Sometimes you just cannot keep up with the rhythm of travelling, especially when you pick random jobs around the world in order to gather funds for your freelance projects. So, while on our journey around New Zealand, I stopped for a while with my travel companions in the Bay of Plenty. The area covers a fairly big chunk on the North Island’s East Coast.
We found a job in a big local company belonging to the kiwifruit industry, but differently from the majority of our fellow backpackers, instead of ending up picking the fruit, we were assigned to the construction team. Two months have passed, during which we found ourselves dealing with tasks not really common to city guys, such as mowing hectares of land, sawing logs, cutting miles and miles of lead wire, and driving fork-lifting tractors.
Needless to say that I quite enjoyed learning this brand new set of skills, which only partly hinted in the previous experience gained in Australia, where I had mostly picked fruit and cut in clusters an incredible amount of bananas.
We found a place to stay in Te Puke, a very quiet rural town that boasts the prestigious title of “Kiwifruit capital of the world”. Since our first concerns was to set money aside, we conducted a fairly peaceful and sober country life, with fairly sunny weather and generally few thrills.
As soon as we terminated our employment, we treated ourselves with some old good life on the road. The summer finally came by, warming and drying up the rainy shores of New Zealand. The Bay of Plenty harbors some of the best natural features in the North Island, such as the Coromandel Peninsula, where, among the others, the breathtaking Cathedral Cove hides.
The sharp peaks of the Coromandel peninsula keep on rolling down south along the Kaimai range. The North Island’s west coast stands as the perfect example of the green, lush environment that characterizes the island. Endless are the choices for hiking adventures, either you are after an easy stroll or a multi-day tramping route.
Wandering towards the heart of the North Island, we could not miss Rotorua, known as the Maori capital of New Zealand. Indeed, I was lucky enough to meet here, just the day after my arrival, the newly elected, quite charming new Prime Minister of New Zealand: Jacinda Ardern. The meeting was held in a marae, the typical “Maori council house”, and I swiftly managed to take a place in the first line to witness this encounter, which somehow still tasted to me as a confrontation between natives and settlers. For a deeper insight, visit Meeting Jacinda.
Rotorua is also celebrated for its spectacular and manifold geothermal activity, and the harsh, yet fertile, volcanic soil, which feeds plants as the typical Manuka (source of the sweetest honey), a broad variety of mushrooms, and several hot springs, which often just come straight up the river beds and mix with the cold water from the mountains.
Leaving Rotorua, the common tourist route would take the visitor down south to Taupo, and its namesake lake, famous for being a massive volcanic caldera. Since, though, we love the unbeaten tracks, we drifted again towards the east coast, along a 190km gravel road drive which cuts through Te Urewera. Today a National Park, Te Urewera is actually an area of deep historical and spiritual significance: this vast and dense forest is the homeland of the Tūhoe, the Māori tribe who last surrendered the sovereignty of the country. Due to its remoteness, the British colonists could not set foot here until the early 20th century.
These woods hold many ancient stories of humans and gods, and I could just grow fascinated as we were getting lost in it.
Unfortunately, we had not had the proper time to dedicate to this corner of New Zealand. We had a ferry already booked to the South Island, and the only time we had left was dedicated to a must-do hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
I promised myself, though, in front a majestic sunset on the shores of Lake Waikaremoana, that I will be back to this fairly untouched corner of native New Zealand, and deepen its mystic secrets.
Photography: Matteo Fabi