How many natural disasters have you slept through?

Katie’s running total is now two. The first was when we were stupidly camping in Storm Katie in March 2016 – our tent was on the verge of being blown off the ground in 100 kph winds but Katie still got a good eight and a half hours.

The second was an earthquake last week.

We took a beating in the wind on our way into Taupo and were a bit washed out, so instead of camping, we looked for a hostel. It’s the height of the summer holidays/tourist season so accommodation was in short supply. Eventually we found a room, as we were booking it the guy on the desk explained:

“To warn you, we’re right above a nightclub. As it’s the holidays the music can get pretty loud…”

“No bother mate we’ll take it.”

At about 9.45pm the live band started from one end of the club, about 20 minutes later the DJ kicked off from the other end.

Our room was on the first floor, and seemed to be directly in between the two so we were treated to a bizarre sound clash of live band pumping out classic tunes, fused with the DJ mixing up chart hits.

There was only one thin pane of glass between the revellers and us, so it was almost as loud as being in a club. It was the sort of loud like when you stand next to a speaker at a gig and you can feel the base going through your body.

The windowpane was rattling, and our sofa was sort of vibrating with the music.

Then suddenly the sofa and window stopped vibrating, and started fully shaking.

In fact, the whole room was shaking. Then about 30 seconds later it went from shaking, to just vibrating again.

It was an earthquake.

Only a small one at 3.8 but the first either of us had experienced. It was no biggy for the Kiwis as they are used to them, but was enough to shake us up a bit. Literally.

Well, Ewan at least. Katie had been asleep since 8pm!

New Zealand sits in between the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates so is a hot spot for earthquakes. The whole North Island is bubbling and steaming with geothermal and volcanic activity.

It’s a natural wonderland, a geologist’s playground.

Lake Taupo itself is the crater of volcanic eruptions, the biggest of which was the 25,360 years ago called the Oruanui eruption. Oruanui left a crater which is now filled with water (Lake Taupo).

The eruption was so big, the crater it left is almost as big as New York city! (616 square kms vs NYC which is 789 square kms)

The various minerals cause stunning naturally occurring colours, like the “Champagne Pool” in Waiotapu.

One of the most famous day walks you can do in New Zealand is the Tongariro crossing.

You walk past three active volcanoes, Mounts Ruapehu (background), Ngauruhoe (middle), and Tongariro (front).

Ngauruhoe is famous as it was digitally altered to become Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.

We were planning to do the Tongariro crossing but weren’t quite sure on the logistics of how to get the start, and then back from the finish point as it’s not a loop. We’d stopped outside a shop in Turangi when Sue came over for a chat as she recognised our British made saddles.

We explained our trip, and that we were interested in doing the crossing. Within about 10 minutes she’d invited us back to stay at her place for a couple of nights.

Sue and Clive were great hosts and kindly cooked us some delicious meals.

Sue is a keen cyclist, ski instructor, seamstress and general all rounder. Clive is retired from the Navy, and working in veterinary healthcare. Clive’s spent the last nine years working on his dream project which is doing up the enormous truck in the back of the picture. He said:

“I’ve been working on it for nine years! It was supposed to be a ten year project, so I’m aiming to be done by November this year if I can!”

“It’s an old Japanese X-Ray vehicle. They had an outbreak of TB, so built loads of these trucks to go round the country and X-Ray everyone in the 90’s. Once they’d done that, they didn’t have any use for them so I bought this one, got it shipped over here and have been working on it ever since! My dream is to live in it and drive it round the country once it’s done.”

It’s enormous. Inside there is a bedroom, kitchen, sitting room, shower, toilet, coal/wood burning stove and cockpit/driving area.

Clive also managed to get a dig into Ewan about his (lack of) beard.

“How long you been growing that beard son?”

“Ermm about three months… I know it’s pretty pathetic… any tips?”

“Just keep at it….”

Staying at Sue and Clive’s enabled us to do the 19km crossing on a beautiful sunny day. Highly recommend it to anyone visiting New Zealand. A couple of the highlights were the “Emerald Pools”, and having lunch with the view of Mount Ngauruhoe a.k.a Mount Doom.

From Sue and Clive’s, we cycled along what’s known as the “desert road” south from Turangi, passing next to Mount Ruapehu, the snow covered mountain below.

In Maori legend, Ruapehu was a beautiful maiden who was married to Mount Taranaki (another active volcano in the north of New Zealand), which according to folklore was at the time next to Ruapehu.

One day, Ruapehu was seduced by Tongariro, whilst Taranaki was away hunting. He returned to find the guilty pair, and a titanic battled ensued between Tongariro and Taranaki.

Taranaki was defeated so he retreated north to where he is today, carving out the Wanganui River as he went.

Despite her infidelity, Ruapehu still loves Taranaki (her husband) and sighs (erupts) occasionally when she misses him.

Taranaki stands and looks at his wife and his rival in silence, whilst Tongariro, who wants to possess her again, smokes and smoulders with anger.

Thankfully he wasn’t too angry when we were there and so wasn’t smoking or smouldering!

The desert road is open and wild – and very windy. It’s hard to tell which way the wind is coming from as it seems to be constantly changing.

And almost always in your face.

We once thought we’d hit the jackpot, being blown along at 40kph by a ferocious tailwind – it was going to be an easy day. Thirty minutes later we were still going south, but somehow getting battered by a head/side wind that almost caused us to stop cycling.

