New Zealand: Auckland,Coromandel, Taupo and Rotorua.

The view from the flight in was surreal, it was 3 in the afternoon and the sun was shining over the endless coastline. Now, I didn’t have a visa beforehand so I was a little apprehensive when I approached security. I didn’t go in completely blind, Canada is on NZ’s visa waiver list so any Canadian can visit NZ for 3 months without a visa, but I was worried that my intentions of studying would have some consequences. Lucky for me I had no problems and as soon as I got out of security I headed right for the McDonalds for a lamb burger… It was 430 by the time I arrived at Unilodge, my home for the next 4 months, and as soon as I got my blanket and pillow from the front desk I was out like a light until 8am the next morning.

I spent the next day buying groceries, getting oriented and working on my visa application, boring. But the next day, my fellow exchange students from UBC, Chester and Daisy were in and we met up to catch the early ferry to Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is Maori for Bloody Sky after a captain who was badly wounded on the island after a lost battle. As the whole crowd disembarked, we made the decision that the hike to the top would be much more enjoyable if we took the long way round to avoid all the people. This turned out to be an excellent decision and after about 45 minutes of tourist free hiking we arrived at the entrance to the lava tubes. The first feature we encountered appeared to be nothing more than a small depression so we paid it no mind and moved further up the trail to a larger depression where we found a series of small tunnels. On first inspection, they appeared to be little more than a couple of dark holes but when I stuck my head in and turned on my cellphone light, the cave opened up and before long, you could stand. We followed the tunnel for a few meters and before long I was poking my head out of the hole we had just ignored a few minutes ago. We spent about an hour exploring the other lava tubes and by then we were ready to attempt the summit. Thirty minutes later we were looking over the edge into the volcanic crater and eating our lunch while enjoying the views of the Auckland skyline and surrounding Hauraki Gulf. The walk down was long and hot but we broke it up with a stop at Mackenzie Bay and there we enjoyed a swim in the ocean for the first time in New Zealand. We made it back in time for the ferry and 20 minutes later we were saying goodbye to each other in the city harbour and I was heading back with a case of beer to Unilodge.

I chose New Zealand for several reasons, most prominent of which was their topography and the outdoor activities associated with it. March is the tail end of summer over here so the weather has been absolutely gorgeous and almost always above 20 during the day.

I based my class schedule around having Fridays off and this scheme led me to these courses:

–          Anthropology 101 – Intro to world archaeology

–          Marine science 202 – Principles of marine science

–          Medical Science 100G – Human mind and body relationships

–          Sport and exercise science 101 – Foundations of sport and exercise science

So far school seems quite laid back, fewer classes per week than back home and, as an added bonus, you can attend class shoeless without anyone batting an eye! My overall goal for the trip to New Zealand is to completely abstain from any form of school work during the weekends. This means all course work and associated assignments have to be done during the week. Unfortunately this pattern of head down during the week and givin’r every weekend makes the time fly by!

Having met several exchange students living in Unilodge, the first weekend consisted of about 18 of us renting a fleet of rental cars and heading south to the Coromandel Peninsula. On the itinerary was a stop-over at Hot Water beach followed by a visit to Cathedral Cove. Hot water beach is a geothermal area, like much of New Zealand, with hot pockets of water bubbling up from the beach in certain places. Seeing as it was a Saturday, the place was packed with people, everyone holding shovels but nobody digging. So we set up our towels and enjoyed the beach for a few hours before moving on. Cathedral Cove on the other hand, was amazing… After a 15 minute hike along a ridge overlooking the blue-green sea, our group landed on the main beach of Cathedral Cove. To the right was an expanse of beach leading right up to the limestone cliffs we had just traversed and to the left was the beach’s name sake, a massive rock tunnel. I reckon it was a good 30 feet to the ceiling and about 80 feet long. On the other side was a more secluded beach, secluded due to the fact that you had to time your sprint to the other side and avoid the surge coming in from the ocean. After another couple of hours of swimming and a few gnarly attempts at body surfing, we moved on to our campsite for the night in The Coromandel Forest Park.

We set up camp near the trailhead for The Pinnacles, a beautiful 759m tramp we had planned for the next day. That night, we enjoyed a couple of drinks, some more than others, and slept under the stars with only a tarp and a sleeping bag to keep us all warm and dry. The morning came quickly and before long we were off tramping in the woods to see what we could see from atop the Pinnacles.

