Jun 14

Our big fat gypsy adventure – North Island

This blog post has come pretty late – sorry! It was written up and ready to post once we had internet for long enough, but it was dumped into the trash can by mistake – sad times! Amnesia seems to be setting in with places and times all being muddled. Mushy travel brains. This feels like having to do your homework twice!

We arrived in Auckland after our 9 hour flight from Hawaii at 6am. Wow, it was nippy and we were still dressing like Hawaiians. It felt like we had landed in Gatwick! Fresh cool air, green grass, left road driving – very surreal. We headed to pick up our home for the next month – the camper from the awesome Wilderness. We had the briefing and were so chuffed with the little thing, it had everything we would need and wasn’t too big to drive either. As we hadn’t slept for 24hours, we decided to only drive for a little bit and headed over the harbour bridge to Tekapuna for our first night. We did a food shop consisting of items that can be boiled or pan fried, we have ended up cooking some nice feasts on the one little hob that works.

Tekapuna was great, the flattest sea I have ever seen, beautiful sunset, islands in the water and this is where we learnt the ropes of the van. Filling up the water tank, emptying sink waste, powering up, making the bed from the sofa – it’s electric so it’s pretty easy! The van is very cool and we are so happy we chose this type. It’s thanks to Tomo’s mate Tommo and his girlfriend Shell for suggesting it to us. As we are here during winter, there isn’t the opportunity to cook outside or chill in the sun. We tend to be in the camper by 4pm (when it gets dark) then spend time getting it warm for the night, boiling up a hot water bottle and putting the heater on with some super noodles and rice puddin – very rock ‘n’ roll! It’s also great as you can stand up in it, I still hit my head about 10 times a day but could be much worse!

After Tekapuna, we decided to make our way up to the Bay of Islands, the furthest north we would go. The tempeture was still ok at night on the north, so we headed to a DOC (Department of Conservation) site where you can just a pay a very cheap rate for a drop loo, cold shower and amazing remote location! It’s all about the locations in New Zealand! This site was located next to the sand dunes and a deserted sandy beach, it was the first time I had been on a beach where there was no one at all. We came to realise this would end up being quite a common factor. With a tiny population and being here in the off season, meant we were going to get a lot of stunning places all to ourselves, whereas, on the other hand, sometimes it felt little bit like turning up to a surprise party – everyone is hiding and you are bracing yourself for them to jump out – but in lots of towns no one jumped out!

From here we headed to Whangerai to go and meet Tommo and Shell, who were on their last day of travelling New Zealand. It was amazing to catch up with them and it couldn’t have been timed any better. As we were just starting out, they gave us tons of great tips and their food they had left over from their van – thanks guys – the cafetieres coffee has been a great treat!

We said our goodbyes and ventured to a place called Pahia. A small village in Bay of Islands. The weather was great, nippy but sunny and no rain! There were jungle mountain roads to get there. which were great fun. We stayed here for two nights as we wanted to explore Waitiangi the next day. We went for a walk around the coastline, Tom still was wearing flip flops (in denial we were now in winter weather) and slipped all the way up the muddy cliffs and needed a hand to get down! I had reluctantly packed away my summer clothes for jeans, fleece, beanie and walking shoes – the stereotypical New Zealand tramper! The views were stunning from this campsite of the islands, the stars were awesome at night, we could see the milky way swirls and the mist from the sunrises were beautiful.

Exploring Waitangi was fun. After being mistaken for Americans because we parked facing the wrong way – apparently a sure sign you don’t know what side of the road to drive on. The man soon stopped having a go once he realised we were English and that we do drive on the same side of the road. We made friends with a nice Kiwi guy and his family after we both decided the other guy was a knob! Here we went to the Waitangi Treaty Museum which was set on lush grounds with amazing views and where real New Zealand was born.

A pretty flower for Susie Q.

