Tuesday, April 05, 2011

New Zealand - North Island

So after our horrendous night spent on Sydney airport's finest chairs, next to our chatterbox neighbour, we clambered onto our flight to Auckland at 6.20am.  LUCKILY we had 3 seats all to ourselves and both slept for the full 3 hours! 

We landed in Auckland on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. We caught the airport bus into town and spotted families on their bikes, couples eating brunch in outdoor cafes with the Sunday papers and lots of people out walking their dogs.  Even though we were a bit dazed and confused, we had a lovely 'I think we'll like Auckland' kind of feeling going on.

We checked into a double room in our little hostel (Surf'n'Snow - good hostel btw) had a much longed for shower and snooze and then around 4pm I bunged on a summery dress and shades on and we set out to explore the city.  

We went straight down to the water and realised that we were starving! So we treated ourselves to an amazing tapas meal looking over the harbour with a couple of beers.  

We also figured out that the exchange rate in New Zealand was way better than we expected it to be and almost everything we bought on our trip around NZ was the same price as things back in the UK, so we weren't being diddled out of our pennies! a nice feeling :-)

Indian night - love it!

After we finished dinner we were shattered, think the booze made us feel sleepy, so we headed back to the hostel for an early night ready to pick up our campervan the next morning!

view from our hostel window

view from our hostel window looking UP. The Sky Tower.

We got to the Wicked depot at 11am, but didn't manage to drive away our van until 1pm!!! Our van didn't even have any wheels on it at 11am!! Usually we wouldn't have minded a morning reading our books sat on a comfy sofa, but we had made plans to spend time with our friends who lived about 3 hours away, so we wanted to get on the road!

We finally drove away in our rugby themed van, Mart named it Jonah, after Jonah Lomu the rugby player, I have no idea about rugby so I let him name it and went along with it.  The van this time was definitely a step up to what we were used to in Australia.  We now had air conditioning, power steering and it was an automatic! Basically the van was about 20 years newer than our dear old Roberta - sorry Roberta, but Jonah was a dreeeeeeam to drive around! He didn't quiver at the sight of huge hills like you would have, he didn't creek and put grime on our clothes like you did, but you were still in our hearts as our lovable old banger. 

our new van!


was secretly hoping for this one!

We drove south east from Auckland about 3 hours to a place called 'Mount Maunganui' which is situated in the Bay of Plenty on the East Coast of the North Island.  Our friend Katie, her boyfriend Matt, Katie's sister Lucie and her boyfriend Phil have all been living at the 'Mount' for the past few months, so we had planned to visit their place and stay over for the night.

The 'Mount'

On the way to the Mount

hardly any traffic around!

wonder if Jesus shops here for his bread, milk & toilet roll?

As soon as we arrived we were all instantly talking about our travels and where to go, not to go - it's always so nice to see friends from home as it's like a massive injection of familiarity and comfort and with us all being travellers for the past few months (some a lot longer than others)there were so many stories to tell (Lucie and Phils hostel wee'er being the funniest!).  The sun was still shining so we all headed down to the beach for a bit of a chill before the sun went down.  WOW, what a beach, neither of us realised what beautiful beaches NZ would have - we were really taken by surprise, it was stunning and a it was a surf beach too, so lots of peeps out there trying to catch some waves after work.

Matt, Kate, Lucie, Me, Mart (Kate & Lucie are sisters)

tanned bunnies!

Matt & Kate figuring out a way to live at the Mount forever and ever!!
It's going to be hard to tear those two away from NZ!

After the beach we dropped our stuff off at Lucie and Phils, picked up some booze from the local supermarket (Lucie and I trying to dodge the sweets as we went around) and headed back to Katie's for 'Mexican Night'! We were all treated to a massive Mexican fajita feast with tons of wine and beers - was wicked! Thank you guys! 