It took about 2.5 hours to reach the summit with the final stretch consisting of the longest set of wooden stairs I had ever seen followed by a series of ladders and rock gullies. We made the summit at 12:33 and celebrated with some well-deserved lunch and some chocolate! The initial summiting party consisted of myself, Grant Boeckmann, Pierce Donovan, Margi Schrimpton, Chris Caliva, Joe Selvik and Lyssa Goodrich, 6 Americans and one Canadian. As we ate, the rest trickled in and before long the whole crew was enjoying the view. By then the sun was getting hot and it was time to get the hell off the summit. When we reached theHydrocamp we opted for a trail called the Billygoat track which meandered up along a ridge and down into a river valley before terminating just up the road from the car park. All stops included it took us a good 6 hours to complete the round trip, a rather large number due to the lengthy lunch break on top.

Prior to my arrival in Auckland I decided to do a bit of research on some clubs I would like to join while I am here. These are all Uni clubs and it was tough deciding which to join seeing as I have, in the past, made the mistake of joining every club that caught my eye. In the end I decided to go with the Auckland Uni Canoe and Kayak Club, The Auckland Uni Rock and Alpine Club and last but not least the Meat Club. Two of these were right up my alley and the third was just too good a deal to pass up, 10 bucks a semester for unlimited meat on the BBQ every second Tuesday…

The next weekend, the AUCC held the Ful James. This was a 3 day excursion consisting of a shit ton of people heading south toward Lake Taupo and setting up camp near the Waikato river. There were two options for getting down to the campsite: find a driver and make your own way down or pay an extra 30 bucks for a spot on one of the party buses. This was too good to pass up seeing as each bus had its own theme and the entire convoy would be making pub stops along the way. Our theme was Batman while the others consisted of Cartoons, Minions and 007. Basically we would show up to a town, unload and hit the bar en masse, everyone wearing their costumes and party for an hour before heading out. There were drinking competitions on the way down and when we finally made it to the campsite it was probably 2am. The next few days were filled by awesome rafting and kayak trips down the Waikato each ending with the Ful James play wave at the take out point. Getting up for these boat rides was the hardest part. The club had it planned so that the Saturday night was a massive party in the campground with a big pavilion and dj booth set up. Epic trip and by the end of it we were all fried.

The weekend after that, a few of us: Grant, Leo, Amaury, Pierce and I tagged along on another AUCC excursion. This time down to the Kaituna river just outside of Rotorua. Again we camped, Amaury and Pierce in one tent, Grant in his hammock and I slept in Grant’s tent. The next morning we met up with the club and hit the Kaituna. The flow was good, so it was an amazing ride down with a couple of near flips and a 7m waterfall to finish it off. When we were finished floating we all headed into town to grab some food and see Leo off. We stayed at the same campground on the lake and the next morning drove into town to find ourselves some bikes. We spent the whole day mountain biking the Redwoods and after a few hours we were totally wiped and decided to call it a day. What an amazing weekend.

The next weekend was Easter and as a result we had 5 days off to get some items checked off the bucket list! There is something in New Zealand called the 24 hour challenge and it involves hitting 4 summits over the span of 24 hours. We decided we would make an attempt for 3. We chose Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Having met a couple other students studying at the Uni of Auckland, our group consisted of myself, Grant, Chris and Joe, along with Fia from Sweden, Cathy from the Netherlands and Monique from here in NZ. Monique’s family owns a bach, or beach house, on Lake Tarawera and they were nice enough to let us stay there for the weekend! Seeing as the bach was a good 2.5 hours away from the Mangatepopo entrance to the Tongariro Crossing, we departed Lake Tarawera at 3:45am and set out sleepy-eyed for a full day of hiking. Due to some navigation errors we arrived just late enough to miss parking in the lot and this precluded any chance of hiking Ruapehu, at least for us. By the time we set out hiking the sun was just coming up which made for some amazing views just as the chill was leaving the air. It took us about 1:45 to make it to the top of the Devil’s Staircase and reach the south crater junction for Ngauruhoe aka Mount Doom! From here we had to pick our way across an unmarked valley where we ditched our packs and made for the 40o scree slopes of Doom. The going was tough for about an hour and after much slipping and sliding we were perched atop the mountainous crater looking down at the cloud-covered low lands. After a brief rest we hit the scree one more time and an hour long ascent turned into a 10 minute descent leaping and running down the soft slopes until we hit the bottom. Of course such a descent could not be done without someone eating it. Aside from the obvious hazards of falling rocks, one other danger of running such a slope is hitting a hidden hard patch and losing your footing. This happened to Chris as he was running down the slope and all of a sudden he was in mid-air disappearing in a cloud of dust and tomahawking down part of Ngauruhoe! I, as any good fried would do, caught most of it on GoPro and will be including the mishap in my NZ edit. After the bleeding stopped and we all had some food in us we made for Red Crater and beyond the beautiful Emerald and Blue lakes. While we were ascending the crater, there was a rescue chopper circling and it landed on top of the ridge to pick up a group of distressed hikers, one of which had a seizure while hiking apparently. We ended our hike with at the Blue Lake and decided to head back down and grab some dinner in Taupo.

