Existing Member?

Two People, Fourteen Months, One huge world!

Kiwi Summer

NEW ZEALAND | Wednesday, 30 March 2016 | Views [831] | Comments [1]

With the onset of the Northern winter we decided to visit the world's best country for tourists (Telegraph Magazine for the past four years). At first it seemed a ridiculous prospect - to take a holiday from our journey on the other side of the world and cross the world twice in doing so - however, the more we thought about it the more it made sense and, once committed we were blessed to find an introductory fare from China Southern which was about half the price of normal but only available on the exact day we wanted to travel! Sometimes things are just meant to be. Cost-wise we had to add the cost of one standard round the world airfare but that would be balanced to a fair degree by the fact that we could use our own car, stay with relatives and friends from time to time and use our own camping gear so that we could stay cheaply around the country. That was the theory but would it work out like that?

I am happy to say that the answer was largely "yes". We stayed for a while in Christchurch catching up with family and friends and were fortunate enough to be able to stay with our church friends Peter and Debbie when we needed to be local to Mt. Pleasant while our home from home was on the farm with Tamara's parents. It was worth it just to see some of the suprised looks on people's faces when we walked in!

Journey Back To Middle Earth 

Back to Middle Earth

One of the benefits of travelling for so long on a flexible agenda is that you have time available if you need it. It turned out that our friends Dennis and Raelene had quite the opposite situation. In order for them to lay their new carpet they needed to completely repaint the whole interior of their house using days off, evenings and weekends. 2 + 2 = 4. We had time; they needed time so we rolled up our sleeves to give them a decent head start. Five hard but rewarding days later pretty much the whole upper floor was complete and good progress was being made elsewhere. Raelene then burst in to tell us that we had struck gold! Our travel plans involved touring around the North Island, visiting amongst other places Great Barrier Island for a week and then a further week based on the Coromandel Peninsular. While we had been rolling paint Raelene had been hooking up free accommodation for us for both of these weeks as a thank you. Awesome!

And so it was that we packed up the car and headed north, staying the first night with our old friends Roy and Valerie near Picton before taking the ferry for a very picturesque voyage through the Marlborough Sounds and across the Cook Strait. The second part of this crossing can be very rough but we were presented with a mill pond for a very smooth crossing. We only intended to stay a night in Upper Hutt (near Wellington) but our friends Paul and Frances persuaded us to stay longer to fully enjoy the delights of the Hutt Valley which involved huge (and bracing) swimming holes, a visit to "Rivendell" the forest home of the elves in Lord of the Rings and a day spent exploring the viticutural delights of the Martinborough wine area. That same day we visited Greytown which has transformed its high street over the past few decades through relocating character-full old buildings from all around the country and restoring them in a very effective manner rather than allowing them to be demolished. Playing on this old world character many of the shops in Greytown are purveyors of antiques and vintage items. This is not normally my thing but one item caught my eye, a vintage soda siphon. Unfortunately the shop was shut and so I could do nothing but admire it through the window.

The next day we set off again to visit Whanganui, determined to follow a route that took us past the best ice cream shop in the world (according to Frances!). To our suprise we next found ourselves in Greytown once again, hideously off course - the only time we have been so in the whole of our travels. While this could have been embarrasing, particularly in our own country, it turned out to be serendipidous as we found ourselves once again outside the shop with the soda siphon. We could not ignore such a prompting and continued our journey complete with said item forming part of our luggage.

We were passing through Palmeston North on the same day that Raelene flew in to help her sister with a house move so we spent some time catching up with her - just because we could - before completing our journey to Whanganui where we set up our tent on the banks of the river, lit our Moroccan candle lantern and spent a very relaxing evening before turning in for our first night under canvas.

Waitomo Caves 

Waitomo Caves

The next few days involved wandering the shoreline of New Plymouth, driving up to the lower slopes of Mt. Egmont (Taranaki) and then driving up to Waitomo. "Wai" means water and "tomo" refers to holes and tunnels worn by the water through the limestone hills through which it flows. The end result of this is a network of interconnected caves and underground waterways which form an ideal habitat for the millions of glow worms which have made this area justifiaby famous. On a previous visit I had followed the traditional sedate walk and boat ride through the main glow worm cave so this time we were keen to be a little bit more adventurous and we opted instead for a black-water rafting tour. Our timing was good as the rain set in outside to maintain good flows and we donned our wetsuits and carried inner tubes into the cave through which we clambered and floated for the next hour enjoying the artificial starlight of millions of illuminated fishing lures dangling above our heads.

That night it rained more and with the promise of heavy deluges forecast we played our "get out of the rain" card, staying instead in a bed and breakfast house near Cambridge. This was a very surreal experience as the Thai owner had only just bought the property which was full of character. Our bedroom was at one end of a very long (40m) corridor. The bathroom was at the other end and in between was the family living area, lounge, diner etc. Walking that hallway late at night hearing the storm howl outside, screams from one TV and fighting on another while watching a bunny rabbit grazing on the green carpet was a moment to remember!