After dinner we were given a taste of NZ with 'Hokey Pokey' icecream.. basically icecream with bits of Crunchie in it...yum! Then we got the NZ map out and quizzed Katie, Matt and Phil as hard as we could on where we should go, what we should do and what not to do - it was brilliant, we basically planned our whole NZ trip in a very tipsy half an hour :-)

Another thing that surprised us about New Zealand is the brilliant taste in music New Zealanders have - lots of Drum'n'Bass and Breakbeat, which we love.  There are some brilliant bands from this country, we were introduced to "Shapeshifter" who are a live Drum & Bass act from NZ. They have been heralded as a musical phenomenon for their brilliant live shows and unique mix of soul with drum and bass. Click here to hear their wicked track 'Electric Dream' - I guarantee you'll want to get up and dance! Another act that we loved listening to were 'Naked & Famous' - click here to hear 'Young Blood' - very folky/MGMT like band.

The next day (after a lovely stay in Lucie & Phils cozy spare bed and use of their ensuite! thank you!) we were going to walk up the 'Mount' with Katie.... BUT... we felt so rough after all the wine, the most we could do was watch Jeremy Kyle with Katie whilst drinking a cup of tea! haha!! So, hope you don't mind Katie, but I have included your latest pics of the Mount climb that we should have done instead! Gorgeous huh!

As we only had 2 weeks in New Zealand, (a decision we seriously regretted even after the first days drive!), we had to plan our trip carefully and choose the real highlights of this beautiful country.  So our rough itinerary was: Rotorua, Taupo, Wellington, Picton, Marlborough Sounds, Kaiteriteri, Nelson, Punakaiki, Fox Glacier, Haast, Wanaka, Milford Sound and Queenstown and then flying back from Queenstown to Auckland to catch our flight to Tokyo. Phewww! Whirlwind tour!

So after leaving Mount Maunganui we had a gorgeous drive an hours inland to Rotorua. 


I have to say at this point... EVERY drive in New Zealand is a gorgeous, breathatking, stunning drive.  This is no exageration, around every corner there's another picture perfect postcard view.  We discovered that New Zealand is a country that is filled with glacial mountains, turquoise rivers, crystal clear reflection lakes, hissing geysers, lush forests and long, deserted beaches - it constantly surprised and captivated us.  Even before colonisation began in 1840, New Zealand had been promoted in British publications as a wild, scenic, romantic wonderland, a place of extremes - and not a drop of this description has changed for 171 years!

So, Rotorua, also referred to as 'RottenRua' or 'Sulphur City' is a known for its geothermal activity, and as soon as you drive into it, you notice the rotten egg smell!  We headed for the town centre and booked our white water rafting trip for the following day, we were feeling very hyped up about going down a 7m waterfall in a raft!

The next day, our rafting was booked for 12.30, so in the morning we headed out to a lake near to Rotorua.  The Blue Lake, it was stunning and we sat and ate our breakfast of fruit and gazed.. for ages! Unbeknowns to us at the time, this would be one of the smaller lakes that we'd see on our travels around NZ! 

Mart with his bird mates again

me by Blue Lake chopping up the fruit for brekky

if you're ever in NZ, ALWAYS buy their Watermelon... so good!
On sale everywhere for about 50p each!

Blue Lake

Green Lake (original names)

A Maori relic in the woods

spooky Black Swan

We then drove back into Rotorua and found the 'base' for the White Water Rafting trip.  We did it with a company called 'Raft It' and it cost around 50pounds each.  We got all the gear on, although I was feeling a little shivery when they said this time of year they don't wear wetsuits, so I was in my bikini, life vest, helmet and little booties... hmm not one of my best looks!

We left the rafting base and headed down to the river. They then split us up into groups of 4 or 5 per boat and we were landed with a wicked guide, called Baz.  He was fantastic, gave us loads of clear instructions and also made the rafting really good fun.  I think a lot of the guides on our trip have either made it great or made it a bit of a disappointment along the way - and you always remember the good guides (our Halong Bay one was the worst and our best..probably Max our teacher at the Thai Cookery School)

Rafting was wicked, was pretty crazy heading down that waterfall and at one point you could get into the water, hang onto the side of the boat and go down a rapid.  Looking back, we probably would have gone on a different river, probably in the South Island, as although this one was good fun, it was short, we were only in the water for about 30 minutes, which isn't a lot for your money eh?

I have to share some of the NZ sayings with you as we heard these a lot from our guide Baz and the rest of his team.