The next few days, we stayed with Monique’s family at the bach and had many a good time enjoying a neighbour’s 50th and a boat ride over to Tarawera falls! The 50th was a gong show of free food and wine with a live band to set the mood. These guys were great especially due to their inclusion of several ACDC songs and Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water! The night was ended with a drunk Easter egg hunt and a hot tub over at a dude named Jeff’s house. All in all, amazing weekend in no small part thanks to Monique and her family!

I realize I am jumping from weekend to weekend in this post but I need to get on top of this thing. Also, most of my weekdays are filled with studying, attending class and planning epic weekend excursions! There is the occasional trip to roll training (kayaking) every Tuesday as well as the odd trip to the quarry for some rock climbing, but for the most part I have classes to keep me busy.

Due to the fact that Easter weekend extended all the way to Tuesday, I had a lot of catching up to do as the mid-semester break approaches. Unfortunately, I had to spend most of this next weekend catching up on work, but this doesn’t mean it was a total loss. Grant, Leo, Amaury and I managed to squeeze in a Sunday trip to Wairoa River for some awesome paddling. Like many rivers in NZ, the Wairoa is dam controlled meaning the flow starts at 10 and ends at 4pm sharp. This meant we had to head down early in the morning to make the most of the day’s flow. Grant and I caught a ride with a dude named Roger who just joined up with the club and was nice enough to hook us up with a ride and even the use of his dry top! This vastly improved my paddling experience as getting cold was no longer a factor! After meeting up with the AUCC crew, Grant, Amaury, Leo and I were placed under the leadership of one of the clubs amazing instructors, Ellie. She was an amazing teacher and I learned a lot about paddling in a short amount of time. Aside from teaching us some basic skills, she was also there to save us several times each. Add to this the pointers given to me by Roger and I had one informative day! After messing around near the play wave for a few hours, the rest of the club members showed up and we hit the grade 2 section of the river. I managed to flip three times requiring 2 T-rescues and was able to right myself once! 1/3, not bad!

Turns out that joining the AUCC was the best decision I’ve mad so far. The next weekend was the Anawhenua trip just outside of Rotorua and in contrast to the Wairoa trip, this one was quite a bit bigger in terms of participants. Life Ful James, we managed to basically fill a campsite with rowdy kayakers. We were split into 3 groups: The Carnivorous River Ducks, the Lochness Monsters and the Taniwhas (Maori for sea monster). This was just a means to organize the crowd of people who decided to show up. Marjie and I hitched a ride down with Hamish, a Kiwi from Auckland and when we arrived, we basically just set up the tents and passed out. The next morning the CRDs (Marjie, Bianca and I) and the Lochness Monsters (Grant, Leo, Pierce and Lyssa) headed up to the Rangitaiki River to do some rafting! I’m sure it was due to the drought but the water level here was actually quite low apparently. Not to say it wasn’t a good time, definitely got smashed around quite a bit, but we were also getting stuck on rocks a decent amount. By the time we finished our 2 hour lap and the other group theirs, it was dinner time so we headed back to camp for some campstove chicken fajitas! That night was a booze fuelled shin dig down at some veterans pub just up the highway during which a good old fashioned shirt swap took place. Apparently this is a club tradition, switching shirts for other shirts, dresses and sometimes bras. Luckily the club extended the courtesy of letting the pub know we were all coming so they had time to stock up so they would be drunk dry. When the party was finished we all headed back to camp to get some sleep and hopefully rest up for tomorrow’s paddling. The morning arrived too soon by my reckoning and before long, we were off up the road to the Anawhenua section of the Rangitaiki river to do some good old grade 2 paddling. I grabbed me a Mystic Creeker and when we were all set up, the instructors would shove us off the edge of the walkway, a good 2m drop to the water below. Compared to Wairoa, this was quite a bit easier but nonetheless an awesome time.

The following week was a week from hell in my opinion. Four exams and a research paper due before heading out on Mid-semester break! Unfortunately for me, one of these exams was a final for a correspondence course I was doing through TRU and it ended up taking up a good 3 hour portion of the day. Other than that, the other tests were almost enjoyable and right now I am in the midst of finishing up my research paper. Just thought I’s take a break and get this blog all caught up!

Patrick gets here tomorrow at 1am from Singapore, just enough time to drop some stuff off in my room and catch the 4am shuttle back to the airport for the most epic adventure yet…the South Island!

I feel I must apologize for two things: taking my sweet as time on getting this post up and again for the length but I thank you for taking the time to give it a read. Cheers!



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