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Old 19th November 2014, 13:20   #16
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Arrow Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Nice travelogue! Excellent write-up! Lovely pictures!! Thanks!

Please let us know a bit more about your driving experience / traffic rules / city traffic conditions ... etc. Did you require IDL to rent the car? What did the rental cost and what was the insurance package on offer?

Generally serviced apartments will have minimum rental period. Is it the same in New Zealand? If so, how could you manage that?

Most of the places you have visited, almost looks deserted. How is security for the family, to be out in secluded places. Did you at any point in time feel insecure?

Sorry for the list of questions... please do not mind..
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Old 19th November 2014, 14:50   #17
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Default Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Quote:
Originally Posted by narasimhan.iyer View Post
The Introduction

1 incredible Country - New Zealand
2 Islands
4 weeks
13 places
6400 km behind the wheel
Richer by Countless memories

...
Amazing start to the TL! And with 4 weeks in hand i am sure you would have done full justice to this Amazing country!

I just got a chance to do a 3 week family trip to Sydney+NZ (so i can relate so much better to your TL now)between 20th Oct - 10th Nov...looks like it must have been just after you got back.

What Camera were you using BTW?

Last edited by KSM-Vtec : 19th November 2014 at 14:52.
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Old 19th November 2014, 20:07   #18
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Post Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Quote:
Originally Posted by joe1980 View Post
Excellent ...
But why are most of the places almost empty? Is that an off-season?
Thank you Joe.
We travelled at a time that was just before the start of summer and the peak season running from Nov to Feb. The missing crowds in the photos is a conscious effort

Quote:
Originally Posted by satan's_valet View Post
A very detailed travelogue with brilliant pictures. Rated the thread a deserved *****.

How was the driving experience in NZ and was the Corolla hatch able to swallow all your luggage?
Thank you Satan's Valet.
The driving experience in NZ was nothing short of amazing, the best part of the drive was the twisty roads, NZ does not have too many straights anyways. I'll prob put few more details of the driving experience in one of the future posts.

I thought the corolla hatch would handle better, but i found it wanting. With regards to the luggage, 4 week holiday meant we had 2 big suitcases and 2 hand luggage. The boot would not accommodate both the suitcases, but since we were only 2, the back seat became a permanent resting place for the smaller suitcase and lot of food stuff that we were carrying along.

Quote:
Originally Posted by arnabchak View Post
Beautiful Travelogue. Rated this thread a 5 Star!!
...
Hope you had a great time.
Thank you Arnab. We had a great time, it was 4 weeks spent well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by naveenroy View Post
Yeah was about to ask the same. All the places look so empty of people. Wonder if it is always like that.

If so, I am moving to NZ soon
Thank you Naveen, and here is some statistic.

NZ population = 4.5 mn
Area = 268,021 sq km
Avg pop density = 17 ppl/sq km

Almost 1/3 rd of the population or 1.45 mn people stay in the Auckland region. So the government is actively promoting other regions. Leaving Auckland, the population density falls to 11.7 per sq km. Excluding the top 5 cities, the population density falls further to 7.5 and if you leave out the top ten cities, it is down to a miniscule 5.7 persons per sq km.

How about Greenland (0.026 per sq km), Iceland (3.1), or Australia (3.2) or Canada (3.4)? Do you still want to move to NZ only?

PS: NZ Stats source, International Stats source

Quote:
Originally Posted by S2!!! View Post
However, after seeing the pictures posted by you and your report, I can actually relate to what he was saying.
Thank you S2.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankMartin View Post
Great pics with equally good narrative with all the small details. Rated this thread a 5 Star!!
Thank you FrankMartin.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chethan B G View Post
Please let us know
...
please do not mind
Thank You Chethan.
I will write some more details about the overall driving experience and the city traffic as a part of a later post, as it would have to be in some detail. For the time being, The NZ road code should be the bible for people looking to drive in NZ.

