Kia Ora! What nicer way to make a blog post comeback than smacking you in the middle of storm Ciara with some sunshine, rolling hills and van door snapshots of our three week roadie around the beautiful country of New Zealand (I apologise in advance for any spelling mistakes, incredibly long sentences or just a concoction of unstrung words that make no sense – I’ve never experienced jet lag quite like this before!).
I would also like to take a line or two to comment on the welcoming of 2020. We have begun this year in good spirits, still living with grief and obsolete expectations for the year that lie ahead, however we woke up to serenity and beauty for the first month so its hard not to be driven by the positivity it brings. 2019 will always be about Maddison, solely. Sure, it was about growth and trauma too, but ultimately, the first 4 months were filled with a terrific excitement to meet her, followed by just that… my body entered shock and remained that way for months whilst my head tried to absorb just an ounce of new reality. I love Maddison, she’s my first born child and no amount of smiling photo’s and new adventures will ever replace her so please don’t expect that of me. Expect open emotions and many statements surrounding baby loss and grief, see the smiles and know that she is loved, thought of and wished for behind every single one. But know that we are happy, we have found some peace without her physical presence, but there will be days that the hole she has left does nothing but consume me. I don’t expect too much of myself nowadays and it helps me live a little lighter. We should welcome moments that challenge our emotions. Enough of the tough stuff, welcome to New Zealand…
North Island: Days 1-7
Auckland – Paihia, Bay of Islands – Rotorua – Lake Taupo – Wellington.
If I had to describe the North in just one sentence it would be summarised to this: “A traditional and open culture is built within the character and landscape of this beautiful yet sometimes smelly island. Hear a pin drop and watch it ripple across the open waters whilst sipping on a cold tipple on some deck somewhere”.
Now I am well aware this itinerary has far from touched the edges of this island, but a limit on time and a lot of miles to cover left our path fairly limited. Still, we discovered enough of an introduction to kiwi life and saw some pretty cool sights that I feel content I’ve left enough to return to in the near future.
Auckland was our first stop after a long 25 hour flight, switching planes at Bangkok and to our surprise the jet lag didn’t seem too inconvenient that we managed a walk through the city, along the harbour and our first taste of local cuisine at a rooftop harbour restaurant before the day was done. Our first night to catch up on rest before picking up the van and unfortunately I’d booked us into what might as well have been a box for the night in a bid to save on money after having the fear of NZ prices being instilled into me. Baaad mistake. In hindsight I definitely would have paid a few more dollars to at least get a place with blinds to block out the oh-so-thin-ozone-layer sunlight at 9pm! The next morning we picked up our camper (introducing big bertha! aka. the two berth mercedes transit or just where the magic happens) and headed north to Paihia; a beautiful little paradise with a big soul and bowl of ice cream! We checked into a paid campsite purely due to the limited amount of sites that weren’t already full with it being the most popular week for family holidays in the bay of islands and decided not only to experience the cute area on foot, but from the air too! Within 24 hours we’d thrown ourselves out of a plane at 12,000ft in aid of Maddison’s Movement (Thank you for the sponsors guys!) and suffered with slight nausea for the first few hours that followed! The drive up seemed fairly long and as it was our only destination this far north we based ourselves here for two nights and enjoyed our first countdown experience, food shopping for a campervan (yep, this is where the prices sting compared to LIDL! Think Netto choices but at the cost of M&S…. Netto, who???) before an afternoon napping on the beach.
After two days in a turquoise bubble, we packed up and prepped for a long stint on the road down to Rotorua. Otherwise known as the geothermal spot tucked in the centre of the north that smells of rotten eggs but soothes your body quicker than a dose of morphine. As sad as I am to admit, our experience of this little town wasn’t the best, but at no cause of the place itself. Two grumpy and pretty exhausted heads just wanted to settle down for the night as soon as we arrived, despite witnessing what an awake mind would consider an adrenaline playground seeing people zorb down mountains in giant inflatable balls. Sadly for us, we were hungry and spent a long time driving around trying to find a spot that would fit our van so we could catch some grub and a wander round the streets. It wasn’t happening so by 6pm we admitted defeat and parked up at the polynesian spa, taking ourselves off for a few hours to de-stress and get our shit together. All i’ll say is that it helped.
