New Zealand, At Last

by David on December 4, 2009

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My Thailand trip was originally conceived as a tacked-on, one-week diversion from my main destination. I ended up spending four weeks there and having an unforgettable time. Now I am finally in my real destination, and it is even more beautiful than I imagined. In terms of scenery, they are spoiled here. Geographically it is so completely different than Canada, yet the culture is refreshingly similar. I really really like it here.

Perhaps it was partly because I hadn’t slept, but stepping out of the airport into New Zealand was surreal. Though exhausted, I was giddy. I made it.

Aside from the abundant and exotic vegetation (which is everywhere), two things struck me immediately: it was very spacious and very clean. Thailand (particularly Bangkok) is neither of those things, so it was quite a contrast, but it seemed to be noticeably cleaner than Canada too.

There is virtually no litter in the streets. If you look you can find the odd cigarette butt or crumpled receipt, but there are no burrito wrappers or squashed plastic bottles in the gutters. Public facilities are abundant and well-kept. There are parks everywhere, all very well groomed, presumably by nocturnal hobbits.

I arranged to stay on the hide-a-bed of a well-traveled and enthusiastic Aucklander for the first few nights, then migrate to another couch in the city. I now know that New Zealand — the international dropping-point of Auckland in particular — is extremely busy this time of year and substantial notice is important for finding a vacant couch. So I ended up staying five nights with my gracious host, who assured me he would rather I stay than go find a hostel bunk.

And what a host he was. Relishing the role of tour guide, he took me to some of his favorite spots in the Auckland area, including three incredible beaches on my first day.

The first was Muriwai, an endless stretch of gold-tinged black sand, adorned by a famous colony of gannets, living on and around a picturesque rock tower. I managed to snap a photo of two of them kissing. Later we sat on the beach, watched the enormous surf (Muriwai is a destination for surfers) and ate fish and chips.

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Where the gannets do their thing

Where the gannets do their thing

They were going at it for a while

They were going at it for a while

The second of the three beaches was the most beautiful. It is my host’s favorite local spot, and it is quite exclusive — it takes a twenty-minute hike from the end of a gravel road to get to it.

It was the most stunning beach I’d ever been to. I had an incredible experience there that I’ve already described on Raptitude:

As I was pondering what cosmic fortune had brought me there, I noticed the ocean getting closer. A huge wave had broken and sent a vast sheet of seawater sweeping across hundred meters of sand towards us. As it approached, I realized it wasn’t going to stop, and took off my shoes in a hurry. Without a moment to spare, the water gushed over our ankles and beyond, and suddenly we were standing the sea.

I was most floored by how quickly I’d ended up in such a strikingly beautiful place. Less than 24 hours after I’d touched down, I was standing on the most epic of beaches. It was an unforgettable daytrip.

Taken from the hike down to the beach

Taken from the hike down to the beach

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"Male" and "female" sides of the beach

"Male" and "female" sides of the beach

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Most of the ripples you see in this picture are in the color of the sand, not the water.

Most of the ripples you see in this picture are in the color of the sand, not the water.

On the hike out

On the hike out

The final beach was no less magical, just much more well-known. It is a monstrous expanse of fine blackish sand called Karekare. New Zealand’s thriving film industry often makes use of it; you may have seen it in The Piano, for example. I recognized it from Xena: Warrior Princess, a show in which every single beach scene is filmed at Karekare, no matter where it occurs in Xena’s world.

It is difficult to convey quite how big it is, though pictures may help a little. Picture sand stretching two or three hundred metres from the water, and extending miles and miles into the distance.

Approaching Karekare at dusk. We walked down a sandy stream to get there.

Approaching Karekare at dusk. We walked down a sandy stream to get there.

Xena Beach! Allies and villains alike tend to wash up here on a regular basis.

Xena Beach! Allies and villains alike tend to wash up here on a regular basis.

The sand is so flat the surf stretches out forever.

The sand is so flat the surf stretches out forever.

I was unable to take a photo that captures the immense scale of this beach. This guy was the nearest soul.

I was unable to take a photo that captures the immense scale of this beach. This guy was the nearest soul.

Precisely because it is so big, it can never be crowded, If you see people anywhere between you and the horizon, you can just keep walking on the flat, wet sand, until you’ve found your own hectare or two of perfect beach.