The rental companies do not need IDL as long as your Indian DL is valid and in English. Else, you should get an approved translation of your license. The list of approved translators can be found on the nzta website. I rented from Omega rental cars, and it cost me 33NZD per day for the Toyota Corolla hatch on the north island and 27 NZD per day for the Mazda demio on the south. Standard insurance with 1500$ excess covered in the charges. Complete damage waiver insurance was an additional 12 NZD per day but we did not opt for it.

We did not hire service apartments. We stayed in home stay (some on BnB basis and some without breakfast) via AirBnB and in Backpacker accommodation. Avg price of the stay was about 60 NZD per day. I'll provide more details later in a spread sheet for easy reference.

Most places we visited did have its fair share of crowds, but when i say crowds do not imagine anything like in India Our vacation coincided with the Chinese holiday calendar and we met a good number of travellers from China. NZ is one of the more secure places, and we did not face any problems wherever we went. People are generally friendly. Having said that, basic common sense always helps. Feel free to ask or pm me for any more details that you would want to know.


Quote:
Originally Posted by KSM-Vtec View Post
Amazing start to the TL!
...
What Camera were you using BTW?
Thank you KSM. We flew back on the 19th of Oct.
I am a novice at photography. This trip is the first time i used a DSLR, and learning the nitty gritties of post processing. But NZ is definitely a good place to hone your skills. I used a Nikon D3200 with 18-55 lens.
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Old 19th November 2014, 22:13   #19
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Default Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Quote:
Originally Posted by narasimhan.iyer View Post
Thank you Naveen, and here is some statistic.

NZ population = 4.5 mn
Area = 268,021 sq km
Avg pop density = 17 ppl/sq km

Almost 1/3 rd of the population or 1.45 mn people stay in the Auckland region. So the government is actively promoting other regions. Leaving Auckland, the population density falls to 11.7 per sq km. Excluding the top 5 cities, the population density falls further to 7.5 and if you leave out the top ten cities, it is down to a miniscule 5.7 persons per sq km.

How about Greenland (0.026 per sq km), Iceland (3.1), or Australia (3.2) or Canada (3.4)? Do you still want to move to NZ only?
Hahaha, yeah now those other places you've mentioned seem more interesting. Perhaps I should start looking
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Old 21st November 2014, 14:24   #20
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Default Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Narsimhan,
Nice Travelogue ...Great place and Great pictures..
What about food options? Did'nt see any images of Food hence asked
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Old 21st November 2014, 15:06   #21
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Default Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Great pictures and awesome write up. One of the most pollution free countries i guess and what was the weather like?
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Old 21st November 2014, 17:55   #22
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Default Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Nice Travelogue Narasimhan!! And good start with your new SLR :-)

Fun Fact about New Zealand: Apparently, there are absolutely NO snakes in NZ!!! Could not believe it the first time someone told me, considering some of the worlds most venomous reptiles are found in neighboring Australia.
(Yes, I agree, the two countries are not that close to each other anyway - geographically or otherwise)
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Old 21st November 2014, 21:56   #23
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Default Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Enjoyed reading it, so much that I want to go there now. Most important for me was that none have done this on back-packer style - with a car, most unusual for the regular folks but not here on tbhp. I have always wanted to do this type of budget trip with a car rental. Can you kindly give break-up of expenses and the total [need not be very detailed]
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Old 22nd November 2014, 11:13   #24
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Default Day 5: To the Wild west

Day 5 | Sep 26, 2014
Auckland - Piha - Whatipu - Thames

After the long drive the previous day, things were looking a little relaxed this day. Which meant a late start. We headed straight to the Indian grocery store in New Lynn to stock up on food for the next 3 weeks. Due to strict biosecurity rules in NZ, we carried almost nothing with us. In hindsight, we felt that we should probably have carried few ready to eat stuff, the maggi and the likes. The immigration guys would not have a problem with that as long it is declared. They might probe it a little more closely but they will let it through. But the good bit is that we get in NZ, almost everything that we need. Slightly expensive in comparison to the India prices, but nothing that would set you back significantly. Our host recommended the Food 4 Less supermarket in New Lynn. It was Navaratri time, and as soon as we enter the supermarket we were greeted with some "Ambe shera vali..." song, and we immediately felt at home. We stocked up on food as if we were going to the Saharan Africa.