Adjusting to life ‘on the road’ is hard, especially when its your first time and despite the short amount of time doing it, don’t underestimate the inability to find space, mentally when you are driving for hours on end to find somewhere ‘legal’ to sleep. Fast forward a few hours and we had bedded down in a random government car park at the side of Lake Rotorua. (I would not advise this, it is technically illegal and if we had been caught, we could be facing a hefty fine, along with the other 10 campers that had the same idea, but needs must!). I’ll use this experience as a typical Instagram vs. reality example.. the picture above shows you only the 2 hours of sanity we shared that day. We were in the most beautiful country, perhaps in the world and here we are moaning.. selfish or what.
As with any bad day, the following morning is a chance to recover. That we did, for approximately 1 hour. Our grand plan of ditching van life breakfast and finding an independant roadside cafe to indulge in calories as we washed away the wasted hours of the previous day backfired the moment we pulled up to what looked a quirky and unique foodie stop from the outside, but was closed for the holidays on the inside. Typical. Although you could say it was a bit of a breath of fresh (ignore the high sulphur content) air, to see a community that still operated on a ‘time out’ basis. Tourists can cope regardless and it was a nice insight into a more laid back approach to working and earning. So, coffee from Starbucks it was as we began, before stumbling across a perfect brunch spot (that was open) before a short trip south to our next and first ‘planned’ lake stop: Taupo.
Here comes the sun, do do do do, here comes the sun and I say, its alright… Only joking! Que: Why does it always rain on meeee……. well our mood wasn’t lifting any lighter than a stop at a dump station to empty the broken down contents of excrement and result in getting grey water over your clean for a day only shorts. I realised by this point I was experiencing a few rounds in the ring with the van; the van winning every time and finishing me off with a final jab to the ribs as we pulled up to the beautiful free car park overlooking the lake, that was somewhere underneath the fog and heavy downpour. I felt a little defeated and knowing that time was slipping by for us to enjoy this holiday really laid the pressure on thick, so thats kind of where the misery came to a head. I was overcome with emotion that afternoon and to be honest, fed up of things going wrong, in a deeper context of the word. Jason and I had gone through the shittest year, I’d put all my love island eggs in one basket prior to this holiday that it was going to be the break we needed and at least, deserved. I felt that I had failed creating that ‘free spirit’ vibe of going with the flow of travel and taking in every moment for what it was, but I guess thats the problem of knowing your on a time limit, every moment seems too precious to waste. Little did I know, our luck was about to change and this mysterious lake turned the sky a beautiful shade of vibrant pink and as the fog lifted, so did our attitude, enough that we dug out the pac-a-macs and took a walk in the rain. We slept pretty well that night and someone out there was willing us to get a good morning coffee which finally came in the form of an old roadside airstream, with the nicest macadamia nut and white chocolate chip freshly baked cookies.
After a long, but vast and beautiful drive, we found ourselves smack bang in the centre of windy welly. In simple terms, I loved it there. It was an amalgamation of everything I plan to have a ‘good’ day.. we secured a spot for our camper on the side of Cuba street for no more than £20 each (considering this is the capital!) and within a few hours, ended up at the top of Mt. Victoria, gazing at the city’s vibe from above. With a San Francisco-esque feeling to the hilly streets and pretty houses that line the surrounding areas of the city’s centre, it felt welcoming and homely, as though there were too many festoon lit, coffee or stronger tipple choice watering holes to make anyone feel out of place so we took the opportunity to make today our chance for a pub crawl and good food, that of course finished with ice cream. It was the perfect ending to our first week and the sights of the North. (A little advice however, choose wisely about embarking on a pub crawl the night before catching a 3 hour ferry! *puke*)
And that folks, concludes this post, until part 2 of the trip whereby a very different vibe will be evident. As a little disclaimer I’d like to mention that whilst I chose to highlight the ‘pit’ aspect of this holiday, we reflect upon those days with laughter and emotion. It is important not to get blind sighted by what has been built up to be the most perfect scene in your mind for the entirety of the time it took to plan it, whatever that may be. I was at fault of this, I let that perfect vision take over when things didn’t turn out as well or as serene as expected and it’s often hard to admit that when photo’s show nothing of the sort. It was and will always be an important part of this beautiful and mesmerising holiday that was otherwise filled with intimacy, laughter and moments that took our breath away, so here’s to keeping it real. Below is a list of the important stuff to help those of you who are planning your own NZ road trip. I hope that if your reading this, you highly consider visiting the country at some point in your life, it would be a shame for you to only witness it through my eyes.
