The North Island

With only 7 days to see New Zealand, I elected to only visit the north island on this trip flying into Wellington and out of Auckland at the end of my week. I was joined by two fellow frisbee players from Toronto, Kat and Jess. I flew in a few days after them so they already had a car rented and picked me up from the airport upon my arrival.

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In case you are unaware the kiwis drive on the left side of the road compared to the right side I am used to at home. The setup inside the car for the driver has the turn signal and windshield wipers switched. The running joke is you see a tourist coming a mile away because they always turn the wipers on instead of the turn signals. After the first day of driving you get the hang of doing everything opposite while traveling in traffic. The tough part comes when you approach an intersection or parking lot where your natural instincts kick in trying to get you killed. Thankfully I only attempted to kill us all once when leaving a parking lot and turning into the oncoming lane at 11:30 P.M. when there was one car on the road. Whoops.

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The first night in NZ was dedicated to traveling north from Wellington to Porangahau for the Hat Tournament. As it would turn out this weekend was the last long weekend of the NZ summer but traffic was for the most part non-existent. The roads in NZ do not ever follow a straight line. Period. Fact. Every journey you take is an 50 – 70 KPM journey of winding blind corners and hills. It’s like rally car driving to get to the corner store when all you need is a lottery ticket. Don’t get me wrong, driving along the cliff edge with panoramic views was thrilling. After our multi hour journey with multiple stops we arrived at our destination, a working sheep and cattle farm, after 11 P.M. and hunkered down for the night. During our two days on the farm we were treated to some great ultimate, a great Saturday night party, and we were able to visit the longest named place in the world. On the Sunday we headed out after the final awards were handed out and everyone had showered. Our goal was to make it to Cape Kidnappers and catch a glimpse of the golf course before sun down.

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We arrived at Cape Kidnappers Golf Course with only an hour of light left. We arrived at the perimeter gate to find out that it was another 20 minute drive to the clubhouse. We finally arrived at the clubhouse to discover that the club was closed for the day. I didn’t fly all the way to NZ and drive an hour out of our way to not see the course. With no one around but the three of us, we walked to the coast line where the course and cliffs meet. This view was completely worth the trip and I doubt I would have been able to enjoy the course as much as I did had it been “open” when we arrived. Once the sun had set we all jumped back in the car and set out to find a place to stay for the night. We chose to try for the town of Rotorua as it was recommend to us based on our plans for the next couple of days. After driving until the early hours of the morning I discovered that I had just piloted us about 2 hours past our planned adventure for the Monday. I was more than a little displeased at this point because I like being accurate and sticking to the laid out plan. I requested a road map from the hotel front desk to avoid running into this type of boondoggle again.

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We woke up on the later side of things and used Monday as a recovery day. Rotorua is a volcanic town surrounded by many hot springs that were very active. We plotted some places to visit around town and along the way to our next overnight in Turangi. First was the local park which had some smelly, muddy, bubbly hot springs for us to sniff and gag at. Next up was a short ride to Waiotapu Themeral Wonderland. This place is what I expect mars will be like once colonized. There are craters, extreme colours in the water pools, barren landscapes, and a random forest in the middle of it all. All in all an interesting spot to visit and a nice leisurely paced attraction. After the thermals we headed for lake Taupo to try and catch an afternoon cruise to see the Maori Rock Carvings. We made the journey with minutes to spare and were able to book a trip on a yacht take us out on a nice cruise across rather choppy waters. A short 30 minute ride out to the carvings gave us great light to view the piece and enjoy a nice leisurely cruise back to port. We enjoyed dinner in town before heading out to Turangi and our accommodations for the evening.

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Turangi is the town closest to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We arrived at our hostel for the night and we were given advice on crossing by the owner. We agreed that we would split up for the 19.4 KM journey and complete the hike in opposite directions. The reason we split up was to ensure we would not have to pay any shuttle fees to get back to the car at the end of the hike. I would complete the hike from west to east and the ladies would stick together completing the hike east to west as recommended by the hostel owner. The most important part of this plan was the hand off of the car key and I almost forgot to pick up the car key from the ladies. Thankfully Jess was paying attention and handed over the prized key during our meeting around the 11 KM marker. I completed the journey in about 5 hours and 15 minutes with all of my up hill climbs out of the way in the first 9 KM of my hike. The reverse hike for the ladies was much more difficult as their journey was an uphill fight for a longer period of time and across tougher terrain. I met the girls with car back where I had started my day and we were all tired from our hikes. We headed into Turangi to get some wifi and plan our next day’s adventure and find a place to sleep for the night. We agreed to return to the town of Rotorua for the night and stay in a hostel there before heading out to Matamata and Auckland the next day. Our journey to our Rotorua hostel was uneventful with the hostel almost uninhabited upon our arrival with only two other cars in the parking lot.