The first destination for the day is Piha, 50 km to the west of Auckland, and we drive through a stunning expanse of native rainforest, The Waitakere ranges, to get there. The black sand beach itself is quite popular with the locals on weekends, but being a weekday it was hardly crowded and tourists were the only ones aimlessly clicking around there. Present bang in the centre, and impossible to miss is the Lion rock that dominates the surroundings.

Lion rock
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A way leads up to the top, so, we hike up to get a bird's eye view of Piha. If you are close by, obviously you would not able to make out why the lion rock has been named so, but from a distance you can definitely make out the silhouette of a crouching lion. And here is what we see from the top of the lion.

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This guy was sharing space with us at the top. Found many of his brethren all over NZ
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A section of the Waitakere ranges
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Hillary track, is a 4 day walking track through the rainforests around Auckland. But we did not have the luxury of spending 3 days this time, hence we get off the lion and go to the kitekite track, which is a small subsection of the Hillary track and leads to the kitekite falls. The track is a 1 hour return walking track with an easy gradient, and runs along a forest stream. At the end you are rewarded with good views of the kitekite falls. The falls cascade down in 3 layers and collects in a nice pool at the bottom. If taking a dip is your preference, you can have a nice relaxing time. But an ice cold dip is not my cup of tea, unless it were in a Finnish sauna. Today, we just watch from the banks.

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Next up, Whatipu. Another wild west coast beach, but one that sees even lesser crowds as compared to Piha. The option to explore a remote beach and sea caves was lucrative, and that is the reason Whatipu sneaks into our itinerary. The drive from Piha to Whatipu via Titirangi was another highlight, with fabulous views. Being at the fringes of the rainforest, Titirangi suburb was nice and lush green. But we had no time to stop and stare.

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On the way to Whatipu, and just short of it, we make a phone call to the hotel in Thames, where we were staying for the night, and that call upset the applecart. The owner wanted us to check in before 8 pm as he wanted to verify our identities before letting us in. And he would not budge from the 8 pm dead line. Generally most hotels are backpacker friendly and allow late check-ins, or they would be happy to leave a key out to let ourselves in. But not this guy. Hence, we had to rework the plan to get to Thames before 8 pm. An hour and half, and 110 kms between Auckland and Thames meant that it had eaten into our Whatipu plans.

We now had only enough time to get to Whatipu and spend 20 mins there before we had to head back. We deliberated dropping Whatipu and spending time in Titirangi, but finally we proceeded to Whatipu which, in hindsight, was the better decision. The road and the drive to Whatipu is absolutely fabulous through patches of rainforest and through winding twisty hill roads, the last 8 kms of which was unsealed.

Time was a luxury for us at that moment, where it was rationed. And, Whatipu was a complete revelation. Black sandy beaches with no one to disturb the solitude. Unrivalled views of the tasman sea, the setting sun. We wished we had more time to walk to the caves and explore them further. There was a light house on the top of a small hillock, but we did not go closer. We unwillingly return but we were happy we came to Whatipu even if it was for a limited time.

Whatipu Scientific Reserve
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Auckland is a fantastic city to live in, and no wonder features on the list of most liveable cities. Lucky Aucklanders, they have access to a rainforest just an hour out of their homes. But Auckland was not too kind to us on the first day. We did not have time to explore the CBD. No time for Devonport and Rangitoto too. We would be back in Auckland, but only on the last day of our trip to catch the return flight. For the time being, we bid adieu to Auckland and it was time to hit the Southern motorway and head out. With a little bit of speeding outside Auckland (100 is the speed max limit in NZ where it is not marked), we reach Thames at 7:57 pm.

