New Zealand is truly breathtaking. On the road you turn a corner and there is yet another amazing vista. The hills undulate and roll into the distance wearing many shades of green. We only had ten days, nowhere near long enough to explore the north island, so we only tickled the surface. But it is one of the places that we will come back in the future.
After the rain of Sydney, we were hoping for some dry weather. We arrived in Auckland greeted by yet more rain. It was wet and grey and reminded me a little of England. We had decided on getting a campervan in the North Island so we could see more things and drive around wherever we wanted. In retrospect, we should have also done this in the South Island, however we had mistakenly thought the roads would be treacherous and full of snow. (Other than the road to Milford they weren’t.)
We had decided to go with Jucy – A bright green campervan/car thing – which was not in the least inconspicuous. We chose to spend the night near Auckland and camp at a hippy commune and eco-farm called Fat Cat. I was not in the best state of mind. I was anxious, self conscious and irritated. The hippy commune was like a shared house where everyone knew each other. We sat in the corner hiding like new kids at school. The hippies however try there best to get everyone involved and they have a communal dinner (all vegan) for which everyone sits around a table on the floor. They had cards with conversation questions that they pulled out of a jar and they distributed chores by picking tasks out of a hat. You could either get a card like “washing up” or as I got “give the person to your left a compliment”. It was a fantastic place with really great people. I really don’t know what was wrong with me but I think all these happy floaty people were getting on my nerves because I wasn’t either happy or floaty. I was jealous of their Zen. Because of that I didn’t have the best time, however I would still recommend this place. It is somewhere that you need to stay for a while and get into their lifestyle, rather than just stay for one night as we did.
That night it rained. I am SO GLAD it did. Because we found out that the camper leaked really badly. The door pockets were filled with rainwater and Andrews side of the bed was soaked. (The sogginess was near his head so I know he hadn’t pissed the bed). The next day we drove it back and luckily got given another fairly quickly. However, had it not rained on that first night, we wouldn’t have found out until later in the trip.
Bay of Islands
We had been told that the Bay of Islands was not to be missed, so we headed North. This is a stunning place however we didn’t explore as much as we would have liked due to time limitations. We stayed in Paihia (pronounced “pie here” in a lovely campsite on the water.
We only had one day so we explored the town (I spent an hour in the local library resetting a second hand kindle I bought in Sydney) and went on a taxing walk in the forest which runs along the coast. The walk was lovely and inspired another blog post about mental health (coming soon).
In the morning, on the way out of the bay, we visited the family until Kawiti glow worm caves. It is much cheaper than the more famous Waitomo and the glow worms were amazing! As you would expect, you can’t take pictures of them but it was a sight not to be missed. They looked like a Milky Way full of stars, except each one was a gross dribbling bug in a hammock. They have quite an easy life until they reach adulthood and they develop into a fly which has no mouth, thus can’t feed and results in them starving to death. Nature can be so f*cked up sometimes!
We drove down the country, staying on night in the car park of an Irish bar called Murphies. A super cheap option, if you discount the copious amount of Guinness consumed by the lovely log fire.
We visited a beautiful waterfall, called Hanuah falls, completely by accident. In New Zealand we started playing “follow the brown sign”. As we head to our destination if we see a brown tourist sign, we go and see what it is. This is the beauty of exploring the country in a campervan. You have the freedom to go wherever you wish.
We did a couple of hikes in this area, including this suspension bridge hike with lovely views.
The weather is very changeable in New Zealand. You can go from sunny to raining back to sunny in a matter of minutes!
Matamata and Hobbiton
Luckily (and I am using that word sarcastically) our campervan came with a DVD player. And even more luckily (even more sarcastic) Andrew found “lord of the Rings” for free in the DVD bin at the Jucy depo. We put the DVD in and the first six times it wouldn’t play. Luckily (you get the gist now) on the seventh attempt, the DVD loaded and I lost my LOTR-virginity. It was OK. I had wine. That helped pass the 3 hours. However it irked me that the film doesn’t end so you are forced to commit another 6 hours of your life to the next two. On a positive note I now understand where this meme comes from.
My initiation was complete and with that, we went to Hobbiton near Matamata. If you do visit the definitely take a look round the town of Matamata. It is a cute little town with a great vibe. We got the coach to Hobbiton and it turned out, where we had stayed was overlooking the Shire!
Hobbiton was sensational. Although the film was “meh” the set was magical! The attention to detail (at eye watering expense to the film budget) was fantastic. I wished I was a hobbit and could live there permanently.
We had a beer at the Green Dragon too which is a working bar and cafe inside the set. If you are in New Zealand this is a Must Do. Even if you are not a geek, it is totally worth it.
When we first arrived in Rotorua we wondered why it was so busy. We were surprised by the amount of British people everywhere. A few days prior, at the Irish bar, someone had asked if we were chasing the Lions. I thought is was some new drug reference so I said no politely and scurried off. However we learned that the Lions are the English and Irish rugby team and the other Brits were following them as they toured New Zealand. We accidentally followed them to Rotorua, hence the masses of people.
Rotorua is a strange place. It is a volcanic area and steam just comes out of the ground which is very surreal. We went to a free park with bubbling mud pools and lots of steam.
We also visited the lake which was beautiful but very stinky (eggy).
We camped at a place called Waikato Valley thermal pools site. This place was out of this world! You get to use all the thermal pools which are filled with natural thermal water that comes down the mountain at 100 degrees Celsius and results in an all natural steam room! However in the pools it is mixed with the cooler natural spring water and is around 40 degrees instead. Too hot for Andrew but I loved it! I couldn’t believe I was out in my bikini in the middle of winter! In the morning you get to use all the pools before it opens to the public and this was one of my favourite moments so far. Sitting in a hot thermal infinity pool, in the middle of the mountains, completely alone and in silence. I wish I was back there now!
We met a guy in the hot pools who lived in the Taranaki area and told us it was voted the number one place to visit in a recent Lonely Planet article on New Zealand. We decided to go there – It was on the other side of the country, about eight hours drive. Unfortunately I was ill for the first day and slept the entire time (probably because I was fannying around in my bikini in the middle of winter!) but the next day we went for an amazing walk up the base of Taranaki. We didn’t dare to climb the whole thing. I was still a bit peaky and it was an eight hour walk. Plus there was snow on the top and we didnt have the right equipment. But the base walk was still amazing!
Ekitahuna and Wellington
In a campervan there isn’t much choice in Wellington plus prices for sites are through the roof. So we decided to stay in a teeny town called Ekitahuna on the day before we handed our camper back. It has a population of 441 and they had to campaign to keep their petrol station and supermarket from being closed! We thought our money would be better spent here.
We were meant to explore Wellington but the weather had a tantrum. It was so windy that I couldnt shut the camper door as I battled to get myself out of the vehicle. It was that hideous icy-cold sideways rain that slaps you in the face like a frozen fish. So far, this has been my least favourite day whilst travelling. The weather was so vile that we hid in a McDonalds until our ferry was due.
Apparently Wellington is a beautiful place but unfortunately our jury is still out on that. It gives us an excuse to go back anyway.