I am blown away by how lucky I am to be in New Zealand! I’ve only been here 3 weeks and already feel like I’ve done so much. This last weekend I was able to get out of Palmy again and head up to New Plymouth. It’s right along the surf highway coast in the Taranaki region and was a beautiful city at that. What makes the city so great is not how big or luxurious it is but that it’s right on the water, has Mt. Taranaki in it’s backyard and has artistic paintings and sculptures all throughout the main city. The whole Taranaki region also has rich Maori culture with stories of it being one of the first and most favored areas settled.
Friday: I usually have a class from 4-6 on Fridays (the literal worst time to have a class) but it’s at least one that is okay to skip occasionally and this week seemed like a good week to skip. Most everyone else also had later classes that they couldn’t or didn’t want to skip so they weren’t able to catch a bus till 7:30pm. I had a lot of homework to catch up on but figured I would rather catch an earlier bus and do homework in a new place than wait around on campus all day. Of course I still didn’t get as much accomplished as I should have… figures. Maclean took the early bus with me so I at least wasn’t wandering around on my own (teamwork makes navigating much better!) and we had plenty of time to check out some of the city before heading to the hostel. As soon as we noticed a good sunset was coming we ran across the road to the boardwalk to get the best view we could get… and we were not disappointed!
As we were capturing the moment, a nearby fisherman suddenly started talking to us and told us all about the variety of sea creatures he catches. He even went on to tell us how some guy was giving him a hard time once and he just happened to catch an octopus so he threw the octopus like a frisbee and it latched right on to the guy’s face obviously making him freak out. The fisherman was cracking himself up telling us stories for no reason and probably would’ve kept talking all night if we didn’t end the conversation. As soon as we walked away, a lady passing by us told us to check out the baby seal chilling on the boardwalk so we did and it was so cute. I was so tempted to pet it but decided it was probably safer for me and the seal to give it some space.
We thought it would be best to get to the hostel before it got too late to check in so we made the 25 minute sketchy walk to our “hidden” hostel. There were only a few other people there but everyone was hanging out in the common room so we got to meet the family that runs the hostel, an American that was WWOOFing there, another American who is spending a few months exploring NZ on his motorcycle, and two Germans. Everyone was quite friendly so we made some dinner and spent a while talking with the others. Thinking we would be nice, Maclean and I ventured back into town to meet up with the rest of the gang once they got off the bus to lead them back to the hostel so they wouldn’t have to find their way really late at night. I guess their bus driver was also feeling nice and actually dropped them off right by the hostel, making it pointless for us to walk back to meet them. I at least did some grocery shopping for our upcoming hike so the extra trip in and out of town wasn’t totally pointless. It wasn’t long after getting back to the hostel and greeting everyone else that I was ready to get some shut eye — I knew I had a big day ahead of me!
Saturday: At a bright and early 6:30 am, Maclean, Cat and I got up to head out on our Mt. Taranaki journey! We could have taken a shuttle from the hostel to the mountain but it cost $50 EACH! Yea, no way I would do that. However, that meant we needed to find a way to the mountain on our own… what better way than to hitch hike! I knew hitch hiking was a common and ‘safe’ thing to do in NZ but I still wasn’t really sure what to expect. We knew we would have to get to the main highway (aka just a normal semi-busy road in the States) before we could stick our thumbs out but fortunately that half an hour walk was the longest we had to walk the whole way! The spot we started at was a bit awkward to start hitch hiking because there was a designated walking path for pedestrians away from the road but once we got closer to the road it was only maybe 5 minutes before a friendly guy named Carl pulled over. What still amazes me about the willingness of kiwis is that before we even caught up to where he pulled over and told him where we were going, he already had his trunk open ready for us to pile in as if he was willing to take us anywhere. Even more than that, he drove us the entire way to the mountain center which was about 15 minutes off of the main road so it was quite a bit out of his way to take us there! I’m so thankful for such a positive first experience hitch hiking or else I would be a lot more hesitant to do it again.