The Green Dragon Inn, Hobbiton 

The Green Dragon, Hobbiton

We ummed and urred about whether to visit Hobbiton. Surely a very tacky tourist venture costing the earth and offering little? In the end we decided to book ahead for this and were both incredibly impressed by the authenticity of the place and with how amazingly well the tours are organised. Despite more than 3000 people visiting every day of the year each tour group had its own space and we never felt unduly pressured to move along. It turned out that we were rarities being Kiwis in Hobbiton, almost none visit apparently. Bad choice bro' - go along and check it out.

We always seize the opportunity to catch up with family when passing through Auckland and so we popped in to Tamara's brother Brandon and his wife Mel then we drove further north to visit our friends Lisa and Allan in Whangerei Heads. Not really knowing what to expect here we were blown away by the surrounding landscape of hills, bays, rocky outcrops and deserted beaches. We visited pretty much a different beach each day we were there and I was lucky enough to go with Allan, a lifelong experienced angler, to try our luck out on the high seas with his boat. We brought back enough fish for dinner and a couple for the freezer and then found out that a 3.5m great white shark had been viewed just around the point from where we had been snorkelling earlier that day, a couple of hundred metres at best - that would be about four swishes of his tail! On the boat we also saw a hammerhead shark. Apparently the exceptionally warm summer has attracted multitudes of sharks of all species to the northern NZ waters. Thankfully we still have all of our fingers and toes so no harm done! Lisa and Allan did their best to sell us on the delights of Whangarei Heads and for the first time we could at least see a different area of NZ which we could consider living in happily.

View From Rangitoto Summit 

View From Rangitoto Summit

From Whangerei we drove north - far north - to the very tippity tip of New Zealand culminating in Cape Reinga where it was fascinating to watch two oceans crashing together resulting in multiple whirlpools and eddies as well as great plumes of spray offshore. On the way to the Cape we stayed in a number of campsites each beside a beautiful beach or bay, most owned by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and only costing between $6 and $12 a night. What a privilege to live in such an outdoor minded country where the best spots are not cordoned off and then sold to the highest bidder!

Talking of which, while we were on the NZ leg of our trip we heard of efforts to raise money to buy one of these beaches and then to present it to the nation. NZ is fairly unique in that a measurement of one surveyor's chain from the high water mark of almost every beach and major waterway is owned by the crown which means that it is available to the public at all hours and for no charge. I say "almost" as some beaches were already in private ownership before the Queen's Chain was enacted and these have remained private ever since. The beach in question is a missing piece of the jigsaw located in the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park. To cut a long story short we and 42,000 others clubbed together to raise the purchase price and were successful! A great "feel good" story for NZ.

After the delights of the far north we took a ferry to Great Barrier Island. This is relatively expensive to access and you really need a car on the island so this was really our best chance of ever being able to visit. Driving off the ferry at Tryphena felt like entering a different world. The speed limit is officially 80km/h but please drive 30 - and they did - so we did. It made for a very relaxing time. Distances are not that great anyway so what the heck?!

Tryphena Harbour, Great Barrier Island 

Tryphena Harbour, Great Barrier Island

We spent our nights in a classic old caravan and our days kayak fishing, swimming, tramping and seeking out natural hot pools in the rivers. Evenings were another level of enjoyment with long hours playing cards with our hosts David and Marion who have lived on the Barrier for decades. We started the week as friends of friends of friends but are happy to report that we ended the week as just plain friends! These guys are always welcome at our place - there can be no better hosts in NZ. The whole of the Barrier is off-grid for water, sewage and electricity and with the distances involved all are tremendously resourceful people ready to offer each other a hand. What a fantastic community to be a part of and the island has so much bounty and variety that it would take a long time to lose its attraction - if ever. I think we have a new favorite NZ place!

From Great Barrier Island we headed ashore and were soon in the Coromandel as guests of Raelene's parents. Not a caravan this time - oh no - this time we had traded up to a campervan on their front driveway. From here we explored all of the delights of the peninsular. Gorgeous sandy beaches, fascinating cave and arch landforms and the aptly named Hot Water Beach where you take a spade at low tide and dig out your own personal spa pool on the beach and watch as it fills with naturally heated water. It is not all about beaches though and we managed to find and enjoy some great bush walks as well as the Coromandel railway, a privately built narrow guage railway up a steep, bushy hillside. The railway used to service a potters' collective with clay from up the hill but it grew into a private obsession for the workaholic owner who grew it into a fantastic tourism and bush regeneration project.

The Amazing Huka Falls, Taupo

Amazing Huka Falls

Our time in NZ was running out and so we turned south and drove down through the centre of the North Island past Taupo and the amazing Huka Falls and then crossing the high plateau of the Desert Road between cloud shrouded volcanoes. Reversing our way up we stayed for a further night with Paul and Frances and then went to see the Gallipolli exhibition at the national museum Te Papa before an afternoon ferry crossing and a late drive down to Christchurch.

It was good to be back with family again and particularly to spend time with Skye but before we knew it it was time once more to pack our bags and fly north again, via China, back to Europe for the second half of our journey.

Until next time.....

Tags: beach, family, friends, hospitality, kiwi summer, on the road




I love the picture of the Waitomo Caves and Hobbitan. Does this mean you missed the best ice cream in NZ?

  Frances May 3, 2016 8:20 AM

Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.



Travel Answers about New Zealand

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.