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NEW ZEALAND | Sunday, 8 March 2009 | Views [1228] | Comments [2]

Nicola and Mr Bean, Bay of Islands Camp Site.

Nicola and Mr Bean, Bay of Islands Camp Site.

The HeywoodNotts go camping! Half out of declining financial resources (in our first fully developed (read expensive) country since we left the UK 4 months ago) and half out of a romantic notion of driving around New Zealand in a campervan. The finances first – for NZD69 per day (about GBP25) we rented ourselves a converted traders van – a Toyota Hi-ace. By converted – I mean – rather than the empty storage section of the van – a wooden framed storage unit had been fitted, which in turn turns in to a bed or an upright table depending on the time of day and in the boot a sink and kitchen cupboard. You also get a table and chairs, enough cutlery and pans for basic cooking and an empty LPG (or Gaz as my family used to call it in our late 70’s family camping holidays to Devon) cylinder.

We flew in from Santiago (Chile) to Auckland (New Zealand) and arrived at 04:00. We had arranged a nights accommodation at a local B&B, whose owner was good enough to let us check in at that ungodly hour and we managed to get a couple of hours sleep before we did our whistle-stop tour of the city. Up and refreshed we went straight to a café on the Ponsonby Road - one recommended by one of Nicola's friends (Julia Bedwell - much appreciated) - for eggs and bacon. Refuelled we jumped on the local bus - headed in to the downtown area of the city. We did a quick loop around the city centre - keeping Nicola away from as many of the nicer shops as possible and then we jumped on the ferry across the bay to Rangitoto Island - its a 40 minute ferry giving you a dormant volcano - with a great view of Auckland and the full with of New Zealand. The walk to the top was a good stretch of the legs, but not too tiring, plenty of kids and more mature people do it and well worth it for the photo opportunities. Back down the hill, slighlty different route to everyone else (wanted more exercise) and back on the ferry. The next day was to be a long drive, so we thought a curry and a couple of beers would aid our continued recovery from the previous days flight - we were out like a light.

 The following day we picked up the campervan – as described above on the inside..... and spray painted with a mural of Mr Bean flicking the Vs on the outside (picture attached) and hit the road. Mr Bean was a little on the slow side on the motorway and he was not too keen on hills either, but averaging 80-90kms most of the way – we managed to get to out first campsite after 5 hours or so 350km awaya, but with a couple of stops for food and to fill the gaz bottle. We stayed just outside Whangerei, in a small but well maintained campsite, had dinner in the kitchen block and fell asleep early. Bed very comfortable and enough room for me to fully extend myself. Little to say about Whangerei itself – rolling hills, small villages, little coves etc – in fact quite like Devon.


The next morning we were up with the sparrows – not out of choice, but because all campsite throw out times is 10am! Sounds okay, but when you have to have cook breakfast yourself, have a shower (when one is available) and then perform an episode of Changing Rooms in the van – turning it from a comfortable boudoir to a living cum dining room cum lounge, cum conservatory takes all of Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen’s skills. On the road to our first real destination – the Bay of Islands and Pahia – one of the must sees in New Zealand – the Pacific Ocean meets Devon and the location of the first English settlements back in the middle of the 19th century. We were here for the weather – 24 degrees when we arrived, for the sailing (yes Nicola back on another boat) and for the beautiful marine scenery. We did little on the first day – the sun was out, we had lots of books to read (after Jamie kindly bought us the current top 10 best sellers list) and so just sunbathed for most of the afternoon. A quick run for both of us was followed by our first outdoor cooking and eating experience – chicken pasta in a tomato pesto sauce – delicious – all the more so for it being cooked on the gaz burner with limited equipment. Good skills Nicola.