I guess we didn’t eat enough for breakfast because by time we walked into the visitors center and saw the cafe, we realized we were all hungry and ordered some delicious curly fries and chips (french fries). It was a little more than expected though so we put the leftover fries in a baggie to save for later… they’ll come back into the story later. After a long debate on whether or not to get a 6 month pass for unlimited stays in huts all around NZ, Cat and I finally decided to go ahead and buy one but no one ever checked if we had a pass that night anyway so we technically didn’t need anything at all! We just keep telling ourselves that the money goes to the conservation of the parks anyway to make it worth the money.
It took a bit to get our heads in the right direction but we found the right path to our hut and surroundings areas and immediately ran into snow. Though it was a little tricky to get used to climbing uphill in snow/ice I eventually got used to it and didn’t slide around quite as much. Just from climbing up the steep slopes in the beginning I knew I was in for a real treat and may have underestimated the intensity and temperature of the whole hike.
It seems like no matter how much I prepare, I will never be able to hike a mountain without trailing behind the rest… partly due to stopping to gaze and take pictures but mostly due to how exhausted I get and how much my legs burn! Even though I try to stay active every day, hiking this mountain made me feel like the laziest person alive. It may sound like I’m just complaining and well, maybe I am but believe me when I say every ounce of pain and exhaustion was worth it!
About halfway up, we met this couple and their daughter who just so happened to also be from Palmy! We stopped to take a little break to take a group pic and chat with the family. After departing from them we couldn’t stop admiring how perfect their family was for being so adventurous together and the dad who we called ‘mystery man’ carrying his 4 or so year old daughter in a backpack carrier!
It wasn’t too long until we met the trail marker to get to our secluded hut for the night but since it was only about 1pm and had so much more we could do we decided to keep going toward the top! The trail was super intimidating from the bottom because it was a VERY steep slope and had a “danger” sign at the beginning. I believe this trail was called “The Puffer” because of its intensity.
As we made our way up the steep slope we kept noticing a not-so-friendly cloud coming our way. We would go some, stop to debate whether or not to continue, then go some more anyway until we agreed to go back down since we weren’t really familiar with what the cloud would bring on the rest of the way up.
When we were just about back to the bottom of the extended trail, we ran into the family again! We told them how we were going to go up to the tower and hut (the end of the trail… kinda) but turned back because we didn’t know how to feel about the cloud coming. He took one look at the cloud and said something along the lines of “ehh, it’s no big deal” and invited us to hike up there with them. Honestly, I was not feeling it… my legs were screaming out “please don’t do it!”, but I knew by time I made it up there I would be glad I did. Plus if a 30-something man could easily do it with a 4 year old strapped to his back, so could I!
We didn’t expect to go inside the hut since it was privately owned by a club but Maclean found an open door that just led to a small cement room where we went in to layer up, grab a quick snack, and re-situate ourselves. The wind was crazy up there and of course I left my gloves and hat in my room so I had nothing to keep my hands and ears warm but luckily I had an extra flannel that I used as a make-shift head-wrap.
It was quite slippery getting back down the steep and icy slope but as long as we stuck to tramping through the side bushes it wasn’t too bad. Once we reached the trail marker for the Maketawa hut again we were definitely ready to just find it and settle in. The hut was actually much better than I expected but there wasn’t much to it. There was an outhouse about a minute’s walk away and a sink right outside the hut but the sink had no running water. Inside the hut was two bedrooms each with eight mattress pads and a common room with two long tables and a wood stove. Without that wood stove and Maclean’s dedicated fire-making skills I don’t know what we would’ve done!
We got to the hut around 3:30 but because it was gloomy outside and we were tired from the hike, it was so difficult to stay awake! It was our goal to stay awake till at least 8:00 and we just barely did it. Once the fire was going good we warmed up by it, ate lots of food and eventually played cards. I ran out of water pretty fast but thankfully there was snow outside so I started melting snow in my leftover chicken can over the fire to keep me hydrated the rest of the night. We also whipped out the leftover fries and toasted them on top of the stove which actually worked out pretty well!
