vrijdag 31 december 2010

No News is Good News

Blank space, white noise... Although we've been silent recently, have no fear- in this case, no news is good news. We've just been too damn busy to keep record of what we have been doing. That and NZ is not renowned for its internet services- but then, we're used to Japanese standards, which really are absurdly excessive when wanting to log onto and delve into your digital self. There, even the MacDonalds is a WIFI hotspot, luring teenagers there with their PSPs so that they can communicate sufficiently with one another. Here, things are different. Here, MacDonalds is just a DriveThru where the excessively fat have breakfast (even on Christmas day), and I haven't seen one PSP to date.
We rented a van, packed up our stuff and headed north out of Auckland. Almost immediately, we fell in love- deeply. This is one of the most breathtaking countries in the world, with a completely new landscape around every bend in the road. It is Ireland, Australia, America (and even Holland- we spotted a windmill) and a whole other array of familiarities bundled into one, but then all different. The people are real islanders- they don't "do" rules, march to the beat of their own drum, have a wicked sense of humor and are incredibly friendly and inviting. Also mentionable is the fact that everything is much more wonderful when doused in sunshine, and wahey- it is summer! We have yet again come to the conclusion that we contribute more positively to the world when the sun shines. Add everything up, and you have one sweet month of thrills and smiles.
We drove up into Northland first, where we found pristine white beaches, turquoise waters and dramatic rockfaces jutting out over the seas. We discovered the wonders of NZ's Department of Conservation (DOC), which not only takes care of Mother Nature so that generations to come can still enjoy the breathtaking beauty of it all (and maybe see some of the unfortunately endangered indigenous animals like the kiwi bird), but also has wonderful campsites dotted around the whole country. They're basic, with mainly cold showers (yeeeeeeehaw.. no better way to get that blood pumping in the morning) and strictly necessary facilities, but they're generally in places where you're so bowled over by the scenery that facilities fall under "whatever" (and we don't need 'em anyway, we like and excuse to be scruffy for long periods of time. That's why we like music festivals so much). Our first night, we were heading for a site that seemed to more like a fata morgana- all roads led to nowhere. This of course allowed for all sorts of old fashioned fun and games in the car (like the old favorite, "Question the Map Reader's Ability"), and even more when, after consulting a third party for directions, we were sent in the complete wrong direction. Needless to say, after 2 hours and a quickly diminishing supply of petrol, we were slightly crazed by the time we actually found the place. However, parking our "house" on the beach and sipping on a cold beer while watching the surf did erase most of the latter from memory as we indulged in our first evening of utter freedom. Since then, we've (mainly) let it all go and have taken on the mellow pace one needs in such blazing sun and heat. Obviously, a day-to-day account would be like being invited to your neighbor's house to sit through a slideshow of holiday "you-had-to-be-there"s, so I'll just sum up the highlights:

Matapouri Beach: A gorgeous bay, with crystal clear blue water and white sand. Frolicking in water like small children, check.
5 dollar campsite on Christmas Eve with the most incredible sunset either of us or our Belgian neighbors had ever seen. See the picture, then imagine even more intensity. Sheeeeeeeit.
An ethereal glow worm cave run for generations by a Maori family, off the beaten track. It was magical- imagine a starry night INSIDE a cave. Oh yes.
Cathedral Cove on Christmas Day- a bit of a walk down to a cove with great rock formations, where we took a dip. We spent the entire day unable to believe it was late December, and the airports in the Northern Hemisphere were closed for business. We did cheekily enjoy that fact though :)
Rotorua, a city sitting on boiling water- literally. It's a geothermal hotspot, with geysers spouting up all over the place and ground water reaching boiling temperatures. There are boiling mudpools, thermal baths and even a beach where you can dig your own hot tub- the water comes up through the sand piping hot! You just have to be able to enjoy the smell of sulpher- somewhat reminiscent of rotten eggs, until you find the underlying tones that are quite nice really. Outside of town is an amazing geothermal National Park called Wai-O-Tapu, which was fantastic despite the fact that we were walking around in high winds and horizontal rain. The minerals in the hot springs colors everything like an artist's palette- our favorite was the acid green lake. Unbelievable.
Our tramp accross the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which we are going to dedicate a solo-entry to because it was simply the most amazing hike we have ever done. Ever. Period.
As we speak we are in Wellington, having rung in the New Year with a rather lovely dinner out on the town (sure beats baked beans on toast!) and treating ourselves to a motel room where we can do a bit of stretching before we head back into our hobbit-sized home on wheels (love is: sharing what could be described as a single bed, or otherwise a double for very small people. Having spent considerable time observing other vans and couples at campsites, we figure we might be lucky we're not big boned- we've seen quite some circumferences crawling out of vans not too much bigger than ours, which has been pretty impressive). We had our first New Year's Day without the considerable hangover we saw others suffering from, which was refreshing for a change (that binge in Kyoto was enough to see us into the new year, believe me), and spent it at the most awesome (and largest- it's like a city in there) museum either of us have ever been to: Te Papa. We enjoyed it so much we are going to go again tomorrow, after having caffeinated ourselves at one of Welly's numerous coffee hotspots (Welington is the coffee capital of NZ- apparently, bad coffee is hard to come by here). Oh yes, we like.