03.09.2011 - 26.09.2011
Hello New Zealand
Kia Ora, from the land of the mighty all blacks and the cute little kiwi's, sweet as!!
After managing to make the connection flight in Sydney, it got to last call quickly, we arrive in Auckland. On first look flying in, the airport was surrounded with lots of green fields, some sheep and covered by a grey cloudy sky – are we back in Wales? Meurig made the mistake of leaving his flip flops and shorts on, a bit of a climate change from Singapore!!! Tim and his daughter Millie were kindly there at arrivals to meet us, and on the way into town he took us for a quick trip up to the top of Mount Eden, an old volcano and Maori fort, where we got a great view over down town Auckland and the harbour and got our bearings. Tim (Rich's brother) had kindly offered to put us up for a few nights before we picked up the campervan, but what we didn't know was where! As his friends/work mates were away for a month we were allowed to stay at their fab flat above Tim's office, 40'' plasma tv with sky, pub on the corner and a 20min walk from town. We definitely indulged in some home comforts and after popping to the local shop for some western food we cooked and chillaxed for a good two days, we were even treated to a chicken dinner at Tim's house. Awesome!
Auckland by far the biggest city in NZ with over a 1/3 of the country's population living in or around, is located in a big natural harbour created by over 20 volcano’s and the Waikato river, with a classic iron bridge connecting the two sides. The sky tower at the centre is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere and when we went up it was an amazing day, blues skies and as clear as the eye could see, not a bad place to have a coffee and cake, for a couple hundred dollars you could even jump off it, maybe next time! The underfoot glass panel in the observation deck was a weird experience, you shouldn't be able to see hundreds of feet below you! Down on the harbour front was where the rugby party was due to happen or party central as it was nicknamed, they had a stage, massive inflated rugby ball and a huge marquee bar. We were a few days early as party time didn't kick off until the opening ceremony on the 9th September, but visitors were allowed to have a wonder around some sections before the big day.
The morning we picked up the van we started the day off with a fried brekkie (it had been a while) and made it over to Escape's office. We tried to guess which van would be ours and multicoloured is not the word to describe these vans. Whoever has the imagination and the artistic skill to paint these vans is one talented person. We ended up with Manga, a van covered in Japanese style animation and with our solar shower, heater, gas bbq, picnic table & chairs we were sent on our way for 7 whole weeks in this beast! At first you are a bit paranoid about people staring at your flashy van & it took a while to get used to but you do forget and it's kind of reassuring when you pass a fellow escape camper on the road. With a map and some instructions from Tim we set off north of Auckland and the aim was to get to Cape Reinga and back in 3 days in time for kick off.
Up round and back to Auckland
Meurig offered himself up for the first section of the drive, probably best due to his previous vaning experience but we did have fully comp insurance just in case! It has to be said that NZ signs are clear and we managed to get out of Auckland no problems. Our mission was to quickly explore Northland and go back down to Auckland for the opening ceremony at the waterfront zone. Our first stop was about 3 hours away or maybe 2 if you weren't rubbernecking like us, seen as Wales gets plagued enough by those people in summer so we thought we'd return the favour elsewhere! The first camp was next to lovely Urititi beach, we paid the old lady in the caravan £4 each, and parked up. The only problem was it wasn’t 30° any more, more like 5° with a wind, so the cold showers weren’t so appealing and the sea water “refreshing”. First meal cooked in the van was a spaghetti Bolognese with lots of cheese, not so fast with one hob, and no cider because they now only accept passport for foreign ID (we'll have to pick them up from Tim in Auckland)!
The next couple of days we drove up through Whangarei (Fangarai) and up the east coast road through the craggy bay of islands, getting used to the van and new Zealand (and finding out they have free internet for all in the NZ libraries!! Now that’s an incentive to go ) . We stayed on Cape Karikari in a DOC campsite(government run, bit like the forestry commission who should do this) right at the end of a long gravel track, with a hand full of vans in a massive site over looking doubtless bay. After a blustery night in the morning we even saw mini fluffy flightless birds, we don’t think they were Kiwi's because their beak didn’t look big enough and they were only jam jar sized, but we'll try find out. That day we motored north up the Auporei Peninsular to where the white light house stands, & where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific.
