Middle Earth Meander
The Short Report
These four pages exist as an alternative to the main trip report. Instead of fifty pages and roughly 1400+ pictures, this short report gives you a quick highlight summary of our trip, compressing it down to four pages and roughly 100 pictures. A lot more digestible if you're not willing to waste hours upon hours of your life.
If you've come here and are in fact looking to read the main trip report, then this isn't it! Please go here
The trip's genesis was in late 2014, when we started putting out feelers. There was a surprising amount of interest - New Zealand is apparently on peoples' minds - and at one point during the go/no-go process, we had upwards of fifteen potential participants. By crunch time (in early fall of 2015) that number dwindled to eight (which, to be fair, is still a big number): myself, Jenn, Brian, Lori, Andy, Andrea, Caroline and Pu.
Our group's background and level of experience was quite diverse, and we took a lot of time to craft an itinerary that accommodated everyone. There was more of an emphasis on multiple types of outdoor activities (not just hiking), and there was a lot of flexibility built into the schedule to allow for both adjustments due to weather, and for splits and sub-group activities.
The trip took place from February 5th through to the 27th, with six extra days on either side for Brian and Lori. To accommodate both our group's size and to provide maximum flexibility, we rented two extra-large minivans, each with eight passenger seating.
After a long thirty hours of travelling, we arrived in Auckland (NZ's largest city) to begin our adventure.
We centered our first week around a home base in the center of New Zealand's North Island, in a community called Taupo. There, we had rented a large 10-person AirBNB house for an entire week. We would branch out each day to visit various North Island attractions.
The drive from Auckland to Taupo takes roughly three to four hours. We were immediately struck with the prettiness of the New Zealand countryside, even from the windows of our rental van.
We split the journey up nicely by stopping at the world-famous movie set for the Hobbiton, the halfling home of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins from the Lord of the Rings.
We chose to spend the next day - our first full day in New Zealand - by embarking on an easy cycle along one of New Zealand's so-called Great Ride routes. Located in the Hawke's Bay region on the North Island's eastern coastline, we enjoyed a pleasant combination of coastal riding and winery visiting.
The second full day of our time in the Taupo area was spent locally. The Taupo area is centered around Lake Taupo - a huge caldera remnant and New Zealand's largest lake. The Taupo area is part of New Zealand's Taupo Volcanic Zone - a large volcanically-active area that stretches across a large slice of the North Island. We visited the fantastically blue waters of the Waikato River - New Zealand's longest; the geothermal fields of the Craters of the Moon; and climbed Mount Tauhara - an old, forested-over volcano.
Amazing native vegetation
Our third day on the North Island saw us visit the underground, in the Waitomo area near the east coast of the North Island. The erosive force of water has carved extensive cave networks in the limestone bedrock here, and caving is a popular pasttime. Moreover, the presence of a unique species of fungus gnat that has a bioluminescent larval phase has created the phenomenon of the glowworm cave, where the presence of thousands of these creatures creates surreal cave ceilings dotted with pinpricks of blue light.
We took a run with a local guiding company through one of these caves, jumping over underground waterfalls and floating on inner tubes, with the fantastical light of tens of thousands of glowworms above us.
We split into various groups on the fourth day of our North Island stay. Brian, Pu and I chose to ride another of New Zealand's Great Rides - The "Te Ara Ahi - geothermal by bike". Covering about forty kilometres, it linked several of New Zealand's notable geothermal features in the Rotorua Area. It was a mix of both easy and challenging riding, with sections of mountain biking, back road cycling, and city park riding.
On the friday of our first week, we executed the highlight of our North Island stay: a full-day hike across the top of the Tongariro Volcanic Massif. Known as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it is known far and wide as one of New Zealand's premier hikes. It is a 19-kilometre traverse across multiple vegetation zones and through some simply stunning volcanic landscape.
Not everybody was up for an active day after our successful but tiring Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike. Brian, Pu and I once again chose to head out along another of New Zealand's Great Rides - this time on a nearby set of trails known as the Great Lake Great Ride. We elected to do a short twenty kilometre section of the ride's trail network. It was fun and scenic, and we saw nary another person during the entire ride.