Our flight over the Pacific Ocean was at 5:30 am so we spent the previous night in the airport which is never comfortable. It took us a massive thirteen hours to fly to Auckland from Santiago (longest flight I’ve ever been on!) and we somehow lost a day in the middle too. What was also confusing was that we were previously five hours behind UK time and then we jumped to nine hours ahead of the UK. Thankfully the flight had plenty of decent films to watch and I managed to sleep a little. Hurrah!
Auckland airport is tiny! Well it certainly seems it at 5 am when eyes can barely stay open, you’ve had enough of travelling and just want a bed to kip in. After picking up about a hundred brochures for New Zealand (I can be slightly dramatic at times but in this case there is NO exaggeration!) we headed to Wendekreisen to collect our previously paid for Campervan later named ‘Sharon’.
We were greeted by a really helpful lady who offered us coffee and biscuits while she went through our paperwork and explained and demonstrated how everything in the van worked. The van was well equipped with most utensils, pots and pans you need for cooking, plenty of plates and cutlery for two people as well as dish towels plus bedding and linen.
In total we had three weeks in New Zealand and we had estimated one week in the North Island and two weeks in the South. This was generally because most recommendations had said there was more to see in the South and it was slightly bigger so would take more time to get around. For this post I’ll be mentioning where we visited in the North and what we did/saw and subsequently the next post will be about the South Island.
So we got in the van and set off. It was as simple as that. We were very aware that it was the two of us in this small vehicle for three weeks. We were about to get very comfortable…or uncomfortable? Once collecting food from the supermarket and realising that we would not be able to cook any dishes with peppers for the next three weeks with them costing NZ$5 EACH! That’s right, PER PEPPER! Feelings of shock and heartbreak when you reminisce that you can get three peppers for the cost of a pound back home. Anyways, enough about peppers and their ridiculous cost. Peter had discovered this App that tells you where you can and can’t freedom camp in New Zealand. This came in extremely useful as you can read people’s reviews of the sites and where you can refill water and dump your van waste. The App is called Campermate and I could not recommend it more if you were doing a similar type of trip. We used it to find our first stop that evening and for every other evening for the next three weeks.
That first day in Auckland we actually went to see the new movie Dunkirk. I know it seems a bit ridiculous to go the to cinema when we’ve just landed in a new part of the world but it is recommended to not do a lot of driving after a long haul flight and we were quite excited to be in an English speaking country where communication was a lot easier and to be honest we just wanted to relax. The film was really good and the cost was reasonable. I think it was about twelve pounds which isn’t too bad considering it would cost near double that for two adults back home.
Our first night we actually spent just off Lake Waikere. On arrival at the site we were stopped by a firefighter who explained there was a helicopter coming to pick up someone who needed to be evacuated and the area would be free for us to camp shortly. Peter was driving at this point and I could feel he still had his foot on the break without the handbrake on but we were speaking to the woman for a while. At this point we were on a hill and he mentioned whilst we were waiting for the helicopter to leave that the van was rolling backwards when he only had the handbrake on. Basically the handbrake didn’t work on hills. Fabulous news!
Anyways, as you can imagine a lot of our days in New Zealand involved driving to find new camp spots and planning our trip so I won’t bore you with these details. I’ll just tell you about what we saw.
On day two we visited Hobbiton – the set for the films The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Our tour started at 10:30am where we were taken on a bus to the set by our guide Kimberleigh. She showed us round the shire, informing us of inside facts from filming and creation of the set. It was amazing to see in person. Everything looks very realistic and the grass really is that green! The tour was very good because there was plenty photo opportunities and Kimberleigh even stood and took everyone’s photo outside one of the Hobbit holes and we also got given a free drink in the Green Dragon which was a lovely pub. It’s very decorative and cosy! The tour was expensive being £45 per person but it was once in a lifetime opportunity that we were both excited to do when planning our trip.