From the northern most point of the mainland this is where the Maori believe the spirits of the dead fly to travel to the other world, the rocky out reach even has a sacred lonely wind swept tree braving the elements. Whilst we were passing we checked out 90mile beach, an impressive flat beach as far as the eye can see but more like 90km. You can even drive down it and miss out the road, but insurance null & void, so boringly we just took the road. We were given the details from Tim of a nice private holiday parking area we could stay but after stopping for fish and chips, and running over a possom (no it's fine, they're a foreign invader which NZ are trying to exterminate!! quite cute though lol) we settled for a beach side car park with a public toilet. A classic surfers place with a couple of estate cars parked up the body and board inside, lovely to wake up to! It Must be awesome place for swimming and snorkelling in the summer, one day!!!
The day of the opening ceremony was here, the rugby world cup down the road!!! There was a bit of excitement in the air (or maybe it was just Meurig) all the radio stations were talking about it, flags flying on every street and arty stuff outside schools, and cars and campers plastered in all sorts of things! But as we were reaching Auckland we began to hear about the story that the Auckland city council were telling people not to come to the Party zone down the waterfront as there would only be 12,000 people allowed in to the Fan Zone and by some miracle there were more than that coming to the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup...... We parked out side Tim's Office which we were allowed to use again and wondered in town. The All Blacks were playing Tonga that night with loads of supporters already in town early afternoon. We didn't realise that Tonga would be wearing red so a few people shouted 'go Tonga'. Other than a red jersey I don't think we look Tongan somehow! There was a huge line of people waiting to get into the fan zone, about 1km in length and more people kept on coming! The area was meant to open at 3 but come 3.30 it was already full and we'd moved down a couple of yards!(so the radio stations were right after all) Oh well off to find a pub then. We found a backpackers pub, met a few Welsh guys there, watched the opening ceremony, ran outside for the fireworks & watched the game. There were loads of different nationalities in Auckland that night and was a pretty good night all in all. We watched most of the other games on the big tv in the flat, most notably the Wales v's SA game which was painful to take at the end!!
Coromandle Peninsular, Bay of Plenty and across to Hamilton
Next destination after Auckland was the Coromandel Peninsular. It wasn't a very long drive and we soon found ourselves in Thames a small town where massive amounts of gold used to be mined. The drive further along the coast was beautiful, passing sandy beaches, rocky beaches & little harbours where the locals fish for mussels which are very tasty. Coromandel town is also quite small, we arrived late afternoon but decided to get to one of the local attractions before dark. So we headed a short distance out of town to the Water Works, a kind of adventure park with water features all made from recycled bits and bobs which rely on the pressure of the water coming down the hill. The place even has a zip wire and a hamster wheel which is a lot harder then it looks! We were offered to stay the night in the car park and were also given the chance to do some work in return for a meal. Meurig was off up the hill with the groundsman to fix a problem with the water flow and later helped planting tomatoes (the gardener passed on some tips so roll over Titchmarsh when we get back). We were given a home made fish pie for supper and even a baked fruitcake for pudding!! On the other side of the penninsula you will find more sandy beaches and one in particular is pretty cool – hot water beach. Literally if you dig a hole in the sand at low tide water will flow into it through the sand and it is pipping hot. So even on a fairly windy, chilly day you get beachgoers & the kiwi experience bus riders in boardies & bikinis bathing in the hot water! A couple of km up the road is Cathedral cove which is a secluded sandy beach where scenes from the film Prince Caspian were filmed. There is an archway carved from the rock which is passable dependant on tide and even a toilet block has been built hidden in the bushes with a sea view! Coromandel is a very picturesque area with some cool coastline which is also meant to be one of the best spots in NZ to snorkel, gutted it was too cold!