So sailing again! I think this is the 5th boat Nicola has been on since we started the trip – given she swore off all sailing after the Panama to Colombia experience (3-4 meter swell remember). This boat was pretty impressive though – 20 odd meter catamaran (named On the Edge), with a top speed of 30 !!!! knots – we had a pretty windy day, but only managed to hit about 15, but this still felt like we were flying. The trip was with 20 others, mostly youngish backpackers (I am putting Nicola and I in the youngish backpacker category), you sail through the inlet, around the islands and then land at one of the prettiest, swim a little, kayak a little, a spot of lunch and then back to the mainland after 6 hours. The weather was rubbish for lounging around, but really quite good for sailing, it was not long before we were cutting through the waves, well no actually slapping over the top of the waves and everyone getting very wet indeed. We arrived at our lunch time destination with the sun trying valiantly to poke through, with a little success. I lead the way in to the water and swam from our anchor point to the island and then Nicola and I climbed to the highest peak – some good piccies showing the bay and the clear azure ocean.


The following day we had to make tracks back towards Auckland as rather than driving and ferrying to the South Island we decided to fly and pick up a new camper van (slightly cheaper this way round). Whilst time was pressing we still dropped in to the Waitangi museum – to see an original settlers home, a Maori long boat and a Maori meeting house. We had a very informative 1.5 hour tour and a shuffle around the old house. Next stop on our travel day was to Sheepworld!!!! A interactive museum with sheep shearing, lamb feeding, lots of woolen products etc – unfortunately when we got their the rain had not stopped in 3 days, so everything was sodden, so after taking a few pictures of the pink (!), spray painted pink sheep we continued back towards Auckland.


Dropping off the van in Auckland was easy, Mr Bean was not damaged and we had covered about 900km in all.


The South Island started pretty much the same way as the North. One day in Christchurch, little done , but mooch around, inspect the under whelming Christchurch cathedral – I really have to question its cathedral status – it is about as big as most English town churches – but hey if it’s the best they have I suppose they can call it a cathedral. Christchurch is recognized as the most English of the New Zealand cities – and we would agree – lovely, but not really why we came travelling. The only slight difference was our new van, it was an old Toyota Previa – or people carrier – also with the seats cut out and a storage/bed unit inserted in to it. This one slightly smaller, but a much better drive, up to 100km per hour and it could actually go up hills!


We decided to try and get as far south as possible as quickly as possible (speed limits permitting), so day 2 in the south island was going to be a big one – 500kms. As it turned out – with two of us driving, good weather and a pretty straight road we made good time and were in time for us both to go for a run, knock up some more pasta and chicken (just like being a student again) and making it to the local pub for the second half of the big game – the super 14s (rugby union team tournament between NZ, Oz and SA) between the Dunedin Highlanders (where we were) and the Christchurch Crusaders (where we were the day before). It is the big game as it is between the two south island New Zealand teams and the Crusaders won the whole tournament last year. The game was tense!! Is that a good way to describe a game that did not see a try or even a point until 15 minutes before the end. That tense-ness was brilliant for a neutral though – we were in the pub with loads of the Dunedin supporters who were all effing and blinding at the screen all the way through – lots of jokes and banter. We enjoyed the atmosphere so much more than the game itself – even got chatting to a couple of the old soaks – really friendly – a good night.


The next day we jumped in the van and tried to spot some penguins, we knew they were in the vicinity, but we did not know that they were either out at sea most of the day or were malting, so just sitting around miserably. We called off the search early and tracked down the much more co-operative fur seals. Unfortunately the weather closed in on Dunedin in the afternoon, so we decided to try and drive out of it. We headed north west towards Queenstown, but as its another 500km away and it was pouring own with rain, we drove through mountains and we barely spotted a straight road it was much slower going than the Christchurch to Dunedin leg. We made it as far as Cromwell and to a small campsite in Bannockburn, just around the corner. The drive was very hilly, lots of epic scenes, majestic rain clouds, a couple of rainbows – the piccies capture it all.


