17.07.2010 - 26.07.2010 17 °C
17th July 2010 – Waking up in the disused petrol station car park, we thought it best not to hang around and as we were already awake from the 6am bin-men collecting around us, we headed back to Wellington city centre. Finding a motor home park right in the centre we decided it would be worth paying the $50 to avoid paying city parking fees plus a separate campsite (and felt we deserved it after sluming it up in the carpark!). After the first shower in 3 days, we headed out in the drizzling rain, along the waterfront and spotted an indoor market. After a wander around trying and buying the local produce, we made our way to the Te Papa Museum, the amazing (and FREE!) museum focusing on Maori culture and New Zealand history.
One of the highlights of the museum was the huge 4.5m long Colossus Squid, kept and preserved in formaldehyde since its discovery from the Antarctic. With eyes the size of footballs it was like a creature from another world!
After exploring some Maori history, native animals and experiencing the earthquake simulation room, we headed down to the I-Site for a few more ideas for the next two days. One of which was to grab a tram to the top of the hill situated in the middle of the city, for sweeping views of the surroundings.
With yet another wet and cloudy day, sadly we didn’t stay long. Back down to ground level, we had a stroll around the Beehive shaped Parliament building before finding a Sports bar showing the rugby.
With the South African’s in town for the Tri-Nations and Wellington stadium just down the road, it was a great atmosphere and the home crowd went home very happy, thrashing the Springboks.
18th July 2010 – Preparing for a long drive North, we were up early and on our way to the Weta Caves across town. This animatronics and special effects company invites tourists to discover the secrets behind Box Office hits such as Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Avatar. With lots of models and props on display and a free film on how they are created, it was an interesting hour.
Back in the van and heading North we drove solidly for the next 5 hours, admiring the changing scenery and arriving late afternoon to a DOC site in the Tongariro National Park.
Another stunning sunset but this time over the volcanic snow-capped mountains and we embarked on a pre-dinner bush walk to check out our surroundings before settling in for the evening.
19th July 2010 – On the highway by 9.30am, we drove straight to Taupo via a few lakeside lookouts.
After stopping for lunch, we continued through to Rotorua and then on to Opotiki, again checking the DOC brochure for campsites. Following the directions 10km out of town, we took the winding dirt road to the site.
Almost turning back numerous times after encountering many deep streams and steep hills, after 20 minutes we finally arrived to the site. But before navigating our way to a spot, we had the obstacles of a 45° slope down to a boggy field presently occupied by horses. We decided it wasn’t worth the risk and instead turned around, cursing the DOC for its poor directions and site descriptions!
Grudgingly, we parked up by a stream on the side of the road as it was now dark and we didn’t think we could navigate our way back through the deep streams safely; keeping our fingers crossed that the rivers wouldn't rise too much!
20th July 2010 – As soon as we woke up, we made our way back to the main road and drove straight to Ohope Beach, parking up for some breakfast.
After a stroll on the beach, we continued onto Whakatane where we spotted a sign for town-wide free wi-fi, so parked up for a couple of hours and caught up with emails and blog (yes, we know we’re behind!).
With 40% of the town of Maori origin and the language still widely spoken, we decided to walk along the riverfront for a bit of a history tour and passed a Waka (Maori canoe) on display, a little further up a cave with Maori markings and finally a statue of a woman on a rock – dedicated to the first woman to have paddled a Waka, in order to save a sinking canoe.
After a drive up to a steep lookout, we rejoined the coastal route, stopping briefly for lunch overlooking a sandy beach. With the afternoon setting in, we arrived at Mount Maunganui and after a little look around the town, decided it was so nice we had to stay for the night! (Besides the next DOC was a couple of hours drive away and we had had enough of the compost toilets for now!).
Parking up at a campsite at the foot of the mountain and overlooking the beach, we decided to take the winding hike up through the sheep fields and rocky paths.
After huffing and puffing our way up the steep hill, we were rewarded with stunning views of the Bay and its beaches.
Heading back down and still with energy, we headed over to an island lookout just in time for a scarlet sunset.
Walking back through the quiet town, we sat in the van and slurped hot chocolate whilst our pasta dinner bubbled away.
21st July 2010 – Lazing in our little campervan bed, we got up late and hit the road for 11am. Driving around the Bay to Tauranga, we stopped at 17th Street - an old cobbled lane with an array of rock carvers and general craft shops, unchanged for decades. After a little look round and a chat with some of the locals (with time for a bit of shopping of course!), we continued on our way up the 25 Pacific Coast, stopping briefly at Whangamata. Unfortunately, with torrential rain on our arrival we continued on past the Coromandel Peninsular, only catching glimpses of its beauty through the thick rain clouds around us. Disappointed by the poor weather conditions preventing us from exploring this natural splendour and with no improvement looking likely, we cut our losses and (after being followed by the Council whilst we tried to find a free spot to camp) decided to head back to Thames for the nearest DOC in the Kauaeranga Valley. Yet another gravel track and 14km in the hammering rain, we found our site and after a quick stir fry with (cheap 70%) frozen ‘beef’ (more like dog food!), we drifted off to the sound of the pelting rain.
22nd July 2010 – Woken to the sound of (still) drizzling rain on the roof, we drove solidly North, past Auckland and reached the town of Whangarei (‘the big smoke of the North’) for lunch. After visiting the ever helpful I-Site centre, we were pointed in the direction of some free caves and a waterfall. Arriving to a little wooden sign pointing to Abbey Caves, we parked up and waded through the waterlogged, muddy fields in search of them. Sadly after half an hour of walking in circles and Rach falling on her bum into the mud, we gave up our cave search but instead stumbled across an impressive rock forest which looked like a scene from The Lord of the Rings.