Day 5 in review
1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand-day5.jpg

We head towards a scenic but less explored part of the country...
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Old 22nd November 2014, 11:29   #25
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Post Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Quote:
Originally Posted by srikrishna717 View Post
What about food options? Did'nt see any images of Food hence asked
Srikrishna, Thanks!
We just had regular Indian food. Supplies backed up periodically from the numerous supermarkets and most occasions we cooked dinner/lunch in the equipped kitchens in the backpacker hostels. This kept the costs low.
Of course, when we were bored and tired of our own cooking we ate out too. At Subway, Cafes, Pizza, Indian restaurants etc. Almost all places have Indian restaurants. What we found amusing was that we found Pizza quite cheap there, and we had our fill. 5 NZD for a large classic veg pizza which makes it almost the same price that we get here for, or probably cheaper. I think 8 NZD for the more exotic varieties. NV varieties were also in the close vicinity.

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Originally Posted by Arkesh View Post
What was the weather like?
Thanks Arkesh. The weather in Spring, was marked by cold nights but warm days. With an occasional rainy day thrown in. Towards the evenings, it used to get windy. Sometimes uncomfortably windy! As i told earlier, most days were 4 seasons in one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ABS9 View Post
Nice Travelogue Narasimhan!! And good start with your new SLR :-)

Fun Fact about New Zealand: Apparently, there are absolutely NO snakes in NZ!!! Could not believe it the first time someone told me, considering some of the worlds most venomous reptiles are found in neighboring Australia.
(Yes, I agree, the two countries are not that close to each other anyway - geographically or otherwise)
Thanks ABS9. In fact, I was surprised too when i read about that. But guess its true. Probably no inquisitive reptile has tried swimming the mighty tasman and succeeded so far. Or, might have become shark food.

Quote:
Originally Posted by zulfi hansi View Post
Enjoyed reading it, so much that I want to go there now. Most important for me was that none have done this on back-packer style - with a car, most unusual for the regular folks but not here on tbhp. I have always wanted to do this type of budget trip with a car rental. Can you kindly give break-up of expenses and the total [need not be very detailed]
Thanks Zulfi!
Definitely worth visiting. We maintained a detailed expense log. I will share the expenses and other details shortly.
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Old 23rd November 2014, 20:33   #26
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Post Day 6: Cathedral Cove

Day 6 | Sep 27, 2014
Thames - Cathedral Cove - Rotorua


Woke up, and had the free breakfast on offer. What next?

This day we chose not to cram the itinerary. We had planned to visit Cathedral cove, and left plenty of breathing space. Cathedral cove is located in a hitherto unexplored region called the Coromandel peninsula. It does not find its place amongst most organized tours, especially the tours of shorter duration. But an amazing place nevertheless. Initial we thought of driving north from Thames towards Coromandel town, drive around in the Coromandel peninsula, pull over at remote beaches or bays, and then reach Cathedral cove. But we did not want to run out of time at the cove itself, and hence chose a more direct approach route. I still have a firm belief that this region is a hidden gem, and would offer many scenic distractions for the exploring traveller with time on hand.

Cathedral cove is ~ 75 km from Thames and on the pacific coast and a scenic route would take you there. By now you might be wondering whether there is anything in NZ that is not beautiful to the discerning wanderer's eyes. And no is the answer. Some spots are scenic, some beautiful, some stunning, and some jaw dropping gorgeous. Thames, in itself is a beautiful town and has a rich history associated with it. Before we get to Cathedral cove, we walk the main thoroughfare of Thames and this is how it looks.

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Towards Cathedral cove
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A lot of forest land has given way to farm land
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CC is a famous tourist attraction too, which meant lot of vehicles fighting for the limited parking space. We go around twice before we luckily find a car pulling out, and park our car there. At the parking lot the omnipresent seagulls made their appearance, and this bloke was curious to have a closer look.

1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand-p1040746.jpg

From the parking lot
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From the parking lot, the cove is accessible only by foot after an hour long walk. The weather was nice and sunny. Enroute, there are some diversions that take you to remote bays on the way to CC, and they too were beautiful.