Sleeping that night was pretty rough… mostly because the fire was dying and the winds were crazy. Our hut was right by the edge of a cliff so it was open to all of the nightly winds which made for creepy noises and cold drafts.
Sunday: The original plan was to wake up just before sunrise and set out for a hopefully beautiful morning hike but by time we woke up it looked horrendous outside! It was so hard to get up because I was freezing even in my sleeping bag. We waited it out for a bit, bundled up and braved the outdoors! The weather wasn’t quite as bad as we expected since we took a different trail back to the visitors center that was wooded all around to block the wind and snow. The way back was completely different than the way up because it was in the woods with a lot of stairs and climbing ladders. It had such a mystical feel to it with sparkling fog scattered throughout the woods, it was beautiful.
What better way to end an overnight hike than a nice warm cup of mocha coffee. All I could think about that night was how good some hot cocoa or coffee sounded so I treated myself to some! Over the last couple years or so I’ve been growing in my obsession with cool mugs and maps so I got an NZ mug to add to my collection (or as a gift?) and a cool cloth map of NZ with the regions to spot kiwi birds in… as Donna and Tom from Parks and Rec would say, “Treat yo self!”.
At this point we had no idea how we were going to get a ride back to town so early in the morning but thank God a mother and daughter who were originally from Holland were just finishing a short morning walk and started chatting with us. Eventually Maclean worked his magic and smoothly asked for a ride just as they were getting ready to leave. They were happy to help us out but couldn’t take us straight back to New Plymouth and actually made us back track slightly but it was at least on the main road. After getting dropped off at the post shop I dug through my bag to put on an extra layer but before I could even get my bag strapped back onto my back someone had already stopped for us! I’m so amazed at how easy it is to hitch hike and thankful for how helpful and nice Kiwis generally are.
We got back to New Plymouth a lot earlier than we expected so we had like 5 hours left to explore the town more! Thankfully the ladies at i-site were feeling friendly and offered for us to leave our bags with them for $5 so we didn’t have to carry them around with us… again I’ll say it, kiwis are so nice! Since Cat wasn’t with Maclean and I the night we first walked around town, we walked down the boardwalk for a bit and gazed at the beautiful water.
Besides having the ocean and Mt. Taranaki, New Plymouth is full of random street art and structures. Each painted wall flows with the other around the corner and it’s just beautiful. There just so happened to be a grand opening of a new art gallery down the street so we went to check that out. I had the realization that I must be getting old because I actually enjoy art galleries and museums now… oh how things have changed! The main artist of focus in the gallery, and well the entire city, was Len Lye. I guess he was from New Plymouth and became a well-known artist because his name and art is everywhere! He was the one who constructed the famous “wind wand” on the boardwalk.
As we were strolling outside of the art gallery I spotted the family we met on the mountain! We of course went over to say hi and talk to them a bit. Maclean finally found out what his name was even though I kinda liked just knowing him as “mystery man”. I really wanted to offer babysitting services or something for their daughter Chloe, mainly just because they were such a cool family and I really want to “get adopted” by a Palmy family, but I wasn’t sure if that was too far or not haha.
I figured we should eventually meet back up with Diana, Hailey, and Allen before getting on the bus so we all met up at the mall food court (for budget reasons) to talk about our weekends. Their weekend in NP also sounded great! On our way back toward the bus stop, we decided to get from froyo (the best froyo I’ve ever had!) and just so happened to walk by a noodle shop that the guys who went surfing were at! We stopped to catch up with them for a bit then went our ways.
All in all, New Plymouth was great! It has pretty much everything there but isn’t a big city at all. I plan to go back when it’s warmer to try some surfing and spend more time along the coastal hikes. I would definitely recommend anyone in Palmy to check it out sometime!
Thanks for keeping up with my blog and sorry it’s so long but there were so many details I just couldn’t leave out! Until next time my friends…