When the wind gets up like that, it’s such a relief to find sheltered places to rest and eat lunch. Often you’re so tired you’ll take whatever the first place is that you come to.

We stopped to cook up lunch that day on the desert road – next to a rubbish bin.

But we didn’t care; we were out of the wind! (and there was free wifi from the Pizza Hut next door).

We were discussing the other day, when people go travelling they only ever take/share pictures of the glamorous bits – the mountains, lakes, amazing camp spots etc.

We’re as guilty of this as anyone, but we’ve decided to also take pictures and share particularly rubbish and unglamorous camping spots etc that we find ourselves in.

These are the bits you laugh about when it’s all said and done.

An especially terrible camping spot we had a few nights back, was in a car park…

We couldn’t peg into the ground so instead relied on holding the tent down with a giant plank of wood you can see in the background, rocks, and tying the guy ropes to our bikes and a fence.

The cones were a late addition, which we felt added a touch of colour and flair …

Our accommodation in Wellington was thankfully much better – a great flat where our friend Lucy from university lives along with her housemate Jen. Ironically Lucy was back in the UK at the time we visited so we missed her, but will catch up with her in the south island.

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand (common mistake is that it’s Auckland) and is known locally as “the windy city”. We can confirm it’s very windy.

We had a few days off, doing trip admin, eating and generally recovering.

One night we met David – a fellow cycling friend we had made up near Auckland, and agreed to go for a drink with in Wellington.

David’s just started a new job at the WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature, not the Worldwide Wresting Federation), and recently moved down south.

“My job is in two parts, one leading campaigns about wildlife, specifically marine conservation, the other leading campaigns regarding climate change”

“The Maui dolphin is only found in New Zealand, and there are only 55 left. In the world.”

“They do have a reserve where fishing boats are unable to go, but the reserve doesn’t cover all their habitat. Part of my job is to meet with fishing groups and try to get them to voluntarily not fish in certain areas in which they are legally allowed to fish.”

“As you can imagine it’s pretty hard.”

“The other part of my job is around climate change. New Zealand is in this weird position where the number one industry is tourism, which depends on us having a pristine and beautiful climate/environment. But the number two industry is dairy and farming, which in turn is the biggest contributor to climate change.”

New Zealand has just got a new Prime minister, a guy called Bill English. He was appointed after the old PM John Key resigned in December 2016.

John Key and Bill English represent the New Zealand National Party, a centre right party equivalent to the Tories in the UK. The main opposition is the New Zealand Labour Party.

New Zealand has a proportional representation system, different to the UK, meaning the number of votes you get in an election directly translates into representation, as opposed to the first past the post system in the UK.

On Key’s resignation, David said:

“I’m not sure anyone knows why he resigned, it seemed to come totally out the blue. He says he planned it for months but it seemed strange as we are due to have an election later this year – I think he was scared of losing”

A lot of people were angry with Key after the flag referendum.

“There was no particular clamour from the NZ population to change the flag, but Key wanted to leave some sort of legacy – so he decided he would have a referendum to change the flag.”

“The whole thing was a debacle and done in a stupid way. First they asked the NZ population for flag submissions. People here don’t have a huge amount of respect for government, so they took it as an opportunity to create joke flags.”

“Second there was a nationwide vote to choose an alternative design, and then there was a second vote as to whether or not to change the flag… and people voted not to, so after all the time and money – nothing happened!”

“The whole thing cost the government $21 million, and was a total mockery. People were pretty angry about the whole thing as it was such a waste of money.”

Having a drink with David was our last night in the north island before catching the ferry over the Cook Straight to the South Island. The Cook Straight is named after Captain Cook, the first European to discover New Zealand.

Of the two main islands that make up New Zealand, 77% of the population live in the north.

It’s been a pleasure to meet a few of them in the last couple of weeks, and hear their stories.

One of the coolest stories, was one day we stopped to have some food at the side of the road. It happened to be next to a giant wooden carved building with a big gathering outside, so we went over to check it out.

The building was a “Marae” the Maori word for a meeting or sacred place for tribes/families to meet. Outside was a big gathering of people, so we went over to ask what was going on.

A lady told us:

“It’s a family reunion for our Maori tribe”

“We’re getting everyone together for the first time from all the family – there are people who have come all the way over from Europe to be here! We’re expecting a couple of hundred”

She then introduced us to the chief, who said he was happy for us to look around the Marae – it was a sacred place so we couldn’t take photos but you can see some on google.

Inside is a huge room where the reunion was taking place. The lady told us:

“Everyone who is here this weekend is in some way related from … (didn’t catch the ancestors name, it was long and in Maori), either by blood or marriage.”

“For three nights, everyone (all a couple of hundred) sleep here in this big room on the mats. The kids, the parents, the grandparents – all the generations together. Some of us look Maori, some look white, some speak Maori, some speak English but it doesn’t matter – we’re all part of the same family.”

We thought that was pretty cool.

As we were leaving we said goodbye to the chief and thanked him for letting us look round. He asked us where we were going, and we explained about our trip:

“Whoooa!” He said!… “Kia Kaha”

He translated this from Maori into English for us. It means:

“Stay ever strong!”

Sound advice knowing the hills we face ahead…