1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand-dsc_0627-2.jpg

Apparently CC figures in the list of locales featuring in the Narnia series. And being a popular destination, there was some crowd milling about. The golden white sands, the swooping broad arch, the unique shapeless mounds battling the sea waves all make it a surreal destination. The water level rises high enough during high tide that one would have to wade in the water to reach the other side of the arch. But when we went there, it was mid-day and it was not high tide. We are able to enjoy CC without getting our feet wet.

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Some sea organisms that attached themselves to the rocks there
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The inside of a small cave sort of thing
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From the inside, looking out
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We head out of CC, and proceed to the other tourist attraction in the area - Hot water beach. A strangely natural phenomenon occurs here. Being the geothermal hot bed that NZ is, there is an underground hot spring seeps up 2 hrs either side of low tide on a small sandy stretch of the beach. If one digs sufficiently, one would get a steady stream of hot water to build a private pool and relax in. Needless to say, it is a tourist magnet. We decided to give it a try, but the jostling crowds were far too much and the best spots were taken already.

So relaxation we did get, but only for the eyes

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Some wise person has said that the best way to attract your wife's attention is to look happy and smug. And that's what happened, and I was promptly evicted out of that territory. We thought of sneaking in Mount Maunganui, a small hillock by the coast, walk to the top to enjoy the sunset from there. But we got delayed and had to drop it. We get back to the car, drive straight to Rotorua where warm sulphur smells invited us.

Day 6 in review
1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand-day6.jpg

You smell Rotorua before you see it. We had smelt it, we would see it soon.
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Old 26th November 2014, 21:56   #27
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Default Re: 1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand

Very well written travelogue and it must have been one awesome trip. I am sure a month you will remember for a long time A 30 day log will surely be a long one so don't lose patience in updating it. I am sure a lot of people are following it regularly. Rated it a well deserved 5 stars for the immense planning which would have gone into it.
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Old 27th November 2014, 16:28   #28
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Post Day 7: Rotorua

Day 7 | Sep 28, 2014
Rotorua


Rotorua was a welcome change. It gives you the feeling of being in a city, and at the same time will allow you lot of space. The plan for the day was simple, Rotorua being a geothermal hotspot, today's activities would be having a geothermal hue. Again, there are 2 kinds of sites, the paid sites and ones that are free. A search on the net provides enough free sites to keep ourselves busy, so we decided we will go to the paid ones later if we run out of free spots to check out. And, in any case a Maori cultural performance and a very expensive dinner was not to our palate.

We stayed at the crash palace backpackers, and that was the cheapest backpacker accommodation we found in the whole of NZ at 105 NZD for a double room for 2 nights. It is present in a nice location close to the domain, free wi-fi, free parking nearby, and it had an youthful feel to it. One of the days they offered some pancake breakfast too. Definitely recommended.

The Rotorua i-site was just few blocks away from Crash palace backpackers, and that was the first place we go to. After gathering some information from the cheerful lady behind the counter, we head to Fenton park few blocks away. Nice park with lots of open space, some bubbling mud pools, natural vents hissing steam and spitting sulphurous fumes. The smell of sulphur permeates the air.

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Rising sulphur fumes
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Geothermal is not the only thing the park offers. There's a nice water sports complex. There's also a nice rugby ground.
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I guess the government went on an overdrive fencing up geothermal hotspots and charging people to access it. And then it had an attack of morality. So it proceeded to create a park within Rotorua city limits, accessible and all and where you can see Gothermal activities in miniature. That was my version of the legend behind Fenton park, a story which might not necesarily be true. So, you do not get a mighty geyser like Lady Knox, but there is a small one. You do not have acres of slimy dark grey mud pools, but you have many small ones, and they look like the Indian version of hell that you might have heard from your grandmother. You do not have those big bad hissing steam vents. So what, there are some small ones that whistle. And mud does boil here too. And it does free of cost. So we take it all in. It does count for an experience.

