New Zealand North Island Part 1

25th - 31st March 2017

Arrival in North Island was pretty much in downtown Wellington. After the scale of towns in South Island this was a shock to the system. Our first idea was to visit the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, but parking proved to be impossible to come by. Was the city always this busy on the weekends?

We opted to head straight away to free camping at the marina at Evans Bay just out of town, to ensure we'd get a spot and then investigate taking the bus back into the city.

Charlie setting sail to North Island

Here we go!

It turned out that the bus stop was only a block away from the marina and buses were frequent, so we packed our things in a backpack and headed out.

It was only at the bus stop that we learned from a friendly local, Paul, that this was the one day a year when Wellington has a street carnival, named “Cuba Dupa” after the street where it was held. He gave us instructions on how to get there but advised that we'd have plenty of time to check out the museum first. We were enjoying our chat so much that we almost missed our stop and raced from the bus, only to realise several moments later that our backpack was still on the bus.

We stood in front of the museum debating what to do. The pack contained little of importance, mostly our raincoats, and we began investigating online whether the bus company had a lost property office, when we were interrupted by a call from the other side of the road. “Hey Welsh people!” It turned out that Paul had spotted our forgotten bag, leapt off the bus at the next stop, hoisting his young daughter onto his shoulders and raced after us. We were so relieved and amazed by his kindness.

The Te Papa museum was impressive and a little overwhelming but to be honest our hearts weren't really in it after the bag trauma and with the thought of a street party to check out.

Te Papa Museum

By the time we headed out in search of Cuba Street, the atmosphere in the town was buzzing. The street was packed with revellers drinking in bars, enjoying street food and live bands performing on various stages.

We stopped for a snack at a local seafood market and shared our table with a Korean family, with whom we bizarrely chatted in German. As we left, the parade was starting and passing right by us. A little taste of the Caribbean in New Zealand.

We checked out more street food, Lamb curry this time and popped into a couple of bars along the street. Soon, however, we realised there was no way we would keep up with the party animals in town and as rain was starting, decided to head back to our camper. What a welcome to North Island!

We made an early start out of the city the next morning, figuring Sunday morning the day after a street carnival would be quiet on the roads. In Lower Hutt, a few miles north, we stopped for advice from the local Fishing and Hunting store and then for fuel, where we found ourselves helping a stressed, elderly lady put petrol in her car and deal with the new-fangled technology.

We checked out the Hutt River for fishing, but the fisherman wasn't impressed so instead we headed to Paua World in Carterton, a factory shop making jewellry and other sundries from polished Paua (abalone) shells. The ladies running the shop were very friendly and we came away with some of our holiday gift problems solved.

We'd been tipped off about a great campground on the Waiohine River, which involved a quite lengthy drive on a narrow gravel road to reach the gorge, but we'd been promised it was worth it. As the road narrowed we hoped we wouldn't meet anything coming in the opposite direction. Suddenly a large motor coach appeared out of nowhere. Where in the hell did that come from? Luckily the timing was good and we were able to pass fairly easily, which was a relief as between there and the gorge we didn't spot many other passing places, certainly none large enough for a coach!

The travel stress wasn't over, however. Suddenly about half a mile from our destination we came to a 'Road Closed' sign, preventing us from reaching the campground. At this point there was a small parking area and having driven so far already, we decided to finish the journey to the river on foot. It soon became apparent why the road was closed as in one spot, most of it had washed away down the cliff towards the river, leaving only walking space. Next we came to the lovely, obviously deserted campground, followed shortly by a crazy suspension bridge across the gorge. Eventually we both plucked up courage to make the wobbly journey to the other side before heading down to the river to fish. We spent the night camped in the parking area.

OK, guess the road closure was justified!

Don't look down

We were off on another fishing mission the next morning, and were by this stage in the trip seeing the comedy of the fishing access guidebook.