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Our last final full day on the north island began with a short journey to the outskirts of the town of Matamata, also know as Hobbiton. The girls had signed up for a tour of the hobbit village, grounds, and working farm. I dropped them off for their tour and headed to the opposite side of town to catch a glimpse of the highest waterfall in NZ, Wairere Falls. This set of falls is 153M and a different style of waterfall than I am used. Niagara Falls is a horseshoe style falls with a high water flow crashing over the edge every minute. Wairere is a skinny cascading waterfall with the water following many different paths down to the bottom. I spent a short amount of time at the falls before returning to pick up the girls from their Hobbiton adventure. They raved about being whisked away into an alternate universe and loved the adventure. We piled into our trusty car and headed into Matamata for lunch before making the trek up to Auckland. The journey from lunch to Auckland was smooth until we hit our first bit of NZ traffic entering the Auckland city limits. It would appear that NZ does have traffic every now and then. We hacked our way into town and found our accommodation for the night. After dropping off our bags, we parked the car for the night, and headed out to the Sky Tower to catch the sunset from the 60th floor. We were treated to a lovely colourful sky and were able to see the city night lights come up before heading down to the wharf for an evening stroll that led us back to our hostel. We packed our bags for our upcoming flight before calling it a night.

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Our final morning in NZ only required us to return the rental car before checking in for our flight to Hawaii. Kat and myself were continuing on to Oahu and Jess was on her way to Thailand. What should have been an uneventful drive got way too interesting way too fast. On the way to the drop off location the car starting making a loud squealing sound whenever the wheels were turning. And to our relief the sound disappeared without warning just as it appeared. I still have no idea what that noise was and I’m glad that it stopped before we got anywhere near the drop off location because it was as loud as someone using a stone cutting saw. A short shuttle to the airport and a quick check in process left me with enough time to embrace my inner hobbit before I left with a second breakfast.

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My trip to New Zealand was great. I think I enjoy driving on the left side of the road better than the right, the terrain really dictates how fast you can make a journey between each city, the landscapes are beautiful, the ocean is cold but clean, the sun is extremely powerful, and the positives go on. The biggest downside for me was the price point of many items but that can easily be overlooked. I would like to return one day with more time and have a chance to visit the south island as I hear it is even more beautiful than the north.

Porangahau Hat

The journey to the inaugural Porangahau Hat began the day before in Boracay at 4:30 A.M. It would take a trike, a boat, a twin prop plane, a twin jet plane, an overnight flight, and one more twin jet plane to arrive in Wellington. Upon my arrival I was the lucky recipient of a “random” search of my luggage just steps before leaving baggage claim. I say random because the only people being searched at this point were other solo travellers with backpacks similar to mine. After a friendly encounter and determining that even border agents play ultimate frisbee I was able to meet up with my ride that had now been waiting over two hours since my scheduled arrival. For the first time in my travels I would have some partners in crime and someone to share the days with. Kat and Jess are fellow ultimate players from Toronto, always up for an adventure, and are road trip dj masters. After a quick bite at the airport it was time to tackle the four hour drive to the registration party. We took our time and enjoyed the sites along the way arriving just after 11 P.M. Although we were the last to arrive, the welcome was still warm and our player packages were waiting for us. Although this tournament was planned as a camping event, all the international players were assigned a bed and linens for the event.

Campsite

The campsite and headquarters for the tournament was a working beef and sheep farm set among the rolling hills the south east corner of the north island. The roads leading to the venue are windy, windy, and narrow with the common sighting of live stock crossing and the occasional herd blocking your way. The beach (fields) is about 20 minutes from the farm with the sand firm and dark in colour. These conditions were the complete opposite from the past tournament and a welcome change as it setup the tournament for a different style of play from the previous weekend. Another element to this tournament that was different was the tides. Everyday the fields would need to be setup and taken down as the hight of the tide would completely cover the playing surface each complete cycle. This was a first edition of the Porangahau Hat and with new beginnings are the inevitable bumps in the road.

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The Saturday play began later than expected, only two fields were able to be setup, the wind was up and the sun was strong. You’ve got to hand it to the Tournament Director because you wouldn’t know that anything was behind because of all the side games setup and the well packaged lunches delivered to each team in handy clear side tubs. Hat tournaments always harbour great team structure because you get matched up with many different personalities, skill levels, and people from around the world. I was assigned to the “Black Ice” squad comprised of 8 kiwis and 2 Canadians(Kat and myself). The kiwi talent ranged from a soon to be proud father to a world’s player to a junior player with unlimited potential. This was a fun group to play with and they all brought some amazing throws to every game. Fast forward to the Saturday night party held in a sheep sheering barn. Themed in the style of the 80’s, many were dressed for the occasion and the music was anthem after anthem. One of the party games was a playing card found in your player package. When you found your matching card at the party you could head to the bar and claim a shot of your choice. There was also a beer pong tournament and other mini games to play. Partying in the barn was pretty awesome but I’m a little disappointed there wasn’t a sheep racing contest.

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Back to the sports aspect of this story. Black Ice went on a good run for the weekend earning a birth in to the semis and then the finals. “Pink Thunder” came out and won the final with strong play and a fearless attitude laying out on the firm sand multiple times. Although I went 0/2 at hat tournaments on my journey, it was a blast to be playing in another final. The awards were handed out immediately after the final point with Black Ice winning the spirit award! It was smiles all around for all teams as almost everyone walked home with swag from the tournament. With the awards finished up it was time for a dip in the ocean which I affectionately call the Antarctic Ocean due to its cold temperature compared to the China Sea I was splashing around in only days before.

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Thank you to Gore D and all of the volunteers from this tournament. The hospitality of the entire crew was second to none. The overall tournament experience was fantastic and something I will cherish for a long time to come. Thank you again!

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