I spend a total of five days in Auckland, where I spent some time sightseeing (the Museum and Winter Garden are magnificent) and some time preparing for the remainder of my year here. I opened a bank account, booked some accommodations, investigated transportation options, and bought a mobile phone and some important articles of clothing.

I left my ever-helpful host to head down through North Island via bus.

Tauranga

I chose Tauranga as my second destination, chiefly because the weather forecast looked more promising there than anywhere else. My first two days in Auckland were gorgeous, but then it became overcast and stayed that way. I had wanted to head north from Auckland, but the weather outlook was no better.

Tauranga did not deliver its promise of nice weather. It was grey and rainy, though I did enjoy myself. I took advantage of the crap weather to hang around the hostel and get the rest of my trip a little better organized, making bookings and other arrangements.

I met a few people as usual, and ended up attending Quiz Night at the Corner Stone Pub with a soft-spoken young German and a hard-spoken, fiftysomething Englishman. We were slaying the competition until the questions turned rather Kiwi-specific, and we ended up just out of the prizes.

Other than that I did not do a whole lot. Tauranga is not attraction-heavy, at least for someone on a budget. I visited their modest but charming Art Gallery, and did my usual exploratory photo-taking walks.

Taken during the only two hours of sunlight that occured while I was in Tauranga

Taken during the only two hours of sunlight that occured while I was in Tauranga

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After three nights there I hopped on the bus to Rotorua, which is both the North Island’s tourist capital, and New Zealand’s centre of Maori culture. There is much to see and I’m seeing it.

I am still in Rotorua at the time of writing, taking pictures and eating ice cream. Post and photos coming soon.

It is far easier to post pictures in bulk to Facebook than it is here, so if you want to see more photos, you are welcome to request my friendship. Please indicate that you are a Raptitude/David Goes Kiwi reader in your friend request.

{ 17 comments }

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) December 5, 2009 at 5:58 am

hmm~ yes the rain~ that’s actually what makes everything so lush and rainforesty ~:-) I’m biased, I live amid rainforests, I love the rainy days, when hiking I just think like a frog.

David December 6, 2009 at 8:05 pm

I know the rain has a purpose. I just like when it fulfills its purpose when I’m somewhere else :)

The sun’s been shining for three days now, and the forecast predicts it will continue.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) December 7, 2009 at 6:00 am

great for gallery trails~ what was showing in Tauranga?

Nadia - Happy Lotus December 6, 2009 at 11:36 am

Hi David,

I had to laugh about your comments on Thailand. When we arrived in Thailand after being in India, my immediate thought was it was so much cleaner. So just know Thailand ain’t as dirty as other parts in the world. However, I can understand the contrast and how nice it is to see clean streets.

And the pictures of the beaches were just awesome. I used to love watching Xena and Hercules so it was nice to see those familiar images again.

Keep on having fun!

David December 6, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Haha my host in Auckland told me some stories about India and some of its dirtier corners. It’s all relative, I suppose. New Zealand is strikingly clean, though.

Brenda December 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm

miles and miles and miles, oh my! so glad I’m getting to tag along with you, even if from a distance. :)

David December 6, 2009 at 8:08 pm

More pictures on the way. :)

Eric December 7, 2009 at 12:01 pm

New Zealand sounds fantastic. I love the pictures and the stories behind them.

David December 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm

More to come.

Steve December 7, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Ha – if you like the North Island scenery, wait until you see the South Island!

David December 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm

That’s what I keep hearing :)

Delias Hozzlethorn. December 9, 2009 at 2:29 pm

That chocolate banana shit will be your downfall. How much is a half decent hotel?

David December 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Half decent, maybe 65 bones.

Anna December 11, 2009 at 4:13 pm

I have many fond memories of all three of those beaches, particularly the middle one which is all the more special because due to the relatively steep walk to get there you almost always have it to yourself, even on the weekends. Love it!

annabel January 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Okay, I LIVE in west Auckland, and have no idea where that middle beach is! Please enlighten me!

David February 13, 2010 at 1:50 am

Sorry for the late response, but that middle beach is Anawhata beach, just north of Piha

Eric Schroeder September 9, 2015 at 10:31 am

Lovely pictures!! What was the name of the second beach you went to?

I don’t see it mentioned anywhere.

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