The North Island - New campers, surfboards and family
01.06.2012 - 26.06.2012
We arrived into Auckland after crossing a world time line, so although the flight was on 11 hours, we lost a whole day, leaving on 31st May and arriving 2nd June! We had hired a camper van and got a shuttle bus into town to pick it up. We hired it from a place called Escape Campers, they're really cool as they've all been individually spray painted and you get to pick which one you want. We picked one that had loads of landscapes and flowers all over it. We chucked our bags in and our first stop was a supermarket, where we went a little over the top on snacks! It was so nice to find nice cheeses, breads and salt n vinegar crisps after 3 months in South America!
Armed with a giant AA road map and a bag full of flyers we'd picked up at the airport, we started to drive north, not really having a set destination. We lucked out and passed a nice beach in Orewa, where Loz got to have his first surf in New Zealand. The beach there is beautiful and so clean. We camped up the first night in Wendelholm Park, a few K's up the road from Orewa. A beautiful little spot on a river and 100m from the sea too. We got the hammock up in a tree and chilled out for a bit before getting our first taste of Kiwi hospitality after being invited to have beers with a couple from the local area, Debbie, Steve and their baby Sam. We then got invited into another couples huge motorhome for a meal, as they were worried we would be too cold and jet-lagged to cook! You gotta love the locals!
We both woke up at 5.30am the next day, having not got used to the time difference! Went for a walk along the beach and watched the sunrise, then had our first breakfast in our little van... it would definalty take some getting used to only have one little gas hob on a camping cooker! We explored the area on foot. They really look after their walking trails in NZ and they're all free too. I think we both half expected someone to appear with a little ticket book demanding money after so long in South America! After our walk, we hit the road again around lunch, stopping at another beach to cook a curry and lounge in the afternoon sun. Ended in Paiha the second night, where we paid for a powered campsite and tried out our little heater, quite impressed something so small puts out that much heat! The next morning we got the passenger ferry over to Russel for an explore then drove north to Taupo Bay, a beautiful little beach town that was practically deserted. We tried our hand at fishing here with a reel we had bought at a second hand shop (they love charity shops in the Northlands!). However, we only managed to catch loz's hand! We also had our first of many cheeky free camps here. We were both a bit nervy we'd get moved on, but it was fine. Moving further north, we spent the day exploring more destered beaches down bumpy old roads and sleepy little towns, stopping off at 90-mile beach (which is actually more like 63 miles) for another free camp. The weather was pretty bad up north, with torrential rain, not much fun when to cook you had to open the back door of the camper... It is so desolate up in the northlands, we nearly ran out of fuel a few times, as you never drive through populated places most of the time! A place on the map that looks like a town often turns out to be nothing more than a tiny farm.
On the way back south, we found a lovely, peaceful campsite in Tinopai where we got a bargin for a site with power, right on the lake. There was only one other camper there and it was so peaceful and serene. This campsites, as with others we found later, was great as they have kitchens so you don't have to faff around with one hob! On our way back to Auckland, we stopped off at Simon and Debbie's house for the night for a meal, was so nice to stay in a bed in a house for the night and great to meet a local family and see how locals do things. I loved all the fruit trees they had, being able to help yourself to fresh satsumas every morning is great.
Passing through Auckland the next day, Loz ended up doing the 'SkyJump'. This is where you jump off the sky tower on a harness, about 192m freefall! He loved it and it definately cured his hangover! We drove south of Auckland after, making another stop at our favourite supermarket, Pak n Save. Kinda like a Lidl, but slightly classier! Drove all the way down to Ragland on the west coast which is renounded for its surf. We wandered around the town, then headed out to a Maori campsite, which is bascially a field with toilets and very cold showers for $5 a night! Quiet eerie after sunset but the stars are incredible there! The next day, we cooked up our defrosted hash browns (the camper only had a cool box/esky/chilly bin) and headed into town. After what seemed like an eternity to me, Loz finally picked out a surfboard to buy for the trip. He got a really good deal, including all the extras like a wetsuit, I even got a discount on a brand new Volcom Jacket... I had no idea at the time how much use that jacket would get on the South Island! We drove out to one of the surf beaches and Loz tried out the new board in a ver stormy sea and loved it immedialty! In the evening, we ended up watching the All Blacks - vs - Ireland at a local bar, couldn't believe how chilled it was compared to an English pub when the rugby's on! W ended up staying 3 nights in Raglan in the end as the surf was good and it had a great vibe about the place. We spent many rainy hours sat in the camper watching people at the professional surfer spot, some of the locals were amazing!