This is where Maori chiefs and the British crown joined together. We saw the treaty house, 35m wake taua (war canoe) NGATOKIMATAWHAORUA longest name ever (made from one Kauri tree). New Zealand has a fascinating history and the Maori culture is something we both got really into. I think this was because we came from the Polyensian culture in Hawaii. It’s amazing how they travelled so far to settle on New Zealand in a wooden canoe!

Tom liked the boobs, below.

After Pahia, we were going to the Coromandel region. We stopped off at this weird cafe called Utopia for a coffee. Good coffee!

We decided to stay for the night at a thermal village. We arrived at a campsite that was proper gypsy, however it closing down in a week so most had moved on. It was pretty run down and creepy. We slept right next to the ocean and made some friends with ducks. The thermal village was fun, it had lots of pools all set at different temperatures. All of them were boiling, one called the Lava pool was too hot to even put our feet in! We even watched the muppets movie in the movie spa pool.

The next day we wanted to go and see ‘Hot Water Beach’ which lots of our friends had told us about. It was amazing, the tide was out when we arrived so we headed down and started to dig above the thermal spot. Hot, hot, hot water ran down and you can build our own hot pool. It was so hot, we had to get some cold sea water to mix with it.

This night we wanted to find another DOC site to save some money. We found one in the woods by Wentworth River. This place got me all creeped out, it was signposted at the paved road, but once we turned it was 7km down a gravel road, across a river, a couple of fords and then to a shed where you post your money through. We were the only people there in the middle of some very dark woods. There wasn’t any artificial light around for miles so it was pitch black, but at around 9am a couple of cars turned up to camp there and suddenly it all felt fine. There were other people here! Tom cooked up some beef sausages and pasta for dinner – they exploded but were tasty!

We left the next morning, relieved to be out of the woods and over the river. We were making our way to Rotoura and stopped off in an old gold mining town in Waihi to stretch our legs. It still mines today and the hole was huge! For every tonne of rock it only gets 3-6g of gold! The town looked like it would have been busy back in the day, but after the gold rush everyone left. We got back in the van and made the rest of the journey to Rotorua.

The first thing you notice about Rotorua is the smell! The place stinks, as in smells, the actual place is great, it has the highest Maori population, as they came here to take advantage of the thermals and it’s famous for its sulphur egg stench. Luckily where we stayed you couldn’t smell it, but in pockets it would make you gag. It would be mental living here, you would want to vomit a lot! There was tons to do in the surrounding areas and the lovely lady at the campsite gave us lots to do on the cheap.

We went to the geothermal springs in the public park, these were bubbling mud pools and sulphur lake – very Dante’s Peak! After this we went to Rotorua Museum of Art and History where they had a superb exhibition on Maori culture and how it all began, along with a shaking seat movie about the volcano that ruined Rotorua and the many British tourists way back when, that flocked there for the thermal pools. The museum was in a Bath House, which was built after the volcano erupted. It’s purpose was to get tourists and soldiers here for mud and thermal treatments. There was also a phenomenal exhibition on character design and digital illustration by the people that create all the movie characters for the likes of Lord of the Rings – had to be of course!

We also visited the Waitomo caves. We wanted to do a black rafting tour where you sit in rubber rings and go through the glow worm caves in the under ground river, but we got there too late. We got there late as we had to buy a new power cable! We made the rookie error of driving off with the power cable still attached. It disconnected from the van and was left at the campsite. Someone jibbed it! We only realised when we went to power up for the night. $150 later and the nice owner at the campsite fixing a new connection to it so it fitted our van and we had power again! We ended up having about an hour to do a quick a tour, so we opted to do one with a smaller cave company. The guy who took us down owned it with his brother, because their land lay on top of it. It was really deep and had a river running through it. He showed us grasshopper spiders that grow the size of your hand and all the pretty glow worms. There were pockets of them everywhere. We got to see them up close and that ruined the illusion of the cute little glow worm we had, they are see through spindles that hang and catch their prey with their saliva that hangs down from the top of the caves -rank! It was just us, the tour guide and a swiss guy – intimate!

