Kiwis are an endearing lot.
The people, not the birds. Although I am sure the birds are nice too.
New Zealanders always seem to be happy and positive. I love how they tell you to have a great day and actually mean it. I love that they seem genuinely excited when you give them your breakfast order – leaving you with a heartfelt “sweet” or “brilliant” as they head to the kitchen. I love that shoes are optional and that no one bats an eyelash when people wander barefoot in restaurants, grocery stores and even the airport.
I love that their response to our telling them that Glenn quit his job and we are on a 6-month trip is an enthusiastic “good on ya” rather than the slightly judgmental “must be nice” we often get from others.
And the slang, oh the slang.
I am guessing I could live here for years and still never understand half of what they are saying as they talk to each other over a beer. We did pick up a few words though, like: brekky (breakfast), jandals (flip-flops), slips (landslides), lollies (any sweet candy, particularly colored marshmallows), dairy (corner convenience store), take away (to go coffee, food, etc.), biscuit (cookie) and bickies (biscuits), chook (chicken), chips (french fries) and chippies (potato chips), trundler (shopping cart), long black with trim (americano with non-fat milk), swimming costume (bathing suit), track (trail) and tramping (hiking), and – our favorite – zed (how they pronounce the letter Z).
We spent a little over a week touring the North Island, which wasn’t near enough time. The weather continued to plague us as it did in the South Island, but we managed to sneak in some amazing adventures.
After leaving Wellington we headed northwest to the area around Mt. Taranaki, a large volcano that was very reminiscent of our beloved Mt. Hood back home in Oregon. The weather report predicted clouds and rain but we decided to take a chance in hopes of getting a bit of sun to do a hike on the mountain – and our gamble paid off.
Forgotten World Highway
We spent a day exploring around the area of New Zealand State Highway 43, also called the Forgotten World Highway. This was a fantastically rugged and twisting road that goes through some beautiful countryside and several ghost towns dating back to the railway days of the early 1900s.
The road runs through the Republic of Whangamomona (say that fast three times!), a town that declared itself a republic in 1989. They have had a parade of interesting presidents, including Billy Gumboot the Goat that won after eating the other challengers’ ballots (he died in office) and Tai the Poodle who retired from office after an assassination attempt left him a nervous wreck (according to the locals and Wikipedia).
Whangamomona was a wonderfully quirky town filled with interesting characters and a resident pub cat that Glenn fell in love with. It was also the launching point for our journey on the Forgotten World Adventures rail bikes – which was some of the most fun I have ever had.
This section of railroad began construction in 1901 but wasn’t completed until 30 years later due to World War I and the difficult terrain, among other reasons. Some of the most impressive features of the rail line are the numerous tunnels which were dug by hand with pick axe and shovel. We pedaled through one such tunnel that was nearly a mile long. The rail line was closed in 1983 due to declining passenger numbers and is now used exclusively as a tourist attraction for these rail bikes as well as motorized carts.
Here is a video of our bike rail adventure…
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
It seems that no trip to Middle Earth (a.k.a. New Zealand) would be complete without a visit to Mount Doom and Mordor. So, we headed to the Tongariro National Park to visit the iconic vistas and volcanoes that were used as filming locations for those elements of The Lord of the Rings films.
Our first visit to the park was disappointing because of…you guessed it…rain and low clouds that obscured the views. We did enjoy a beautiful hike to Taranaki Falls (not to be confused with Mt. Taranaki above).
We returned a few days later determined to take advantage of the improved weather (it’s all relative…as it was still cold and drizzling) and hike the infamous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We parked our car at the end of the trail (Ketetahi car park) and hired a shuttle bus – there are several shuttle companies to pick from – to drop us at the trailhead.
This hike is purported to be the best hike in New Zealand and is a challenging ~12 mile hike up and over two of the park’s volcanoes and includes such trail sections as the aptly named “Devil’s Staircase.”
When we got to the end we learned that the hiking trail would be closed the next day due to strong winds – so I am glad we hiked it when we did or we would have missed our chance. It definitely warranted the moniker as New Zealand’s best hike…even when battling the clouds and drizzle.
Our last adventure in New Zealand included a tour through Hobbiton – the film set for The Lord of the Rings movies as well as The Hobbit.
Hobbiton was a fitting send-off from our time in Middle Earth and the Hobbits were much easier to understand than the Kiwis because they don’t use as much slang. Well, except for “elevensies” – but we had already figured that one out in Chile – although there it is called “onces” (elevensies in Spanish). We will forever remember fondly our time in New Zealand, a country full of lovely scenery and equally lovely people!
Interested in reading more about our travels in New Zealand?
Too much of a good thing? (New Zealand, Part 1: Christchurch to Southland)
Things are looking up! (New Zealand, Part 2: Milford Sound and Queenstown)
Rain, rain…go away! (New Zealand, Part 3: West Coast, Kaikoura and Wellington)