After we left Raglan, we headed south to Waitomo, where we went underground rafting with a company called 'The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company', doing a tour called 'The Black Labyrinth'. You get suited and booted in the thicket wetsuit gear I've ever seen and get given a rubber tube, then scramble down underground through a series of caves and 2 wateralls (which you jump backwards over), finishing by floating serenly through glow worm caves and out into the bush. We even got given marshmallows to eat as we floated through in the pitch black, nice touch! Amazing day, but I was so bloody cold by the end of it! Luckily, you get hot showers, soup and bagels afterwards! We didn't stay in Waitomo, but drove east to Matamata and a little place called Hobbiton. Hobbiton is where the new Hobbit movie and parts of Lord of the Rings set in 'The Shire' were filmed. We blagged staying for free in the carpark over night off a guy who is the baker Hobbit in the movies! The next day, we were woken up by cows at the window! Loz did a tour of The Shire and loved it, he even got to go in Bilbo Baggins house and stole a leaf from the party tree!
After Hobbiton, we drove south to Rotorua. Rotorua is famous for its thermal springs, and you can smell it a mile off! The sulphur comes up from the ground all over town, resulting in a eggy mist that hangs over the town. I went to the Polynesian Spa for the afternoon, which was amazing! Seven hot spring pools ranging from 38 - 42 C, set on the edge of a beautiful lake, it even smelt nice! Feeling very refreshed and finally clean (cold showers on campsites hadn't been in abundance lately), I met up with Loz. We went for a walk around the local park, where dozens of springs pop up and sputter hot water and steam into the air. Loz decided to go for a dip in the public hot springs in the middle of the park - classy! After, we drove for quite a long stretch down to Lake Taupo, another thermal spring area. It was quite late when we arrived, so we parked up for another sneaky camp in a picnic area by the lake. I couldn't believe the stars were even more bright and twinkly here. The temperature had definatley started to drop as we headed south too and we awoke the next day to our first of many frosty mornings. As Loz scraped ice from the windscreen, we wondered why it wasn't clearing, before realising it was on the inside too!!
We had cooked but not washed up the night before so parked up in another picnic area over looking a misty Lake Taupo to wash up. I lost the feeling in my fingers after about 30 seconds but the views were spectacular. That's the thing with NZ, you think it couldn't be more beautiful, then you arrive at the next place and it takes your breathe away that little bit more.
We drove south along route 1 to the coast, stopping to check out the surf at a few places we'd picked on the map. We ended up stopping at Foxton Beach, where Loz went for a surf while I went for a jog, followed by a little picnic in the van. It was still to cold to sit outside, even though the sun had peeped out. We arrived in Waikanae Beach in the late afternoon in search of family. Loz's great uncle and auntie and their 4 children had moved here about 30 years ago, and the 4 kids have since all married and had kids, so there is about 30 of them now! We'd heard so much about them from family in the UK and were really excited and nervous to meet them all. After getting a little lost, we finally found Maria's house. Maria is one of Loz's mum's cousins and has 3 teenage children. We immediatly felt so welcome and at home. They have a beautiful house with fantastic views of the beach. We had our own room all ready for us, complete with electric blanket! After cups of tea and warming up in front of the fire, Ursala and her family and their parents, Richard and Maureen all turned up. It was a bit overwelming at first, but it soon felt like a family meal with Loz's family in Leicester.
We spent the next two weeks at Waikanae Beach getting to know our extended family. The two boys, Richard and Paul, both live in Upper Hutt, which is in Wellington around an hour away, so we also speant time there with them. They have such a nice way of life and are all so lovely and welcoming. They all wanted to show us around, so we spent many days visiting local places, beaches, walking trails, the famous Te Papa musuem in Wellington, local footie matches with our cousins playing and enjoying dozens of family meals and drinks. We even got roped into doing the Waikanae Mid-Winter Dip. This involves getting dressed up (we all chose santa suits) and going for a swim in the sea! It was bloody freezing but such fun, we even made it into the local paper!
Needless to say, after feeling like one of the family, we were both reluctant to leave. We had an amazing last day with the family. With the sun finally warming up, we spent the afternoon lazing on the balcony at Maria and Andrews, eating, drinking and laughing. Followed by a final meal there, with everyone in the family under one roof. There was only just enough room!
The next morning, with only 3 weeks left in NZ, we said our goodbyes and vowed to save to come visit again as soon we could. We drove down to Wellington and got the Bluebridge ferry to Picton, on the South Island. The journey takes just under 4 hours but was so expensive. I was beginning to realise why no-one on the North Island travels to the South very often!
We were both excited about getting back on the road, this time armed with a wealth of information and tips from the family on where to visit on our second leg of our NZ adventure...