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The sun was playing hide and seek. And it was cold with rain predicted for the later part of the day. So we had to make the best use of our time now. We decide to go to a hot waterfall. No Guys, not hot in terms of appeal. But hot in the true sense of the word. A small waterfall from which cascades warm water at aound 45 deg C. Perfect for a cold day . And not too far, just 25 kms away from where we were. So we waste no time in getting to kerosene creek. But wait, good things do not come so easily... The last 2 kms after getting off the main road is a piece of road in extremely bad condition. I think it should go down as the worst road we came across in our 4 weeks of driving. We crawl and get there eventually, as we did not want any tyre and under body damage and there was a high possibility of that. A lingering smell similar to kerosene greets us there as soon as we get out of the car. Probably, that's the reason the place is named this way.

Roads, thickly wooded on either side of the road leading to Kerosene creek
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It started drizzling as we were heading out from the city
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But as in the other regions of NZ, a lot of forest, and woods have given way to meadows and grassland. So that sheep and cows can do their dew there.
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Kerosene creek does have its share of takers, we found this place quite occupied, if i can call it that. But that does not deter us, we dive right in and soak in the geothermal waters. This was probably the closest to Nirvana, yet. We just bide our time until our bellies start gnawing at us from within. So we reluctantly get out and go searching for food. We come out and read the caution boards asking us not to submerge our head under geothermal water which might result in some infection, but that was too late. We already had our time in the water. Anyways, that was some gyaan for the future.

Kerosene creek - Even the water smells of Kerosene
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There was one more thing that is close by, and having come this far, we did not want to return without seeing it. The Wai-o-Tapu loop road close by that has some more mud pools on offer. So, we head there and this is what we see

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The mud pools here were a little more angry than their city cousins
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After inahaling a lot of sulphurous vapour - It smells like H2S from the chemistry lab - we head back to rotorua for our next activity, food. Usually, we carried something along with us, but few days were an exception when none of us felt like cooking. This was one such day, so subway it is going to be. Food done, we find a spark free wi-fi counter and decide what to do next.

Our Spark cellular connection (Telecom NZ earlier) entitled us to 1 Gb wi-fi data every day. This was another neat way to save on the 500 mb monthly quota of 4G data (or was it 3G?) . All that we had to do was find the bright pink telephone kiosks marked Spark, park in the vicinity and browse. It's connect once and use all across NZ. We used it so extensively, that at the end of the trip we still had 200 mb of 4G data unused, and just for the heck of it, spent it on youtube at the airport

Even when you browse the map you find that Rotorua is surrounded by many lakes. And, I remember reading somewhere that it is surrounded by at least 14 notable lakes. As soon as we found a way to spend time in the evening it started raining outside. And rain hard it does for 30 mins. And then, the sun comes out That's the beauty of NZ weather. If you twist this quote for NZ weather, it would be "Sunshine is never final, and rain/wind never fatal. It's the courage to brave the weather that counts". To make the most of the day's last bits of sunshine, we head out to Lake Okareka.

A different road leads us to Lake Okareka
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How would you feel if you were the only ones here on a evening? But the weather was turning extremely windy. To beat the wind chill, we tuck our hands into the jacket, and stand with the wind to our back. That's a good way to enjoy the surroundings and soak it in, but bad because who would click the photos then? I ask my wife to click, and she repeats the favour. So windy that the lake was creating big waves that were breaking on the shore. So i quickly click before putting the camera back in.

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And then we head to the blue and green lakes. And this time its even more densely wooded.
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That's another snapshot of the vehicle which was ferrying us.
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The blue lake looks blue from here.
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After some time here, the sun was close to setting, and we still had to go to the green lake. So drive on a little further till we reach a point where we can see both of it together.

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You have to stand between the boards and you would be rewarded with a view of the blue lake to your right and green lake to your left. But there was a problem -

The green lake does not look too green.
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But it does not matter. Probably it would look green on a sunny day. It became quite dark and then we amble along to the city and spend time there aimlessly till it was time to head back to crash palace.

Day 7 in summary
1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand-day7.jpg

Our tryst with Arachnocampa luminosa, Next.
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Old 28th November 2014, 21:27   #29
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Post NZ - accommodation, forex, etc.

I'll take a diversion here to pen down some NZ chronicles, about the trip, some experiences and learnings before, during and after.

