New Zealand: 3/26 – 4/1

(New Zealand) Ohakune >>> Whakahoro Hut >>> John Coull Hut >>> Tieke Kainga Hut >>> Te Maurie >>> New Plymouth

3/26 – 3/29 –  4-Day Canoe Journey on the Whanganui River
3/30 – Driving the Forgotten Highway to New Plymouth
3/31 – Hiking the Poukari Crossing Trail with our Amigos!
4/1 – Unexpected catch up day in New Plymouth

Day 1 of our 4 Day canoe journey on the Whanganui River.
+ Went with Yeti Tours. They provided our canoe, 5 small waterproof barrels, a cooler with ice packs, and a waterproof storage box for our electronics.
+ We met the owner at 7 am and after a short briefing he drove us to another outfitters office in the next town over. There, we met 4 other people who were also going on the same 4 day journey as we were. Steve and Daniel were a father and son duo from Auckland. Gio was from Switzerland and Max was from California.
+ After introductions we all hopped in a van and our driver took us 90 minutes north to our starting point.
+ Started canoeing at Ohinepane. We didn’t know if we’d be canoeing by ourselves mostly, but it turned out that we’d all canoe together on our journey. So as a group we started out: 2 canoes and 2 kayaks
+ The total journey distance for the first day was 35 km. We stopped for lunch briefly at a campground along the way and then kept on canoeing. The weather was a bit drizzly to start out but it finished up and the sun came out for the rest of the journey.
+ After about 6 hours total, we reached our finish point for the day, Whakahoro bunkhouse, and hauled the canoes up higher on the bank.
+ The Yeti Tours owner had overloaded us with more barrels than we needed and the cooler that was really not necessary. The hut was way up the path (including a super muddy bit) from the canoe landing so we each had to make 2 trips carrying as much as we could and rest along the way. We were completely exhausted by the time we reached the hut and ready to relax. This climb up the hill was the most exhausting part of day! Way worse than the actual canoeing!
+ Since it was only about 4:30pm, we had plenty of time to relax, eat and hang out for the rest of the day.
+ The bunkhouse was much nicer than we expected. It was basically just a room with bunk beds but it even had solar powered lights for nightime! The bunkhouse was right next to a small cafe surrounded by farmland. There were friendly horses, cows and sheep in the paddock.
+ After everyone had some warm drinks and snacks, we sat around the picnic table talking and eventually were joined by another camper who drove in for the night to start a hike tomorrow.
+ Before dinner, we checked out the nearby cafe and any yummy food they might offer. Then we ran away once a giant tour bus full of backpackers pulled in.
+ When we’d all finished eating, the rain started again so we retreated to the hut and our bunks.
+ After some quick star gazing an hour later, we all went to sleep (except Corey who stayed up and read Lonely Planet for a while longer).

Day 2 of our 4 Day canoe journey on the Whanganui River
+ The next day we were all up by 7am and quickly scarfed down breakfast and hauled everything back down to the river.
+ We started canoeing again around 8:45 and had another 5 and a half hours worth of canoeing today.
+ Again we stopped for lunch at a campsite and enjoying a brief reprise from the incessant rain that had been going on pretty much non stop.
+ Today’s journey was much prettier in our opinion with giant canyon walls bordering both sides of us for much of the day.
+ The group went really fast and covered the 37.5km in record time! We actually reached our hut for the night by 2pm! Again we had quite the hike up the hill and muddy slopes but eventually we got all our stuff up under the porch shelter and out of the rain. Corey and I had only worn “jandals” (NZ term for cheap flip flops) on this trip. (Wrongly advised again by Yeti Tours…) Our sandals had zero traction in the mud so we had spent a lot of this trip barefoot! Good thing we weren’t in Florida or Australia! Way too many dangerous things there to go barefoot!
+ We were staying at John Coull hut tonight. This hut is known for being one of the most remote huts in New Zealand! Only accessible by canoe or the small jet boats many locals use to get up and down the river. Because this was a hut and not just a bunkhouse, besides the bunk beds it included a large kitchen with multiple gas burners and a sink, a large table with bench seating and even a wonderfully warm wood heater.
+ This hut had wardens were a very nice elderly married couple. They started a fire for us and everyone changed clothes and then hung up all the wet gear to attempt to dry out.
+ The afternoon was much the same as yesterday with everyone eating and drinking and talking. Then most of the group took a nap while the two of us played cards, worked on the blog, and read.
+ While we were staying warm and dry, the rain outside got even heavier with no end in sight. Eventually 3 other paddlers arrived to the hut, completely drenched. They had started from Whakahoro this morning but got a later start than us and so had the worst of the rain for their entire paddle today. Despite this they were still in good spirits as they attempted to warm up and dry their gear. After chatting we learned they were 3 backpackers who had met on this trip and they would be doing the rest of the 2 days with us. Rebecca was from England, Ron was from Israel, and their other friend was from Germany.
+ Later in the evening, we cooked up a nice hot dinner (our 3rd meal since arriving!) and then enjoyed some hot chocolate while looking for the tiny bats flying around the trees outside. These bats were New Zealand’s only native mammal! Crazy! Imagine if all the mammals in the US were introduced and not here originally!
+ When everyone had finished washing up, we all played some games around the table. We played a kiwi version of “Spoons” called “Tongues” which was pretty funny. Then we wrote down names of famous people (real and fictional) on pieces of paper and played “Who Am I?” where you stick the pieces of paper to your forehead and have to ask questions to the other group members to figure out who you are, Also very funny although neither of us are especially good at the game! lol