On the way down south east towards the bay of plenty we visited an old gold mine with bits of salvaged machinery & huge furnaces left lying around, and walked a bit further on to a gorge walk but it was more of a river meander, nice water fall though. After a load of basic camping it was time to go posh, a “Top10” campsite, great facilities and showers and coincidently a night of rugby on their big TV! In the morning we climbed Tawaranga hill/Maori fort and continued further down the coast to the Kiwi 360. Did you know the kiwi fruit originates from the Chinese gooseberry, has been developed by the Kiwi's to what it is today, a furry long lasting super fruit and a high majority of them come from volcanic soil in the bay of plenty. We managed to stay in a village along the coast with a pub so we could catch the AB's play Japan, bit of a thrashing all in all and the pub felt very local but interesting. We had enough time on the Saturday morning to explore Whakatane town, climb the viewpoint for a view of the town & coast, but the main tourist attraction is a trip to the active volcanic white island which was way out of our backpacker budget – definitely do it next time we're in NZ. Unfortunately a few weeks later an oil tanker ran aground and there is a huge oil slick along the Bay of Plenty, it must be horrific because the water was so blue & clear.
We left the Bay of Plenty and made our way to Hamilton via the top of Rotorua but not actually going into the town as we planned to visit there later on. Hamilton was the first of our rugby world cup matches, Wales v's Samoa, which would not be an easy task for Wales seen as they were in the group of death! We stayed at the Glenview club which was a members club in the suburbs but this weekend it was taken over by Welsh supporters and their campervans. They had a big screen with all the matches on and the main one of interest was the Ireland v's Australia game. It was amusing seeing all the Kiwi's supporting Ireland due to the Tasman sea rivalry and indeed Ireland won so everyone was happy, well apart from the 2 Aussies we met! The city centre had a fan zone set up with the street closed off and a huge screen showing the games. It felt like match day in Cardiff with all the red jerseys around, mainly in the pubs that is! The stadium was about a 20 min walk from town and was pretty full with plenty of support for both sides and a few neutrals thrown in. Wales won 17-10 but it wasn't the easiest or the best of matches but a win none the less. We were able to meet up with the Welsh lads we'd met on the opening night in Auckland and headed back into town for some celebratory drinking. We would be back in Hamilton for another Wales match in a couple of weeks so onwards we went heading for the east coast and Hawkes bay.
Hawkes Bay over to New Plymouth
The easiest way down to Hawkes Bay from Hamilton meant we had to go via Taupo. It was a pretty grey & merky day by the lake so it was just a pit stop for lunch and on we went along the thermal explorer highway. What we didn't realise was that this road was by far the most secluded route we had been on so far which meant no petrol stations for over 130km and only a quarter of a tank left (and the gauge was also a bit dodgy just to add to the mix)! Sian has never driven so conservatively in her life, max speed 80km other than when we were going down hill in neutral to save as much fuel as possible. Meurig was getting more tense by the minute as road seemed to be never ending. Eventually after climbing a mountain range (yeah the road wasn't even flat they had to chuck in some hardcore climbs) we came down into Hawkes bay and a petrol station wohoo. A little tip from the guy who worked there 'don't do this in the south island or you will be screwed'. We found a nice lake north of Napier to camp next to and chilled for the rest of the night. Napier city was rebuilt in the 1930's after a massive earthquake which reclaimed a huge amount of land from the sea and flattened nearly all the buildings. So the majority of the buildings are in an art deco style, which is a world away from some of the traditional old buildings back at home. They have a lot of decoration around windows, doors and are painted quite brightly, it kind of feels like being in a 1920's film or something! Hawkes bay is famous for vineyards and fruit growing, and there are wine tours available. Unfortunately Meurig does not like wine so there was not much point in paying for the wine tasting tour and he would have to sit there watching Sian get sloshed (actually that wouldn't have been such a bad idea but I was being considerate). The coastline was also quite impressive especially the long walk along the bottom of some huge cliffs to reach cape kidnappers. You can only do this walk at low tide and we didn't get to the end unlike the woman who passed us jogging the whole way, crazy lady! On our way back we found a nice spot down the road with a toilet right on a pebbly beach to camp over night, with the beach stretching for miles. But during the night we were disturbed by a car driving around, parking and suddenly plonked something under the windscreen wipers. We didn’t get out but we pretty sure we'd just got a ticket as we were not a self contained vehicle, but to our surprise the car driving round at 11ish had only given us a warning flyer so no harm done.
