Heading South on the North Island
We made a three day trip north of Auckland to the incredible Bay of Islands. It was worth the drive to take in the beautiful ocean scenery on a day- long excursion by boat. We found a nice campground and got a little "r and r", before beginning the journey south.
From the balmy north, we made a beeline for the cultural centre of the country, Rotorua. Despite it's sulphorous smell (caused by the plentiful thermal activity in the area), it's a great place to visit to see Maori culture. We hooked into a bus tour to visit a local marae (village), and partake in a hangi (traditional Maori "barbeque" cooked in the ground). Expecting an overly touristy excursion, we were pleasantly surprised by the small group treatment we received. It was a seemingly authentic introduction into the history and customs of one of the native tribes in the region. They put on an interesting, and interactive musical performance; somehow, I ended up doing the "haka" on stage...basically, shouting, stomping, and sticking your tongue out in a war dance!
After the Rotorua experience, our journey took us back towards the Tongariro National Park where we camped beneath the volcanoes for the night. Waking up to a perfect day, Jeannine and I made the spontaneous decision to trek the Tongariro Crossing (that we'd already done in hurricane-like conditions). It was well worth the effort to peer out over the desolate, lunar landscape of the volcanic crater. Lunching on a ridge overlooking the aptly named trio of the "Emerald Lakes", we enjoyed the surreal views all around us (sorry you weren't with us, Julie!).
The following day we found ourselves back in the capital, Wellington. Once again, we boarded the ferry, and cruised into the beautiful Marlborough Sounds, where we camped a night before continuing back to the now familiar, Christchurch.