Day 3 of our 4 Day canoe journey on the Whanganui River
+ In the morning we had some cereal again and put on our still damp clothing to begin the 3rd day on the river.
+ Luckily today’s weather was much better and we had sunshine for our entire journey! The distance paddled was shorter today (29km) but around noon we stopped at a place along the river that had an access point to a hiking trail.
+ Everyone grabbed their lunch and made the 40 minute hike into the bush to the “Bridge to Nowhere”. This was a very large bridge (big enough for vehicles) erected seemingly in the middle of nowhere since you had to hike or paddle in very far from either direction to get to it. In reality, it was a very ambitious plan from earlier settlers who thought the entire area would be built up with roads and houses. Now, it was only a nice lunch spot with views out over the forest as the settlements never thrived and eventually died out.
+ Back in the boats, we continued moving faster than normal down the river. With all the rain from the previous day, the river had risen a couple feet, completely changed color, and the current was swifter which was good for us.
+ About 3 o’clock we made it to our hut called Tieke Kainga. The total distance paddled today was 29 km, along with our 6 km hike.
+ This was actually a very religious site to the Maori people and had an important building on it called a Marae. Our warden was actually also Maori and looked after the place to ensure it’s sacredness remained untarnished.
+ Once we’d lugged all our gear up to the building, he informed us there’d be an official welcome ceremony once our other 3 paddling friends arrived to the site.
+ When they arrived and got settled, Matt (the warden) took us all down in front of the main entrance and explained to us the history and significance of the Marae and the formal greetings and welcome ceremony that all visitors had to go through in order to abide by the Maori tradition. We were now also going to partake in this centuries-old, very formal ceremony called pōwhiri.
+ First we entered through the front gate, 3 of the men spoke about why we were there, and then we provided a gift/offering (2 hot chocolate packets). Next, the girls had to sing a song after each guy spoke! Liz was soooo glad she wasn’t the only girl on the trip anymore! The 3 songs they sang were “I’m a little TeaPot”, “Amazing Grace”, and “God Save the Queen”. The last two songs were entirely sung by Rebecca who had a very impressive voice! Liz stood next to her and hummed along to be supportive. So thankful she didn’t have to come up with 3 songs on her own!
+ Once we’d completed the ceremony, Matt let us inside the Marae and showed us around. There were pictures of many of the elders who’d passed away, including his grandparents!
+ From there, he offered to take us on a hike up to an old grave site and then an overlook. We all tagged along and made what turned out to be a very steep and slippery hike up on a very unkept trail. And we did it all barefoot!
+ The rest of the night consisted of cooking dinner, hanging out, and star gazing since we had another clear night. It was so interesting to see the constellations here that we can’t see at all at home! The Southern Cross was Liz’s favorite!

Day 4 of our 4 Day canoe journey on the Whanganui River
+ Today was our last day on the river and had the shortest distance we needed to cover. We said goodbye to Matt and left just before 9.
+ Even though the distance was shorter, we had way less of a current flow assisting us today than the other days. Plus with a pretty strong headwind, we probably had to paddle harder and longer than any other day. Certainly more than we’d anticipated.
+ The only detour we made today was a short paddle up a conjoining river to a sort of natural amphitheater. The amphitheater wasn’t anything particularly special, but served as a nice break from the main river. The short paddle in and out of this canal was impressive with the tall lush walls of the gorge and the color change of the water once we joined back up with the main river.
+ Today’s paddle also had the 3 biggest rapids we’d face on the river and we successfully managed to make it through all 3 without tipping over! Hooray! Seriously though, some of the rapids had pretty big waves that could’ve thrashed us about had we not navigated through them correctly or avoided certain areas. Thankfully we were experts now! It was definitely a great exercise in teamwork! Canoeing rapids is much harder than white water rafting!
+ Our group finished our 22 km paddle and made it to our pickup spot by 12:40pm, a whole 80 minutes ahead of our scheduled pickup time! Then we ate lunch and celebrated the completion of our 124 km journey!
+ Eventually the other paddlers showed up and then our ride did as well. We loaded everything onto the trailer and headed back to the offices.
+ First we dropped off Daniel, Steve, Gio, and Max at their canoe office and said our goodbyes. Then we continued on with Ron, Rebecca, and Enid towards the Yeti office. Our driver surprised us by offering to take us to a little creek area where we could feed some eels! We’d seen advertisements for it at other places like fish farms but now we were getting to do it in a natural setting for free! Almost 20 eels came into the shallow water to feast on the bread and the driver even hand fed some of them! Next to the creek, we also picked some plums to snack on which were surprisingly tasty!
+ Back at the office, we got all our gear out of the waterproof barrels and then said goodbye to our new friends.
+ Before we skipped town, we got some nice big kebabs from a local restaurant and used wifi for a bit. Then we drove north about an hour and started the drive down the Forgotten Highway.
+ Since it was now dark, we only drove that road about 15 minutes before getting to our camping spot for the night Te Maurie carpark. Then it was back to sleeping in our van! We’d actually missed it since it was much more comfortable than the huts and bunkbeds had been.


