Our first week

Monday 31 October marked the end of our first week on the road.

So far we’ve travelled from Auckland, up to the very north top of New Zealand, back down again, over to the Coromandel Peninsula and from there into the central part of the North Island.

We’ve travelled all this in our rental camper. Initially we planned to buy one but turns out there no real value in doing that, in Auckland at least, but we’ll talk more about that in a later blog.

Anyway, the van is not quite our usual style but we’ve grown to love it and the snake artwork has inspired a name for the van. We’re calling him Severus, after Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books. That’s Sev for short.

On Monday evening the three of us – Steph, Steve and Sev – reached our campsite for the evening, not far outside Tongariro National Park.

We had hoped to walk the Tongariro Pass on Tuesday, but the weather on the mountains is not great at the moment and we’ve decided that it’s something we’ll have to come back for another time. Instead we’re now ahead of schedule and will be making our way to Mount Taranaki, then on to Wellington to get the ferry to the South Island.

Monday 31 October was a day of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit adventures.

We started with a tour of Hobbiton, the set of Peter Jackson’s incredible Lord of the Rings trilogy, and his slightly less credible but still enjoyable Hobbit films.

From there we made our way to Tongariro, which is home to a couple of large volcanoes, one of which was used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. Suitably, we had beautiful weather this morning in The Shire then it got grey, cold and grim the closer we got to Mordor. It’s was all quite easy really. I don’t know what Frodo made all that fuss about.

It’s been a while since we had chance to tell you about our trip, so here’s a few notes about what we’ve done over the last few days.

You can see images from our trip around the North Island in a later blog.

You can follow us on Twitter for day-to-day updates and some low quality, badly composed photos from my iPhone.

Monday 24 October

We picked up the van from Escape Rentals in Auckland and made our way north, stopping at our first campsite in Shakespear Point.

Most of the day was taken up with food shopping and other dull things like that – the Warehouse and Pak’n’Save are the only things that will stop to going bankrupt in this very expensive country – but we ended up in a lovely spot, yards for the beach and surrounded by weird wildlife like the Tui bird, which sounds like a dial up modem, and some sort of giant moorhen.

Tuesday 25 October

We began our journey north, towards the Bay of Islands. On the way we called in on Bill Meeklah, he’s the younger brother of one of Steve’s dearest friends and has been living out here for almost a year. It was great to see a familiar face and catch up.

We arrived at our campsite in the evening, the best site of the trip so far, with lovely views over a calm bay and unlimited free WiFi – which we have since learnt is a rare and beautiful thing. We relaxed with chilled beers and the first of Steph’s many delicious campervan kitchen miracle meals.

Wednesday 26 October

Our first day of properly exploring, we visited Russell, the site of the first British settlement on the island and the place where our imperial forebears engaged in some typically duplicitous shenanigans with regard to the local Maoris and their land.
Putting the guilt of empire to the back of our minds, we enjoyed waking along the incredible coastline and driving along hillside tracks.

We returned to the campsite after a long day, before heading further north in the morning.

Thursday 27 October

On Thursday, we travelled towards the very north tip of New Zealand, where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet.

The drive that felt like it lasted a lifetime, although the breaks to see sights like the misleadingly monikered 90 Mile Beach, helped break up the monotony. The Northlands as they call it are beautiful and remote but it feels never ending and lonely at times.

We arrived late at another beachside campsite, grabbed a beer each in what has become something of an evening ritual now, ate dinner and fell asleep listening to podcasts.

Friday 28 October

First thing Friday we made the short trip to the end of the world, looking out over the open ocean from the tip of New Zealand really emphasises just how far away from everything this place is.

It was quite calming really. Away from the troubles of the world, the insanity of Donald Trump, the relentlessness of everyday life and the crushing inevitably of Sunderland Association Football Clubs’s inexorable march towards relegation. If only every day could be like that.

After that, we had only one way to go, South. We headed back down country, stopping at giant sand dunes and New Zealand’s largest tree, towards Auckland once more.

Saturday 29 October

Saturday was a travelling day.

Leaving our campsite – a quiet place at this time year run by a couple from Yorkshire – in the waipoua forest, our destination was the Coromandel Peninsula.

We’d both just about had our fill of stunning coastline by this point, so we didn’t stay long. Winding our way up mountain roads, avoiding the participants of a cycle race, a quick stay overnight at Catherdral Cove for a walk and some photos in the morning and that would be it. We were ready for green fields and mountains.

Sunday 30 October

As we drove south, past Rotorua, we visited Wai-o-tapu, one of many areas of volcanic activity in the region.

It’s beautiful, but it absolutely stinks. You’d think after a week in and van together, eating a mainly vegetarian diet, we’d be used to all pervading sulphuric smells, but we weren’t prepared for this.

That night we stayed in a campsite with its own hot spring pools. We also met a woman named Zara who was cycling the length in New Zealand on her own. Turned out she grew up round the corner from Steph in Leeds and they went to the same school in Harrogate!

Anyway, that’s all from us for now. See you soon.

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