North Island no more
Trip Start May 27, 2009
18Trip End Nov 14, 2009
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Where I stayed
Well am I glad I left those shells and bits of coral back in Fiji. The bio hazard controls at Auckland airport are unbelievably rigorous; some folks even had their shoes taken away to have soil samples tested.
I picked up the campervan just in time to hit the Auckland rush hour and in pouring rain so that was a bit stressful and the fact that the rain battered down all night did not get things off to a good start. However in the morning, well would you believe it the campsite was busy with young girls with hockey sticks and I found out that Caroline, one of my hockey colleagues from the Commonwealth Games, was in charge of their tournament? So I jumped in my campervan and set off to say hello - that was a bit of a surprise/shock for her and it got me off to a better start than had seemed likely the previous night.
I headed north and spent a few days in the Bay of Islands area, stopping first at Kawakawa to look at the public toilets. Weird - no not me, them. They were designed by Friedrich Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist who had live in this part of NZ for the last 20 or so years of his life, and as I had I had seen much of his quirky work before in Vienna I was keen to see what he had done here. And spookily, the lady running the nearby gift shop was originally from Coatbridge - now that's weird.
The coastal towns in the Bay of Islands are really geared for summer tourists so were really a bit sad in the winter. The scenery is often difficult to enjoy when driving as the roads are not really designed for sightseeing tourists as there aren't many view points and if there are there is not much advance warning oh and the drivers here don't seem to geared up for sightseeing tourist particularly those in campervans as they can sometimes almost be on your tailpipe. This of course makes it difficult to see ahead for overtaking but they don't seem to have twigged that. Just had to get that off my chest!!!!!!!!!!
I have to keep pinching myself every so often to remind myself that I am in a foreign country at the other side of the world as much of its looks so British as do many of the residents.
Cape Reinga at the northernmost tip of New Zealand was spectacular, particularly as a storm hit just as I got there. It is the point at which the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet and you could clearly see that particularly in the stormy weather. The light disappears here very quickly and it is completely dark just before 6 so I had to head for the nearest campsite which was in a beautiful spot on a small bay (at the bottom of what seemed like a cliff) - but it was free.
The next day's drive was through some fantastic sub tropical forest with hundreds of tree ferns and the biggest living Kauri tree. There is definitely something quite mystical about these huge trees - I think I'm going all New Age except I do have a shower every day. My next campsite was at Kaihu on the edge of the Waipoua Forest - an excellent spot and I was the only person in the whole place. Apparently it is packed in the summer as it is near the Kai Iwi Lakes which attract boaters/jet skiers and all sorts of water loving types. I took a minor detour to the lakes and was able to get out my picnic table and chairs and have lunch in the sunshine.
The towns there were not particularly interesting and their charity shops were rubbish. It had been very cold at nights so I thought I could pick up an extra layer which would do me for a few weeks and then get ditched but folks in Northland must hold on to their clothes and only part with them when they should be going in the bin. Eventually I managed to find a lovely Fair Isle patterned cardigan - you will just have to take my word for it as it will not be appearing in any photographs and will not be coming back with me.
Finally left Northland and headed towards the Coromandel Peninsula but stopped just short of it at Miranda which had its own natural hot springs and pool. It was very relaxing being there and I treated myself to the luxury of being in the one spot for three nights. I have to say I hated the drive to Coromandel town as the roads were very narrow, the ocean was only feet away, logging trucks came hurtling round bends towards me and there was the usual tailgating. After that I stayed 'at home' the next day and did my housework. That is the downside to having your own space - chores, chores and more chores. At least with a hotel/motel you close the door behind you and someone else tidies up. I was invited in to the van of an older NZ couple who were very experienced campervanners so had lots of tips.
Very kindly, Caroline invited me to stay with her for a couple of nights in Tauranga which is a lovely spot on the east coast. She drove me around the local area which was great as I would never have done that in my van, and yes you will have guessed I did watch more hockey. For me it is turning into my universal language
And so to Rotorua which is famous for the geothermal hot springs, geysers and mudpools. I have to say the geothermal activity at Whakarewarewa was fascinating and not ever having been to Iceland this was the first time I had seen anything like it. Rotorua is very much a tourist trap but you can't really tamper with this type of natural activity
I cycled into town on the Sunday and visited the small Maori village of Ohinemutu. It has a wonderfully decorated marae, or meeting place, but it wasn't open to visitors on that day as they were having a very special ceremony to recognize the return by the Auckland Museum of the 200 year old remains of one of their ancestors.
The decorative carvings, paintings and woven work by the Maori which I have seen in other places are amazing and are very similar in style to that of the First Nation in Canada's Pacific Northwest. If I had unlimited funds I could see myself becoming a collector.
And speaking of Canada, I have been carrying a travel supplement on NZ since British Columbia which recommended a trip with Spellbound Tours to see the glowworms at the Waitomo Caves and I did just that. It was brilliant, definitely a highlight of North Island. It was a small tour, only 10 people, very low tech and not touristy at all. 2 of the group were women from East Kilbride also on a 6 month trip and one of them is a very good friend of someone I used to play hockey with at school and FPs. Some of you reading this will know her as the person who never seemed to sweat or have a hair out of place - know who I mean? They also have a blog so we can keep tabs on one another.
Headed to Wellington via a couple of stops, one a small ski resort which you know you is frequented by a younger edgier crowd when the3 sign in the showers tells you not to use hair dye!
Oh and I popped into the New Zealand Rugby Museum. It was hilarious, you would think in a country where rugby is almost a religion and money has been part of the game for many years that the museum would be quite professional too. Well no, man on desk with very bad jumper seemed surprised that I wanted a look round and the exhibits looked like a few people had been asked to root around in their cupboards for any old memorabilia. I am exaggerating of course but it could have been much better. Best thing about it was it was easy to get from there to the main road to Wellington.
I was anxious to get to Wellington for a couple of reasons, one was to catch the ferry to South Island and the other was to pick up a piece of mail from the Poste Restante. I did have a bit of an admin hiccup in that I lost my credit card soon after arriving in NZ, no major issue as I was the only one who had been using it thankfully. But every problem has a solution so I set in motion plans to have new one wing its way to me - thanks Mac. Mission accomplished, sigh of relief and I went on to enjoy a very pleasant couple of days in Wellington. I spent most of the first day in the museum Te Papa and the second day in the Botanic Gardens. I also managed to take time to enjoy a very cold beer outside Macs Brewery on the waterfront.
I did miss out on Napier and the Eastern Cape and will probably regret that but maybe next time? It is till winter but the weather has been fantastic for most of the time, sunny and clear blue skies, cold though but you can wrap up and I have invested in a wee pair of knitted bootees form one of these craft co-ops where earnest older ladies sell their jams and other stuff. They might even make the trip back with me.
The campsites that I have been using have mostly been official well organized ones which have excellent facilities- I know you can save a few pounds free camping but it is cold at night and so it is good to be able to hook up to power and get the heater on. Also some of the free or cheap sites can be a bit isolated/dodgy so better safe than sorry.
As I write this I am on the Interislander ferry heading across the Cook Strait for the South Island. The crossing should be smooth as there is only a light northerly wind. I will try not save up weeks worth the next time!