The following day we made it to another one of our key destinations – Queenstown. Whilst we do not really have the money to do any of the fancy activities – white water rafting (which we did in Argentina), river jet boating (which I have done before) or bungy jumping (which I have now interest in (but interestingly Nicola seemed to be contemplating the day before over a glass of wine!!!)) we thought a good day hike we suffice. The weather was decidedly average in the morning, but the forecast was for it to clear – so we postponed departure until lunchtime and shortened the walk by taking the gondola up the first section of the walk (saving us 1.5 hours). Whilst the weather could not be described as good when we started, it was better than the morning and there were signs that it could improve – it didn’t!!!! It remained the same, but as we gained altitude that same weather hit us with more force – after 1.5 hours of climbing and getting to 1300 metres we were in gale force winds, whipping rain, some hail (like tiny pins in the face) and a fluttering of snow. Nicola did a short piece to camera to show you how inclement the weather was (see videos). As safety officer, Nicola decided it would be too dangerous to carry on and we failed our attempt at the Ben Lohmond summit (1749m). Back to the gondola, a shower and change of clothes, a slow defrost and we were good for more pasta and chicken. The poor weather continued with news on the radio that a cold snap was hitting the country for the next couple of days – as we were sleeping in the back of a people carrier the 5 degree nights were starting to nip – so again to avoid the worst of the weather we decided to head north first thing the next morning.


Now the return trip – back up the west coast, more alpine forests – a stop at a brilliant driftwood beach (an excellent Heinz tomato soup lunch on the gaz fire), a glimpse of the Franz Josef Glacier (only a glimpse as the path closer was closed due to ice falls!!) and a 30 minute stop at the famous pancake cliffs and blowholes. The cliffs were interesting, but the highlight was the blowholes. The ocean gets forced in to sea level caves and then up through small holes, some 20 meters and then spurts another couple of meters in to the air – pictures give you a better idea. Not amazing I know, but as we had such low expectations we really enjoyed our shorted journey break there and a lot better than Watford Gap service station. More driving, more driving – a night in Hokitika, fish and chip supper, a lovely sunset and then back on the road – heading to Marlborough wine country and Picton.


Picton is the main port for inter-island ferries and a very pretty bay surrounded by the Marlborough Sounds, again big hills, deep valleys, more azure ocean. There are two things to do in and around Picton – walk and drink. As Nicola and I our now proficient at both we gave them both a whirl. One day we popped in to a couple of the local vineyards – or as they call them here wineries – the best one being Cloudy Bay – a tipple we used to drink on short summer evenings in London. As we are going to Margaret River (near Perth, Australia) next week and the home to their sister vineyards we though it would be nice to try both. The Marlborough region is most famous for its sauvignon blanc wines – all very crisp and fruity (especially Cloudy Bay) and a decent splosh of Pinot Noir as well. The next day was for walking – just a few hours along the Queen Charlotte track, but we managed to find a sufficiently steep bit for us to scramble up and get some beautiful views of the whole area.


We are now in Kaikoura (150km noth of Christchurch), having spotted a few seals on the drive down from Picton yesterday (still the penguins are proving to be illusive) and are having one internet day before flying tomorrow to Perth.


Another country done. A different experience to all ones before now – our first developed country, the first English speaking country and the first country where we have lived in a car for the whole time!

Message from Steven, Dunedin, South Island. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spab7nGX0z4

Message from Ben Lomond, Queenstown. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6JUuWnxd9w

Tags: new zealand



hi guys!!!!! how are u doing??? remember me right????
I was wondering about yoour long trip and decided to write. I really miss u Nicola and Steve...
let me now something about u. I'm still working and in 2 weeks _I start the collegue again...
I hopeu write to me soon!!!!!

  pitu Mar 26, 2009 11:52 AM


Hey adventurers,
still getting your postcards though we're not quite sure where you are now. It really felt like we were travelling with you.
Can't wait to see you when you get back to Europe,

  Nath Oct 3, 2009 4:21 AM

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