Tongariro, New Zealand – When Plans go Wrong!


Ripped Off – A Transit Visa We Didn’t Need!

First of all, bear with us forget about Tongariro for a moment – we are going to have a little rant! We finally arrived in Auckland, New Zealand after a long and very expensive journey. Thank you, Quantas for ripping us off with your “you need a transit visa for stopovers in Sydney of over eight hours”.  Our lay-over was eight hours and forty-five minutes, but we did not leave the transit lounge.

According to the Australian Embassy – you do NOT need a visa if you are in transit and NOT leaving the departure lounge. Additionally, UK citizens DO not need a transit visa – FULL STOP! At Bangkok Airport, we were told that we couldn’t board the flight without a visa which would cost us £70.00 each. This is a scam by Quantas – we can’t speak for other airlines. Nobody asked to see this transit visa at any point – we wonder why?!

Auckland New Zealand

Severely jet-lagged after the two flights, we hopped on the shuttle bus that went directly to downtown Auckland. We were very happy with our accommodation, Waldorf Bankside Apartments It was everything we needed with the added bonus of a balcony. After being awake for so many hours, we discovered to our dismay that we slept in until 10:45am the following day! Consequently, we only had one day to cram in everything before we were off to Tongariro. Our schedule was tight. 

The view from the apartment in Auckland

We zipped around Auckland fairly quickly – it’s a compact city and easy to get around on foot. We had a good time and even indulged in a little flutter in the casino at Sky City. However, the highlight was Auckland Art Gallery and the excellent exhibition by Francis Upritchard.

Auckland Art Gallery
The Ferry Building in Auckland

A Bus Ride to Tongariro

Pretty soon we were off to Tongariro. The driver possessed a very dry sense of humour. Some of the other passengers looked a little scared when he recited the rules and regulations in a slightly threatening manner! We arrived at the small town of Tarongi, where we caught a connecting shuttle bus to the remote Tongariro campsite. From there, we would take another shuttle bus the following morning. It would be taking us to the trailhead of one of the most spectacular hikes in New Zealand – The Tongariro Crossing.

A Meagre Food Supply

Unfortunately, the bus we had taken from Auckland was late arriving and there wasn’t any time to buy any food to take with us. We took comfort in the fact that there was a 24-hour café at the campsite. When we arrived we were told that the 24-hour café had closed down! We had taken very little food with us. All we had was one small chocolate bar, a packet of glucose tablets, a couple of granola bars, a piece of cheese and half a jar of salsa! We were so remotely situated that there was no possibility of getting supplies anywhere in the vicinity.

That evening, hungry from our long journey, we sat in our tiny cabin and ate slices of cheese dipped into salsa followed by half a chocolate bar each. That left us with two granola bars and a packet of glucose tablets for the hike the next day.

A Cancelled Hike

Unfortunately, a storm raged through the night and our early morning bus was cancelled due to bad weather. Our hike was off. We had only scheduled a couple of nights for the trail. We were heading to Wellington next, so we couldn’t move the hike to another day. The day passed in a haze of hunger. It was agony when our neighbours fired up their barbeque. We were able to buy some tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce from the campground owners, which we shared for dinner.

The Long Walk Back

We had booked a shuttle bus to pick us up at 2.00 pm the next day, but we were so hungry that our decision-making faculties were severely compromised. We decided to start out early and walk the 28 km back to Torangi. From there, we would get something to eat and catch the bus to Wellington.

The scenery was stunning, the sun was shining and we walked along a road lined with trees. The volcanic Mount Tongariro was in the distance, still shrouded in thick cloud. Five hours later, we were still walking. The water had run out and we discovered our sole source energy, the glucose tablets, had been contaminated by washing liquid.

Mount Tongariro

Hitch-Hiking

We were walking up a hill that seemed to be never-ending. As a matter of fact, we were both in a bad way. Our feet were on fire, we were dehydrated and T felt sick. With pure willpower, we got to the top of the hill. We realised that we weren’t far from town, however not close enough to make our bus on time. We decided to hitch-hike. After several cars zoomed past, we were finally picked up by a nice guy from Golden Bay. He’d had no luck fishing and was happy to give us a ride into town.

We crawled into the I-site centre, a fantastic tourist information hub that can be found in nearly every town throughout NZ. In addition to providing brochures and booking buses and accomodation, they have toilets and water! We bought water and sat down to re-hydrate. Ku found the energy to dash across the road to Burger King and just had time to feast on a Whopper with Cheese before the bus arrived.

Welcome to Wellington!

The same driver who had dropped us off two long days ago, picked us up and we were off to Wellington – just about in one piece!! We were exhausted, but sitting back in our comfortable seats and enjoying the passing scenery, we were soon laughing about our misadventure! 

We arrived late at night in Wellington and eventually found our way to our hotel, Willis Wellington on Willis Street. After a friendly welcome from the reception staff and a speedy check-in, we were soon luxuriating in our hotel room. T discovered that the soap she watched as a teenager, Shortland Street, was still on TV all these years later.

Hobbling around Downtown Wellington!

Next day, despite the pouring rain, we reluctantly put on our wet weather gear and marched into town. Well, we would have marched if we could have done, but we were aching all over and it was more like a hobble. We were paying dearly for the 25 km’s we had walked on the previous day.

First port of call was breakfast. We found an ideal place on trendy Cuba Street, where Ku had a burrito and T opted for a veggie buttie which was bursting with fresh salad and ripe avocado.

A colourful van in downtown caravan

Te Papa Tongarewa Museum and A Cable Car

As the rain continued, we decided to take refuge in the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum. We were most impressed with the museum which was full of contrasting exhibitions on New Zealand life. We passed a couple of hours easily, after which we headed to the cable car. T has a secret liking for cable cars (don’t judge her!) and we climbed on board, sitting right at the front with the driver.

We had a great view and saw some lovely Victorian houses perched on the hillside. After checking out the view at the top of the hill, we decided to walk down and enjoy the botanical gardens on the way. The gardens were lovely, but it was a steep walk down, reminding us of the previous day. There was a Henry Moore sculpture which was located a short walk up another hill. Ku decided to by-pass it in favour of a sit down, but T didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to see a piece by one of her favourite sculptors.

Colourful Victorian houses on the hillside
Ku at the Cable Car Museum

We had some Mexican food for lunch and had to admit defeat – we couldn’t manage anything else and staggered back to the hotel!  We really liked Wellington. It was easy to get around and was a big city with a small town vibe. The museum, especially, had been a highlight. The next day we would be catching the ferry to Picton on the South Island, and we couldn’t wait!

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