Weather at time of visiting: Early January in NZ was mostly warm. In the Bay of Islands it reached 28 degrees, just bright sunshine. Further south it dipped in temperature but nothing below shorts and t-shirt weather, except in the evenings when a jumper is preferable. Rainy day temperatures remained warm.
Apps: Campermate for essential free and paid campsites near you, as well as dump stations and supermarkets. An offline map is preferable if you don’t want to eat through a lot of data. Download the whole of NZ before arriving to ensure you can get going after van pick up.
Campervan: We used and I highly recommend Ratpack Travel. Sammy takes amazing care of you through easy forms of communication as soon as your deciding on a quote. He runs his small (but reputable) business from his own van based in Byron, Australia and he himself has spent two years travelling NZ, so is on hand for tips and advice as well as providing you with the cheapest rate going on van bookings. They operate on a guarantee that provides you with a booking, only if its cheaper than the going online rate. We had zero issues with our van throughout the three weeks we spent there and definitely felt we got value for money including extras and ALL forms of insurance.
Don’t Forget: New Zealand travel now requires NZeTA authorisation, basically allowing you to travel into the country visa free and costs about $47 pp in total so make sure this is sorted before you travel, otherwise you won’t get checked in at the airport. // In addition to the important stuff, it is a good idea to carry a couple of tote/re-usable bags in your luggage as plastic bags are banned in NZ (yay) and therefore your food shop at countdown could rack up a tad more should you need to invest in multiple paper bags (these also come in handy as beach/shower bags going from the van to and from facilities). // Most vans we saw were automatic and diesel, therefore make sure you are aware of diesel tax that needs to be paid upon the return of your vehicle (ours was about $250 for three weeks). // When picking up your van, check the ‘take me’ section of the office as this is where many travellers leave items they don’t wish to take home so you can save a few pennies if you find someone has been extra generous! Obviously, don’t forget to do the same with any left over goods on your departure. // We found there was never any need to pre-book campsites in busy areas as long as your happy to drive around a while to find a spot (and price) that your happy with. // Consider a prepaid travel card to use for payment if you have a fair bit of money saved up for your holiday. In three weeks we withrew only $900 in cash and stored the rest on a post office travel card which you can transfer directly to from the app in the local currency, meaning the exchange rate is better than paying out per transaction on a credit card which usually comes with the additional 2% charge. Unless of course you have found a credit card that works better. I would highly recommend saving as much as possible prior to visiting NZ purely down to this fact. The only places which did not accept a travel card were some smaller town ‘pay at pump’ gas stations and a few small bakeries that unfortunately only accept cards registered to a NZ account. Absolutely everywhere else accepted them. // The chip and pin process comes with a few options to select prior to inputting your pin. Cheque, Savings and Credit. We obviously never used the cheque option, only savings for a debit card and credit for either our travel or credit cards. // The speed is measured in km/h rather than mph and the maximum speed on a national speed limit open road is 100km/h (there were a few cop cars sat watching traffic, even on the long open stretches of pretty isolated routes). // USB converters and adapters that can be plugged into your 12v car cigarette lighter so that you can charge electrical items whilst driving. If you want to make the most of the free camps, you’ll likely be away from an electrical outlet for a few days at a time so be sure to charge everything whilst the van is in motion. // Travel versions of your favourite games and squishy suitcases that can be made compact so they take up as little room in your van as possible. Although we rented a 2 berth mercedes sprinter and it could comfortably fit two larger suitcases if you don’t have duffle/sports type.