A 4 weeklong tour involves a good amount of preparation, and lot of bookings up front. Accommodation takes up most of the planning time. And then there would be local transportation too, and other activities that may require booking. We booked many hotels on a 'Book now pay later' basis. And at each location, we booked more than one set of accommodation that we cancelled as the tour progressed. Almost all hotels had free cancellation with a 48 hr advance notice. Only on odd occasions we had to pay the full amount in advance, and in some instances, the first night room rent in advance. If you are a Youth hostel association or Hostelling International member, you can avail 10% discount on room rent in all NZ YHA hostels. It is quite easy to become a member - Life membership costs Rs.2250. But do note that YHA is most often not the cheapest accommodation that we found in those places. Only 6 out of 28 nights we stayed in YHA. There is another organization in NZ called BBH that also offers discount if you are a member. Not just for accommodation alone, YHA/BBH membership offers you lots of discounts in activities all over NZ.

We almost exclusively used booking.com. We used Agoda and hotels.com too for comparison, but the best rates we always found on booking.com. Another site we used for accommodation was AirBnB. Believe it or not, we found accommodation in Auckland at 40 NZD per night on AirBnB, when most other hotels were quoting 70. Ok, it was few km away from the center, but it was well connected. The only drawback with AirBnB was that you do not have a pay later option. The first person making the payment has the booking. We also experienced host cancellation on ArBnB, and AirBnB promptly gave us some extra credit to find a better place. That was a nice touch.

As I mentioned earlier, the average price we paid for our accommodation was ~70 NZD per night. The costliest accommodation we booked was in Mount Cook, possibly due to limited supply. There were only a handful of other hotels in the area. All other places, do offer plenty of choice from home stays to backpacker, to bed and breakfast and luxury accommodation.

There is an option of finding out deals while booking vehicles, but the key there too is to book well in advance. We saw rental company rates varying according to the demand, and eventually getting sold out. Sometimes there is a build up of vehicles in one location and rental companies offer deals, sometimes even free, to move the vehicles in the other direction. Shorter term trips might look to leverage these deals. Public transport, sadly is quite limited and does not offer you the convenience. There are operators such as Kiwi experience, Stray etc which offer hop on hop off experience but they come at a cost, and we found hiring a rental car most economical. The more adventurous can try a campervan, and that definitely would be an excellent way to get acquainted with NZ.

We started the activity of procuring foreign exchange 2 days in advance of the trip, which in hindsight was a little bit of a mistake. NZD not being a currency that is oft bought and sold in India, we were unable to find the required amount at the right price within the limited time. The quotes were too high in comparison to the exchange rate. So we purchased very less NZD for immediate consumption upon landing in NZ. The rest of the money, we carried USD instead, and exchanged it in NZ. For the entire duration of the trip, NZD kept getting weaker and weaker against USD. Is that not a good sign? Yes, it meant that we would receive more NZD while exchanging. But that brought some other problems

Weaker NZD also meant that the fuel prices that are determined by the exchange rate, kept creeping higher and higher. When we started, the average prices were close to 2.00-2.10 NZD/ltr and when we ended it was close to 2.30 NZD. That means an extra 5 dollars each time you refuel. And at the rate of almost 2 days per refuel, you can do the Math. The lowest price we encountered was 2.00 and the highest 2.50 in Franz Josef.
Have you ever noticed that the moment you embark on the planning phase, things that could go against you would start going wrong? When we started planning NZ in early Jun, INR was quoting 50 to the dollar and by end of Jun it was at 53. Add a 3.5% forex conversion charge and you realize what you are dealing with. It is quite ironical that as I am writing this piece, NZD is quoting under 49. And the petrol prices are back to 2.00 NZD. Having said that, it definitely pays to plan in advance.

Of course one cannot control the exchange rate fluctuations, and just have to take them in their stride. Exchange rate fluctuations added about 10-12k to our total bill. I am sharing the details of the hostel we stayed in which might be used as a starting point. Any other details, happy to help.