"Sweet as" - everyone under the age of 40 says this in NZ!
"Easy as bro" 

Also, like Australians they have another name for flip flops, Aussies call them 'Thongs' and New Zealanders call  them 'Jandals'...!

As soon as we finished rafting we headed to a tiny little creek that a New Zealand guy, who sat next to us on a bench funnily enough, told us about.  The best things in life are free... and that is certainly true of Kerosene Creek, 30km's south of Rotorua.  It was a bit tricky to find - but so worth it... WHY? Well, because we found a thermal river running over an old lava flow where we relaxed under warm (well actually they were bloody hot) waterfalls and 2 naturally heated pools.  Many visitors pass through the Geothermal area of Rotorua and Taupo paying money to lie in naturally heated pools at various parks and facilities - whereas this one is totally free! There were a few other people there relaxing with us, and yes, the rotten egg smell still lingers on you a bit when you get out.. but it was like being in a hot tub in the rainforest! Amazing!

oh yes!

Kerosene Creek - can you see the steam coming off it?

Natural Hot Tub!!

it was SO hot!

hot spring water in the town centre

mmmm New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels!

Here's a video of Mart in the hot stream: Click here

We then drove onto Taupo and had a massive struggle finding a free campsite by a river that we'd read about - took us nearly an hour to find the damn place, but after a few snapped words between us we finally got there before it got dark.  Unfortunately there were hardly any spaces left, and to add to our grumpy mood I just missed a spot right by the river, it was snapped up by an old man with a monster of a motorhome. After a walk down by the river (the cooling down period) we ended up having tasty tomato and mushroom pasta for dinner and went to bed friends again.  Although we were over our spat, we then had to contend with the dickhead with the guitar in his tent next to us, he just kept playing the same notes over and over and over again until about 2am. grr!

the riverside campsite

There are quite a few ways to camp in New Zealand;

1. Stay the night in a layby - known as rest areas. These are free, but are not always around when you need them.

2. Stay in a full functioning campsite/holiday park.  We only did 1 of these the whole time in New Zealand, it was about $30 for the night and it was stuck in 1965 (although to be fair some of the others we saw were stunning, right on the edge of lakes and one we saw right on the beach)

3. Stay the night at a DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite.  
At most tourist information centres the DOC have free booklets outlining where their campsites are located, or you can go onto their website. I'd say 90% of our nights were spent in DOC campsites whilst we were in NZ.  When you arrive at the campsite you park up and then fill in a form with your registration number, how many nights you're staying and put it into an envelope with about £6 and then post it into a box.  Each morning the camp warden for that area comes around and checks that everyone has paid.  These are the most picturesque and close to nature campsites, they're usually by a river or a lake so you can wash up your pots and pans after dinner, you can boil the water to drink and most of all, you can have a wash! although it's usually VERY cold water!

When we woke up we drove upto 'Huka Falls' just outside Taupo and we sneakily used their loos to brush our teeth and have a quick wash ... well you gotta do what you gotta do!  The falls were stunning, they were quite touristy, but still impressive, the sound of the falls is so loud, like thunder almost.  Also what we found quite interesting (the geeks that we are) is that NZ power a lot of their electricity from their waterfalls - about 57%! Which is a great use of your natural resources.  

From the falls we headed over to 'Craters of The Moon'. As Taupo is still in the geothermal area they also offer the chance to see some of the geothermal activity.  Craters of the Moon is an area where in 1950 it suddenly began to get hot and create steam.  Steam and mud started escaping from any vent it could find, and now wooden walkways have been created so that you can view the activity .  Mart kept taking his flip flops off and putting his feet on the floor to feel the heat, it was pretty spooky to think what was just underneath us.

We then drove into Taupo itself and had to do a few 'chores' as we called them;

In New Zealand the towns, especially in the South Island, are few and far between, so when you hit one, you do everything you need to in one place as you might not get a chance until the next day or even the next couple of days in some remote places.

For lunch I grabbed some sushi, Mart had a baguette and we sat on the edge of Lake Taupo - it was huge! Every lake we were coming across by now was getting bigger and bigger.  