After seeing the waterfall, we carried on until the town of Kawakawa and spotted a sign to the ‘famous toilet’.
Wanting to see what the fuss was about, we visited the mirror/mosaic masterpiece created by a local artist and continued on our way.
Arriving to Paihai we booked onto a ‘Dolphin Swimming tour’ for tomorrow morning, keeping our fingers crossed for better luck than Kaikoura! After walking around the quaint little town, we found a cheap nearby campsite on the outskirts so parked up for the night and took a walk along the beachfront, getting an early night ready for the Dolphins!
23rd July 2010 – Awake early, we walked into town and waited at Paihai Pier for the Crew to arrive. 8.45am and we were on board the Catamaran, on the lookout for dolphins!
Within 2 minutes we had spotted a pod in the harbour and pulling alongside, we watched as they played infront of our eyes.
Desperate to get in, we were disappointed when told it wasn’t possible as there were juveniles in the pod and any distraction may disrupt its feeding cycle (occurring every 3 minutes and essential for the first 18 months). Half an hour of photos, the Catamaran headed out amongst the Bay of Islands, then cruising out further to see the Hole in the Rock formation. But as we hit the open seas the rough waves began to take their toll and the Captain reluctantly turned the boat around.
Safely away from the crashing waves, we anchored up at a nearby Island, where we were told we had an hour to walk around and explore.
Annoyed at the lack of urgency to find more dolphins to swim with, we made our feelings known to the Crew who said there may be chances afterwards. As suspected, when back on board (although we did spot another pod of dolphins), we were again unable to swim with them.
Back on dry land for 1pm, we felt we had been very misled by the tour operator as it was more of a sightseeing cruise than a ‘Dolphin Encounter’ as we were led to believe. Still, at least we got to see some close up!
With time against us, we decided we hadn’t enough days to make it to 90 Mile Beach at the very tip of the North Island. Cutting across from East to West instead, we arrived into Omapere to see the impressive Hokianga Harbour and sand dunes, before continuing on to the Waipoua Forest.
Visiting the massive Tane Mahuta Kawri tree standing just under 52m high and with a girth of 74m, it was a giant!
Arriving into yet another DOC deserted campsite, we found a sheltered spot and parked up for the night.
24th July 2010 – Making a move early, we drove to the Kawa Iwi Lakes and parked up for some breakfast whilst taking in the picturesque views of the lake (filled throughout the year only by rainfall).
Back on the road we put our foot down and headed for Auckland, passing cloud filled valleys beneath us and stopping briefly at Sand Spit for a look at the beach and marina.
Arriving in to Auckland early afternoon, we found the closest campsite to the city in Rumera and grudgingly paid the hefty $38 for a powered site.
Cooking up lunch with all of our leftover food as we were returning the van to Apollo tomorrow, we walked 30 minutes to Cornwall Park and up the steep hill to One Tree Hill; the place where there once was a famous Joshua Tree (sang about by U2). Unfortunately one year a Maori activist cut the tree down in protest and now, just a memorial stands in its place.
With the sun beaming down, the 360° views from the top were impressive. Catching a bus into the town centre, we had a wander round Queen Street market and the shops before making our way down to the Harbourside for sunset.
After a bus back to the campsite for the evening, we got cleaning the well used van; ready for inspection in the morning.
25th July 2010 – Driving to our City hostel in K Road, we checked in and unloaded our belongings – wondering how we had managed to acquire quite so much! Back into the van we headed for the Apollo depot, nervous of the charges that may be incurred due to the twice chipped windscreen, burnt carpet and broken petrol cap (despite our best efforts with the superglue!). With the check finished and the papers signed on both behalves, we were out of there! They had let us off the petrol cap and luckily hadn’t spotted the rest! Back in our lovely double room with tv, wi-fi and breakfast for $60, it felt sooo spacious after the 5 weeks in a van. Being in the centre of town, we headed straight out to explore and first up another market; Victoria Park. Laden with souvenirs and cheap clothes, Rach was in heaven! After a walk around the Harbour and Dock area, we booked ourselves in for a Sky Walk around the domineering Sky Tower for 4.30pm.
Kitted up, we took the high speed elevator 192m up and were hooked on to the external safety wire. After spending some time taking in the spectacular views of Auckland, braving the 30kmph winds and 0° wind chill temperatures, we did a few scary tricks including hanging over the edge without holding on (Rach wasn’t quite as brave!) and had some photos taken before touching down on solid ground again.
Craving a traditional English roast dinner and having spotted a sign earlier in the day by the Dockside, we headed into a cosy pub and spoiled ourselves.
After a night time wander around the shops in Queen Street, we headed back to our hostel (avoiding the Red Light advances!) and realised why this was the cheap, dodgy backpacking area.
26th July 2010 –
Tucking into the free, rather processed breakfast, we walked down to the Harbour and jumped on a return ferry to take in some of Auckland’s view from the water. Known as the City of Sails it was the best way to appreciate the huge amount of boats and yachts in the harbour.
Back on land we had time to kill so wandered the shops and grabbed some lunch before checking out and taking a cab to Auckland airport. Checking onto our 4.40pm flight bound for Santiago, we boarded the plane and sat waiting on the tarmac for 2 hours whilst they fixed 'electrical faults'. Finally, we took off just before 7pm when we were definitely ready for some South American adventures!
We had absolutely loved New Zealand and the campervan was the perfect way to see it all. From the scenery and wildlife, to the people and available activities, it had surpassed every expectation we had and was the most picturesque country we had visited to date!