Accommodation detail.xlsx

The journey continues in the next post...
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Old 3rd December 2014, 17:08   #30
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Post Day 8: Glow worm caves

Day 8 | Sep 29, 2014
Rotorua - Waitomo Glowworm caves - Taupo


The only listed agenda of the day was a visit to the Waitomo glow worm caves around noon. This allowed a lot of leisure time in the morning. The hotel, anyways, would throw us out by 10 am. So we check out and head out to the Rotorua lake. Ironical that in spite of being in Rotorua for 2 days, we visit lake Rotorua on the day we are leaving Rotorua.

We visit the lake shore at the Government gardens. The lake's waters sport a greenish yellow hue due to the high concentration of sulphur owing to the geothermal activity.

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A courting Swan couple on the lake waters
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Sea planes waiting for takers
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The Government gardens campus also houses the Rotorua museum, which we did not visit. The building does look impressive from the front.
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Some bird like creatures, probably ducklings on a feeding frenzy in the pond opposite the museum
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It was time to bid good bye to Rotorua and head to the meeting with the glow worms. The glow worms, Arachnocampa Luminosa - their scientific name - are found in limestone caves in Waitomo. Waitomo is a small town that shot to fame ever since it was discovered that millions of small centimetre long insects that glow have made the region's limestone caves their homes. The town lies 150 km to the west of Rotorua and would take about 2 hrs to get there.

Entry price is 48 $ per adult, but at the ticketing counter, we exchange the vouchers we find in the jason's guide to get a 10% discount on the entry price. There were lot of other offers on combo activities such as black water rafting, cave exploration, glow worms etc. But we chose to buy only the simple glow worm guided experience.

The glow worm experience started soon after and we are taken down into a limestone cave with stalactites, stalagmites et al. The cave was lit up in eerie colours. A lady guide went on and on about the history of the cave. Seems this was owned by a private person with the government holding a share. Quite a crazy thing to own, I reckon. But definitely great from a financial point of view, because, the caves are extremely popular. There is space enough for weddings to take place inside.

One more "not so useful" fact - An inch of stalactite takes about 100 years to form. Hence we were urged not to touch them. The caves might seem pretty unimpressive but undergo a lot of scientific monitoring and measurements to maintain the required air quality standards for the glow worms.

After a lot of history and talking, finally we kept our tryst with the glow worm caves. Millions of them hanging by the ceiling, glowing in a greenish blue hue. These glow worms are endemic to NZ, and hence hugely popular. They also need a dark, damp environment for them to survive and the caves and the underground stream running through the caves provides a perfect environment. They suspend long strings of sticky thread to trap the insects getting attracted to the glow.

The reason you are hearing all this second hand, and not seeing it, is because photography/video is not allowed inside. You can see how it looks by viewing the gallery on the waitomo caves website.

The tour ends with a surreal experience - A boat ride in an underground stream under millions and millions of glow worms. As you sit silently gazing at the glow worms, by now your eyes would have adjusted to the darkness, and the cluster of glow worms themselves throw enough light that you can make out the cave features nearby. A short ride later we were dumped here at the other opening of the cave.

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After coming out, there was still some time left in the day before we wanted to head to Taupo. So we come across a short walk to the Waitomo view point and head that way.
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The walk crosses some private farms, and the cows there were agitated to have 2 strangers amongst their midst.
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Here is what we saw from the top. Here is what the cows see everyday from the top. They must be quite happy to see tonnes of food in front of their eyes everyday.
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We come down and drive to Taupo, 150 kms from Waitomo. We reach around 7 p.m but it was not sundown yet. We quickly check in and go for a stroll along the banks of the lake. It was a cold and incredibly windy evening.

Today was one of the rare days (I realize that later) when the Nokia lumia Here drive sent us on a longer path. G maps showed a shorter 145 km path between Rotorua and Waitomo. Here drive took us on a 165 km drive.

Here is the day in review
1 Country, 2 Islands, 4 weeks - New Zealand-day8.jpg

Day 9, the largest fresh water lake in NZ...
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