of our lungs some silly songs on the radio.
We’re driving through the green fields.
We’re having our lunch break at Piha Beach, close to Auckland, which is really busy. Of course, we lost track of time; it’s Sunday, and we barely knew it. We find ourselves a nice spot in the sand dunes and the sandwich Tom made me is delicious. We climb the Lion Rock, we enjoy the view and get back to the car. We’re driving to the Waitomo BBH/YHA where we spend the night: tomorrow we’re going to explore some glow worms caves! Today we almost drove 420km.
CRAWLING IN THE MUD IN THE WAITOMO CAVES
For our underground exploration, we chose to trust Glowing Adventures. Flo read a lot of good recommendations over the internet about this family business. It’s a new business around the Waitomo Region, which is managed by Michelle at the reception and Ash at the guiding tour. The atmosphere is chilled, funny and relaxed, especially because the groups can’t exceed eight people. That’s exactly what I call a tailor-made adventure! After putting our explorer’s outfits (merino leggings and pullovers, shorts, fleeces, helmets, head torches and rubber boots), Ash is guiding Flo, me, an Australian couple and an Indonesian couple, through the rainforest. This land is their family’s et they wanted to share it with the tourists. We start to walk in the mud, then in the river. My feet are already wet, but that’s part of the game!
More than two hours crawling in the mud, climbing rocks, having water until my knees and sneaking into very narrow caves followed. I’m over the moon. I’m smiling like an idiot even when I’m slipping up into the mud. Ash is telling jokes and useful information all the way through the caves. I’m amazed by the stalactites, stalagmites, running wetas and obviously, I’m thrilled to stare at the glow worms. I find myself again in the same state of amazement which I was in while I was into the Abbey Caves in Northland; the physical exertion was rewarded by the glowing larvas in the caves.
Then, we crawl down into a narrow cave to an underground lake. The water is crystal clear, there’s no plants, no fish, it’s pure fresh water. Ash invites us to taste it. That’s dirty but happy that we head back to the headquarters to put our clean clothes back on and share a nice cup of tea with biscuits with Michelle. Pure bliss. I strongly recommend Glowing Adventures for a different kind of glow worm caves exploration, you know, something more authentic, eco-friendly as well, far from the traditional guided tours with a group of a 100 people.
With 42 thousand stars in our eyes, we’re back on the road, heading to New Plymouth. We stop on the way to see the Three Sisters, some rocks in the sea, but unfortunately, the tide is too high, we can’t borrow the path which is starting to be under water. We find another track, up there, in the middle of the fields, called the White Cliffs Walkway, which doesn’t really provide us a better view of the rocks. We still have a nice stroll through the sheep’s fields. At the end of the day, we surely deserve our last New Zealand Burger Fuel in New Plymouth. We spend the night at the Sunflower Lodge. What a day!
The reason why we wanted to go to New Plymouth was the Taranaki Mountain. I read somewhere that this one looks exactly like Fujiyama and you can see the Tongariro from its top. We’re hoping to have a tremendous hike over there, except that… Well. The weather is shit. We can’t even see the mountain which is hidden into the fog. At the Taranaki DOC, we find out that the first snow has fallen over the top. And they totally discourage the hike because the conditions are too bad: there’s no view and it could be dangerous right now. OK. What a pity! We finally go for a little one-hour walk on the Veronica Loop Track, in the middle of the forest under the rain. We have no view at all; everything’s foggy.
We try to cheer us up by walking along the sunny coast (it appears that down there it’s warm and the sun is shining brightly) and going to the movies to see Civil War. I can’t believe that we’re ONLY 7 people in the theatre and that Flo and I are definitely the only ones staying until the end of the credits. WHERE ARE THE BLOODY GEEKS IN NEW ZEALAND? DON’T YOU KNOW THAT THERE’S A BONUS AT THE END OF EVERY BLOODY MARVEL MOVIE?
THE FORGOTTEN WORLD HIGHWAY
After spending the night at the Fitzroy Beach campground beside the sea, we finally get out of New Plymouth through the Forgotten World Highway. Taranaki is still hiding itself under a heavy foggy cloud: to heck with our hike!
The Forgotten World Highway (or SH43) is a 150km road between Stratford, near New Plymouth, and Taumarunui, near the Tongariro National Park. It doesn’t seem like a long road but between the touristic stops and the narrow turns, you’d better plan the day to drive it through. Little tip: think about putting some gas in your car before, for there’s no gas station on the road. And no phone coverage as well. Here is the middle of nowhere, the rural part of New Zealand with its rolling green hills and almost no people at all. Here is the settlers of New Zealand countryside from the end of the XIXth Century. Some villages are now even called ‘ghost towns.’ There’s almost nothing left around here.
We can see some old railway all along the road; it’s even possible to rent a little train to drive there. All along the road, we’re passing through some tunnels. Doesn’t sound exotic but actually, there’s not a lot of tunnels in New Zealand. One of them is even called “The Hobbit’s Hole.”
We make a stop at the Bridge to Somewhere, in opposition to the famous Bridge to Nowhere in the Whanganui Region. Apparently, those two have the same design and this one obviously leads to somewhere (the other side).
Enough of tunnels, bridges, and winding roads, the main reason we wanted to come over there was that we simply wanted to go to another country! Yes, you heard me, another country inside remote New Zealand! On this road, you can find the Whangamomona Republic (Whangawhat?), a little village founded at the end of the XIXth Century. In 1989, the New Zealand government changed the mapping of regions (kind of like what happened in France not so long ago, remember?) and Whangamomona switches to the Manawatu-Whanganui Region instead of the Taranaki one. Except that no one is happy about it, especially since the Manawatu-Whanganui region is the old rival rugby team. The residents decided to proclaim itself as an independent republic.
They have a president (which is today a mechanic, after being consecutively a goat and a dog), a passport, a border guard which is a toilet, and about 40 residents. They celebrate their independence every two years at the end of January with sheep races and pouring beer. There’s no need to say that I instantly fell in love with this quirky place. We settle ourselves at the historic hotel for a hot chocolate. There’s no one around, except some dogs which welcomed us with loads of love!
The President’s Message (on the garage wall):
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. You playing small does not serve the world, there’s nothing enlightened abut shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine,as children do. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same, as we are liberated from our fears, our presence automatically liberates others.”
At the beginning of the evening, we finally arrive in Turangi, close to the Tongariro National Park. We’re going to spend the night at Karen’s place; she’s Terry’s sister, and Terry was Flo’s first HelpX host when he arrived in New Zealand. We share a lovely dinner with little talks. We can’t wait to hike the Tongariro Crossing.
We’re waiting for this for almost a year now.
To be continued…
LET’S GO THERE! :
BBH/YHA WAITOMO CAVES JUNO HALL, 600 Waitomo Caves Rd, Waitomo
GLOWING ADVENTURES, 1199 Oparure Rd, Te Kuiti
VERONICA LOOP TRACK, Taranaki
FITZROY BEACH CAMPING, 1 Beach St, Taranaki
FORGOTTEN WORLD HIGHWAY, Stratford to Taumarunui