Lake Taupo is a really popular lake to do a skydive over, you can see why.  We had a really long drive ahead of us so we were soaking up the time sat outside in the sunshine.  We were driving directly from Taupo down to Wellington, which in the end took us about 5 hours.  

haha campervan crazy

Lake Taupo

However, a long drive in New Zealand isn't anything like a long drive in Australia or England, in Australia or England you hardly see anything interesting, most of Australia drives (excluding our Grt Ocn Rd trip!) are just endless long straight roads with scrubby brush either side.  In England you'll see the odd retail estate, or farmers fields with a few cows.  New Zealand has breathtaking mountains, winding valleys, beautiful lake shores, blue rivers and beaches to drive past.  So they never felt like a hardship.  

Our journey from Taupo to Wellington took us past the famous Tongariro Crossing.  Tongariro Crossing is a very famous tramping track (hiking track to us Brits), said to be one of the best tracks in the world.  It takes 2 days to walk, and you stop over in a hut over night.  We REALLY wanted to do this walk as had heard so many good things about it, but we just didn't have the time :-( next time! (we have said that about everything in NZ, so we are definitely coming back).  Also there is a place called Turangi that we drove through, a place that my Dad would find very special... it's the Trout fishing capital of the world! He'd be in trout heaven.

'Mount Doom' from Lord of The Rings

After Tongariro Crossing we came across a few random towns and LOTS of sheep.  One of the random towns was a town call 'Bulls', nothing special about that, except they put the word 'bull' into the name of their town amenities. A few examples: the pub is called 'SocialBULL', the chemist is called 'DispensiBULL', the pound shop is called 'AffordaBULL', clothes shop called 'FashionaBULL', their fire station is called 'Extinguish-a-bull'.  We were geeks and kept talking to each other with words with BULL at the end all the way to Wellington. Yes, I know it's sad, but it was a 5 hour journey! Haha on their website they even state that your visit will be 'Unforgetta-bull'! 

Birds...well you know we need a bird in each blog entry but New Zealand gave us measly offerings on the bird front!! They have only one bird of prey and that's the "Australasian Harrier" and that's the only bird we saw ... all of the time! Supoose Mart's twitching passion had been treated to a fair few 'rare spots' on the rest of the trip, so he couldn't moan really!

We hit the coast around 6pm and knew we weren't far away from Wellington.  The evening was gorgeous and sunny so we drove through the city - which we LOVED - had a really cool feel about it, quite an arty feel - and headed up the steep windy hill to Victoria Point to look out over the city. Oh my goodness!! What a view!!!! We were taken aback.  I think because we had such a serene peaceful sunny evening it made it even more special. We chilled up there for a while and took a few pics and then had to think about where we were bunking down for the night.  

loved the houses in Wellington 
beautiful evening with the sunsetting over Wellington
The next day we were getting the ferry over to the South Island at 7.30am, so we drove down to the ferry terminal to see if we could park up near there and sleep overnight - and WE did. The Ferry car park for our ferry (BlueBridge) let campervans stay for free in their carpark, so we were right in the ferry terminal ready for the morning.  We spotted a hostel over the road from the car park and it had a bar and a restaurant, so we had a couple of beers and some tasty (cheap) dinner over there.  We then had a little idea... why don't we explore the hostel and see if we can find the bathrooms to have a shower?!?! We found them on floor 2, so we nipped back to the van, grabbed our shampoo and shower gels and then waltzed back upto floor 2 to use their showers for free!! heaven!

We got back over to the van and some of you may have noticed that I have a new fringe going on, probably not one of my best ideas when we'll be in a campervan without a hairdryer for the next 2 weeks! So I grabbed my round brush, turned the engine key and blasted the hot air out of the fan and did my fringe nice and pretty so it wasn't sticking up like a cockatoo..!! Mart was busy sorting his bags out at the back of the van, he then trotted around to the front of the van to find me in this weird position with my brush and the hot air coming out.. he did a little frown and then went back to his bag sorting. haha. It's so easy for boys!

So after only 5 days in NZ we'd already driven 460 miles (741km's) and we were heading to the South Island the next day!! Yay, bring on the big mountains!!