Driving the Forgotten Highway to New Plymouth
+ After a nice breakfast enjoyed at our own pace and without the threat of rain clouds urging us to get a move on, we got back in the car and finished driving the Forgotten Highway.
+ Arrived in New Plymouth and stopped by the I-Site to get some info and return another huge stack of brochures.
+ It was time for another round of internet stuff since we just learned the Auckland housesit we had lined up through Kiwi Housesitters canceled on us! Even though the owner knew we were traveling around NZ in a camper and without cell service for prolonged periods of time, she panicked when she couldn’t reach us for 2 days and canceled. Lame! Luckily there were a lot of people in Auckland heading out of town for the Easter weekend so we had lots of other options to apply for.
+ Our friends from the canoe journey, Ron and Rebecca, had made it to New Plymouth as well so we headed over to their hostel for some ice cream and hang out time. After a few hours (and the 4 of us devouring an entire ice cream container), we said goodbye and parted ways for the next few hours. We’d see each other again in the morning to go hiking.
+ We drove a few kilometers out of town and slept at the Waiakaiho River mouth car park. It was a really nice site right next to the ocean and we got to listen to the waves crashing on the shore overnight.

Hiking the Poukari Crossing Trail with our Amigos!
+ In the morning we went back to the hostel and picked up our friends and drove 20 minutes south to the Mount Taranaki visitor center.
+ We had planned to hike the Poukari Crossing Trail starting from the visitor center and finish 18km later at the other end. To do that though, would require us to either have another vehicle at the other end of the trail, pay a bunch of money for a transfer service, or try to hitchhike. None sounded great so we chose to leave 1 car there, drive with a new backpacker friend the 45 minutes to the other end of the trail, and then hike back to the visitor center. This saved time and money but meant we’d have much more uphill to overcome since we were doing the trail in reverse.
+ We set off on the hike with Rebecca (England), Ron (Israel), and our new friend Sean (Germany). It was really fun to have some new friends to share the experience. We shared bad jokes, country stereotypes (i.e. Ron’s perception of a redneck accent. lololol) , and lots of good conversation.
+ The hike was a lot of fun and some parts of Egmont National Park were very pretty. At least the first 2 hours while we were able to see. After that we were inside of a cloud for almost the entire next 6 hours and only afforded small glimpses of the surrounding mountains and scenery. There was also a nice long section in the middle with huge muddy sections which got our shoes and legs very very dirty. Even though it wasn’t our favorite hike ever, we were glad to conquer it with some friends and have good conversation and laughs the whole time.
+ Just over 8 hours after beginning the trail, we emerged out of the woods back at the parking lot and celebrated the fact we’d finished before dark. Then we all drove back to the other car and headed towards the restaurant we’d all been craving for the last couple of hours: Pizza Hut!
+ Got Pizza Hut and went back to their hostel to chat. Stayed up really late again before we said our final goodbyes this time and drove away.
+ Slept at the Waiakaiho River mouth car park again.

Unexpected catch up day in New Plymouth
+ When we’d planned out our itinerary for the upcoming days in NZ, we had somehow skipped the 31st when putting down activities and dates. So we actually had originally planned to hike today but since we did that yesterday, today was sort of a free day. It came at a much needed time since we had lots of stuff to do.
+ First though, we hung out at our beach campsite and watched the surfers ride the gnarly waves. It was extremely busy since today was a Saturday!
+ Next we headed into town and parked next to a Spark wifi box to do some Internet stuff and Skype with people back home. After skyping with a few people, we mistakenly thought a parking attendant was approaching the vehicle and to avoid being ticketed we drove away quickly. Turns out she wasn’t and you could park free all day, but we panicked. Lol.
+ Since we still had stuff to do but had lost our prime parking spot, we headed to Burger King for some lunch and to leech on their free wifi. The next couple of hours flew by as we knocked off some to-do items from our list.
+ Dinner that night was at BurgerFuel since Liz was craving a high quality cheeseburger. It was only mildly satisfying though and we vowed not to go again since the taste and quantity didn’t justify the high price tag.
+ Then we did a quick bit of grocery shopping to stock up for the next few days.
+ Decided to do the drive to Waitomo in the morning since it was getting late already. Slept at the same place near the beach as last night.

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