Next day we started our journey from east to west coast, and we took the scenic/direct route over the Kaweka mountain range on a part gravel part tarmac windy road. A nice drive full of rolling green hills turning into forested snow capped mountains with crystal clear rivers. On our way we stopped for lunch in a isolated DOC in the alpine feel mountains sheltered from the wind and in blazing sunshine, so after our sausage sandwiches and cuppa we just pulled out the cushions and lay in the sun to the sound of birds and the odd buzzing creature scaring Sian.
We found this little town called Okahune at the foot of the Ruapheu volcano with a DOC camp just up the road towards the snow capped top. Great view but also a good breeze blowing down the volcano so very chilly. In the morning we decided to follow the busy traffic up the climb to the top and got waved into the ski resort car park right at the top where we took some photos and then left. The town it self had a ski resort feel to it but it also had a mountain bike scene. We went on a half day trail, following the old coach and train line from north the south. Sian was hopping for a gentle peddle but unfortunately it was a bit of a mountain bike trail with some good downs and obviously some up hills to, although a bit muddy so a bit hard going at times. To our delight on the way back to camp there was “the keg” a hot spa & hot swimming pool in an alpine looking cabin which we soaked in to relax and recover.
Next we headed down the forgotten highway south east towards Stafford, the route of an old Maori road through the hills, valleys and gauges of the Whangamomona area, it gets pretty remote and the road is gravel for a big section, good job it was mainly sunny and nice. It was the night of the NZ v's France game, so after checking out the town we head for the biggest pub/inn we found. As it had a large car park we popped in and asked if we could camp down in there car park after the game and have some drinks, the landlady was obliging. Inside above the bar to our surprise were Cardiff blues and Wales rugby shirts and all relatively new, all belonging to the previous owner apparently and the landlady had just left them up. To our surprise the pub emptied in the run up to the game, everyone had gone home to watch it (On a Saturday night)! So we ended up watching the triumphant kiwi's pummel the French with only a handful of locals, but we did get a free jug of beer from a hen do traveling through and met Luke McCallister's (ex all black) drunk aunties in the pub who updated us with his situation and said getting away from his manager/dad to France was the best thing he had done, although his best rugby years were behind him lol.
With the weekend of rugby upon us we travel round the Mt Egmont/tTeranaki volcano which forms the western peninsular, stopping off for a walk to a waterfall and past the oldest hydro generator in NZ before skirting up the surf coastal highway to New Plymouth where we found a car park in the centre of town over run with welsh coloured vans parked for the night & just over the road from the fan zone, so we joined them!
New Plymouth is a nice little place no bigger than Aberystwyth, and has really embraced the rugby world cup and the fans, with flags all over with the pubs and shops making the most of it. There's even a Celtic pub except for the fact all the walls inside are only covered in Scottish and Irish memorabilia (Says a bit about how the Welsh are regarded down here, not much!!) On match day we stumble upon a small gathering of welsh vans/supporters in the swimming pool car par (getting a shower) right on the seaside on the outskirts of town and they had been camping without hassle there for the week so we decide to join them and crack open the cider and get out the camping chairs in the blistering sunshine in preparation for the Namibia game. As the afternoon disappeared with more cider and more campers slowly joining inn, the three welsh boy's from first night in Auckland + Hamilton even turned up from Wellington. The atmosphere at the game was good and bubbling, we even got the chance to shout over Shane Williams for a picture & a chat before the game which he was happy to do. The result was as hoped with a decent performance whilst resting some players, so in celebration we joined with the others after the game and headed into town to hit a couple of pubs and have a take away kiwi burger, ie + egg and beetroot.