It was a quick return stay in Rotorua to make a connection, then head inland to the beautiful rivers, lakes and mountains. The first stop off the beaten track, Lake Aniwhenua, is where Maori tribes have lived for centuries and the culture still thrives. Stray supports a local program here that offers a cross-cultural experience for both travelers and nearby schoolchildren. Enroute was a stop to see the oldest Maori rock carvings in New Zealand, before activities, and while waiting for the hangi feast. The next morning, a visit to the local elementary school was truly a special time as we learned Maori songs and games from very sweet and personable kids. I'll let the photos tell more of this story.
The next day was a long haul to Blue Duck Station, an isolated, unique place in Whakahoro created to conserve endangered wildlife. I've linked to the web site for two reasons -- it's nearly impossible for me to describe what it feels like here, and I accidentally deleted all my photos before back-up (no service)! While I chose to trail walk as much as possible at this 7200-acre country farm, there were also options like horseback riding, 4WD excursions to the bush, and feral goat hunting. Yes, goats are considered "pests" in New Zealand as they destroy vegetation, damage forests, and threaten native plants and animals. Indeed, there was goat curry the next day, but I did not partake! Blue Duck Station -- a top spot for me.
I'm still shaking my head at my decision on the next stop to NOT walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19 km trek that takes 6-8 hours to complete. It's one of New Zealand's most popular day walks (think Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings), but I shook my head at the $70 shuttle cost, so that was that! While I was aghast when I heard that more than 1,000 people did the crossing that day, I'm still wondering if I should've gone for it! Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed a morning latte & biscuits at the Chateau Tongariro Hotel cafe and my 2-hour walk to Taranaki Falls with magnificent views of volcanic peaks.
My last stop on the North Island was the capital -- Wellington, a compact little city of about 400,000 people with a lovely waterfront promenade. While I did run about town to see the Parliament buildings, the bustle of Cuba Street, and the harbor views, I spent the majority of my time at "Te Papa," New Zealand's National Museum and Art Gallery. My brain was saturated after four+ hours of learning about New Zealand's natural environment, Pacific and Māori culture, and everything from fashion to rugby.
It was then time to put on my sea bands, and "early to bed, early to rise" to catch the Bluebridge Ferry across Cook Strait. Just an FYI -- I arrived in Auckland just two weeks ago!
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover