The southern end of the North island

After our hike in Mt Taranaki we made our way South, planning to hike in the Tararua mountains. We got waylaid about half way, in Palmerston North, when we found a quiet backpackers where we could have a room to ourselves at a good price, and where the owner daily baked all kinds of goodies that she begged us to eat. She was like a mother goose baking for a large brood of chicks that had flown the nest and we were only too happy to be adopted for a few days! One day i had 13 (THIRTEEN) large cookies before we finally decided enough was enough, and we rolled ourselves out the door and on South.
With bad weather forecast, and the Tararuas being infamous for their extreme weather, we shelved our hiking plans and took the train to Wellington. We had a couple of days in that lovely city enjoying the many cafes, the comfortable library where we browsed their collection of books and magazines every day (often for baking recipes to satisfy our craving for sweet things), and scenic walks along the coast. The area around Wellington seemed rich in scenery so we decided to hire a car for the week, helped by the incredible deal available ($15USD per day).

Once we left Wellington we explored the South and West coasts of the North island, one of the highlights being a visit to a seal colony along the way. At first we were thrilled when we spotted a solitary seal in the distance, but before long realised that we needed to keep our eyes down to avoid accidentally stepping on one. They were everywhere! Sunning themselves on rocks, lazing on grassy patches and amassed in rowdy groups near the water! While very definitely aware of us, most didn’t react to us, but one of the big bulls charged Daniel. It was surprising the speed at which he could move his fat backside over the rocky ground. And the seal was pretty quick too 🙂 After leaving the seals, we passed though intensive farming area (definitely more sheep than people in that part of the world!), and some beautiful vineyards. The wineries there were ’boutique’ though, so finding the local wine out of our price range we instead sampled an Australian variety! We camped every night enjoying the luxury of being able to drive to any campsite we liked, and one night pitched up in a gorgeous campsite in the midst of the vineyards.

The weather turned sunny after a few days so we decided to do a 3 day hike in the mountains. After all, what better way for 2 budget conscious travelers to get their money’s worth from a car hire than leave it parked up for a few days? 🙂  No matter, the hike was fantastic! We had sunshine every day, and spent most of our time above the bushline enjoying expansive views across to the West, South and East coasts. We even saw the white cone of Mt Taranaki, and were momentarily dismayed to find it so clear when it was so cloudy while we were there, but then we appreciated the moment and enjoyed the views we had of it and everything else! Both mornings we had glorious sunrises, with the valleys below filled with cloud, lending a feeling of being on top of the world …. On our second morning though we had incredible winds, so strong that we had to pause and consider whether it was really safe to continue walking on those exposed ridges. I, in particular, found it difficult to stay on my feet, and was exhausted after a few hours of trying to stay upright. Daniel fared a bit better, and his only complaint was that he was going deaf(er?) from the constant howling of the wind in his ears. Incidentally we met a few other hikers on the trail, which solidified our theory that all other hikers are 20 to 40 kgs heavier that us. That difference is equal parts fat, and muscle, and spread over shoulders (to help carry the pack?), middle (keep their organs warm?) and thighs (withstand the wind?). Maybe we need an intensive follow up session in that lonely lady’s hostel in Palmerston North  …..)
Overall, we had a fantastic week, and it was a bumper week for photos.
We returned to Wellington yesterday and had planned to take the ferry across the Cook strait to the South island in the afternoon. But having seen a severe gale warning, we postponed for a day and had a peaceful crossing this morning. Incidentally they had winds of over 100km/h in Wellington city yesterday (which we felt in all its fury!) and so we were happy to be on dry land. The plans from here are shaping up nicely for a 7 day hike in the Northern Alps, to be started on Tuesday. Right now we are preparing for a soak in the outdoor hot tub of the backpackers, to be followed by a complimentary serving of chocolate pudding and ice cream at 8pm. Now THAT’s worth delaying bedtime for!

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