We were heading straight down South now to Lake Taupo to stay in Ohakune, a small ski town next to Mt Ruapehu. We had to cross the Tongorio Crossing but luckily there was no snow so it was open. This drive was amazing, it’s freezing desert with active volcanos. This was when it started to feel like the New Zealand I had imagined. We passed Mt Doom and the Mordor Mountains (Lord of the Rings) and then the temperature really dropped. We arrived in Ohakune. It had a really nice vibe, we were about a month too early for the ski season but we wondered around the town and had amazing views of Mt Ruapehu. The campsite had heated shower rooms which was a blessing, as the only time we could get warm was under a hot shower, our little heater didn’t do too much to raise the temperature in the van. It was from here, we knew we were going to have to sleep with thermals, jumpers, socks and our beanies – not forgetting the sleeping bags we had lugged through California and Hawaii!

After a nice stay in the mountains, we wanted some vino! Next stop, was Martinborough, a wine valley where you can walk to all the vineyards and get wasted, I mean sophisticatedly taste various wines. After visiting the iSite (New Zealand tourist board), we picked up a map for the wine trail to do the next day. On the way back to the van, we popped into the wine centre, where we were offered free wine tasting of 9 wines! Yes please! The next day we woke to head out on the wine trail, the temperature was much warmer here in the day than Ohakune and it was super sunny! We went to all the ones that were open (most closed for the winter) and learnt tons about wine – although slight drunkenness has probably made us forget. The whites were amazing, we bought a bottle. Walking back a bit merry, we went back to cook (we bought steaks from the butchers) and had a bit more wine, making the most of the not having to drive that day!

We had booked up our ferry crossing, so it was time to get down to Wellington. The drive was stunning and full of cows. We did try and find a seal colony, but after being on empty mountains road, with ocean swell hitting it and slips everywhere, we decided to give up and head back and on route to Welly!

We loved Wellington, it had a cool, bohemian, design vibe about it. The harbour was great to walk along in the evening and it was the first place that had a night life after 5pm, so we headed out to the movies to watch the Avengers – everyone had been chatting about it back home, so it was about time we caught up! That night we stayed in the car park, before getting our ferry the next day.

We had heard the ferry crossing can be a ‘white knuckle’ ride, especially during winter and oh boy was it! The wind on the cook strait is relentless, big chop and the whole ferry was tilted during the crossing, sea out of one window, sky out of the other window! But once in the Milford sounds, it’s calm and beautiful! We had arrived and were excited for what was to come on the South Island.

Living in the van has been great fun, we are sure our experience would have been different in the summer; More outdoors, warmer and we could have stayed on the cheaper DOC sites as we wouldn’t require power for a heater, but I still wouldn’t change anything. Winter sunsets, snow peaked mountains, warm rice pudding are all good things too! This has felt like proper travelling, we have been making our own route, doing what we want, when we want, cooking, having the responsibility of the van ($2.5K excess!) exploring and meeting some great locals. Everyone is so friendly and funny here, they also understand what Tomo says which is a bonus – haha! After a few hours driving, sometimes I would forget that we were in NZ, until I saw a sign for ‘Earthquake rumble zone’. You don’t get that at home! Parts do feel like the most beautiful parts of Scotland, Wales and Devon rolled into one, but then you add palm trees, volcanoes, earthquakes, snow storms, whales and dolphins and it soon feels like a world away.

I have also got a new love – Murray from the Flight of the Conchords show, I’m gutted I missed out on this show when it was on TV but luckily Tomo had them saved, so we have watched these in the evenings! Whale Rider is also a great New Zealand based film we have watched here.- very sad at points.

Anyway, this has been very painful rewriting this, my brain hurts from trying to remember but now we will never forget. Onwards to the South Island and hopefully some mountain snow time! In fact, I know there will be mountain snow time as I’m on the South Island and we’ve already done it, but sshh, Tomo’s writing the South Island blog at the moment, so it’s a surprise!

Sweet as! Laters! Love to all and missing you lots. Love Fifika and Paddy xxx

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