We were in search of the confluence of the Raumahanga and Wainohine Rivers and followed directions which ended up taking us through a farm yard with several gates to open and re-close and finally along another single track gravel road which ended abruptly on the river bank. We parked in the only available spot, on the riverbank itself, hoping we wouldn't get stuck, and set off in search of the confluence. After about a half mile long walk on the gravel suddenly there was nowhere left to walk without getting wet. Dense scrub came right down to the water and beyond lay private farmland. There was no sign of the confluence visible from where we stood, so, ever resourceful and determined not to be defeated, we pulled out the GPS map. The confluence lay about another half mile ahead and our determination waned.

In search of the confluence...

Sheep Museum, Masterton

We gave up and headed to Masterton to check out the Sheep Museum instead, which turned out to be a good call as the rain started. It seemed we would have to get used to rain.

The museum consisted of old sheep farming buildings which had been completely uplifted and reassembled in the centre of town, to give an impression of the old way of life on a sheep station. Life was tough, not only that but the rafters were low and Christine almost managed to brain herself!

As we drove further north we spotted the Mount Bruce Wildlife centre, one of the best in the country at which to see Kiwis and pulled in 45 minutes before they closed, leaving us to run in the rain from exhibit to exhibit. We did have time to spot the rare white kiwi in the noctural house. It was lucky it was a white one, otherwise it would be hard to see anything at all! We also made it to the ranger talk and had two rangers all to ourselves as nobody else was mad enough to make the visit in the rain.

OK this is what we're looking for (photo of a kiwi photo)

This is what we saw!

We drove on to Feilding and camped at the local football pitch, which lay right on the river, allowing for a spot of unsuccessful fishing.

We headed for the Rangitikei River the next day, one which had special significance as that was the name of Christine's father's ship when he was in the merchant navy and came to New Zealand in the 1950s.

There was a stunning campground right on the river and it was late enough in the season that it was free. We fished and later swam in the river. It was gorgeous.

About 6 pm we had the mad idea just to check out another fishing spot a few miles up the river. We could come back for the night later.

Camped on the River in Feilding

We waited a half hour to follow a pilot car through a long stretch of roadworks and reached the first fishing spot only to find it disappointing. We checked out another spot only to find it now private land. Going back through the roadworks didn't feel like an option, instead we headed to Waiouru and camped in the car park behind the army museum, surrounded by tanks. There we met Philip and Jen from Nelson and had a fun evening with them.

The town of Turangi is famous for the National Trout Centre and that was our destination the next morning. We enjoyed the exhibits and learnt a lot about the local trout and rivers particularly from a video that was playing.

Phil fished the river by the Trout Centre for a while and by evening we ended up at Red Hut fishing access just down the road, where we boldly set out to fish despite the pouring rain. By dark we were completely soaked and had landed no fish. Despondent we stayed put in the car park overnight, hoping for better luck the next day.

Rangitikei River

Perhaps all the trout are in the aquarium?

Fishing in the rain.

The luck didn't improve in the morning, so we headed into town to take care of our laundry. As we sat outside the laundrette, eating lunch in our camper, the whole thing began to rock. Suspecting kids messing around in this less than desirable shopping precinct, we checked around to see nobody. Slowly it dawned on us that we'd just felt an earthquake. It turned out to be a 4.8, with the epicentre about ten kilometres away!

After a swim at the local municipal pool we headed back to Red Hut and ran into a fisherman with a distinctive French accent. He was very knowledgeable and gave Phil lots of pointers. He seemed familiar and suddenly Christine asked whether she might have seen him in a video at the Trout Centre. Sure enough it was the same guy, Jean-Pierre and Phil was armed with hot tips.

That evening we set out to a spot he'd recommended which was beautiful but offered up no bounty, however the following morning at another of Jean-Pierre's secret spots which involved a degree of mountaineering, Phil landed a nice rainbow trout for dinner.

Tongariro River near Turangi


Whilst in Turangi we paid a visit to the Tongariro National Park, home of several stunning volcanoes and took a beautiful walk to the waterfalls there.

Back at Red Hut Access, it was back to fishing in the pouring rain.

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