Our next stop was in Rotorua where we decided to visit a Maori Village. I was really keen to experience the culture here in New Zealand and thought this would be the perfect way to do it. We booked through i-site which is a tourist information centre, that are located all over the country. The village we were recommended and decided to visit was called Whakarewarewa (yeah have a go at pronouncing that!) https://www.whakarewarewa.com/ The tour cost us about £48 for two people. Not the cheapest but I suppose you have to think about the community. The ticket included a tour around the village by one of the locals, a cultured performance and free corn. The village is home to the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao people who have been around for over two hundred years. We arrived about 1 pm and after having a wander we stopped to watch the hot holes and geysers. The village lies on a geothermal landscape meaning they always have access to hot water and are able to cook their vegetables and fish in the natural hot pools. Our free corn was even cooked in these pools. How cool! If we had these at home it would save so much time!
After our corn snack we watched the traditional Maori performance (Kapa haka) which lasted about thirty minutes and involved a touring Maori group of about nine people who performed numerous traditional songs and dances. The Kapa haka includes the Haka (posture dance), Poi (dance that involves the rhythmic moving of the Poi, a light ball on a string), Waiata -ã̍ -ringa (action songs) and Waiata koroua (traditional chants). I was so impressed when watching a listening to the performance. The voices on the women were incredible. They had lungs! And there was quite a lot of co-ordination needed with the Poi whilst singing which was impressive! We then started our guided tour with Rob who was a character! He is currently the chief of the village. He was a good tour guide because he gave us more of a personal experience as he was very open. However this was also his downfall I’d say. He was a bit too chatty at times and went off course. After explaining the history of the village and the buildings he also explained how the geysers work. He said someone described it to him as a pressure cooker which I think makes complete sense and he explained it so well. Afterwards he admitted he had no idea what a pressure cooker was. I found him quite hilarious because he seemed a little mad. At the end of our tour Rob showed us the natural hot pools they bathe in everyday. Peter and I were very tempted to jump in to one of these as we were feeling the cold in the north a lot more than we expected. Instead Rob suggested we lie on the ground on our backs. The hot springs were running underneath us and because the temperature was so hot it was heating up the ground beneath us. How incredible is that! We just lay there for a while, contemplating never leaving so we didn’t have to feel the cold ever again.
Ok, so we eventually did have to leave the village but I would a definitely recommend visiting Whakarewarewa or another Maori village in New Zealand as the places are so interesting and they try and given you the best experience they can.
One of the things we really wanted to do was swim in natural hot springs, for several reasons. These being it’s a nice natural activity which usually has no charge (all about that free stuff) and the lack of water our van could store meant our showers were lasting a maximum if two minutes each so we were looking forward to a nice soak! We headed to Kerosene Creek as they were recommended online but we had also been warned that a lot of burglaries happen here because the car park is out of view of the creek. We were a bit wary of this but just ensured the van was locked and took our valuables with us. I’m really glad we still went, though it wasn’t as hot as I’d liked it to have been it was very relaxing!
Huka Falls was our next stop which was lovely. Very powerful and very blue! Then it was on wards to Lake Taupo. One thing to note about New Zealand is all the towns are quite small and there’s not much in between apart from one long road! We arrived to extremely high and cold winds in Taupo and treated ourselves to fish and chips that evening.
The next morning we were able to see our breaths. The van was covered in frost, including the inside! Apparently it had been minus four that night. That’s seriously cold! We couldn’t even see the lake we were parked right next to because there was a layer of mist hovering over it, it was quite incredible. Just have a look at this beautiful park covered in frost and the morning sun in the sky.
We visited the Huka Honey Hive because it was free entry but actually I quite enjoyed it! The centre was really clear in their explanation of how the local honey is made and there was free honey and honey wine tasting. Something a didn’t know existed! We bought some honeycomb and headed to another thermal pool which was delightful!
Next stop was Napier – which is famously known for its Art Deco architecture. We decided to the self guided walking tour which meant we had to buy a guide book. It was more like a leaflet! You would expect after paying $10 you receive a book or something more substantial. So we felt a bit fragile after that spend but we needed the ‘guide’ to complete the tour. The tour was well spread out over the town so you saw a lot of the beautiful buildings. Napier’s history is really interesting as it suffered a drastic earthquake in the early 1930s where most of the town was destroyed. Collectively it has old, restored and old buildings that did survive the earthquake. This night we drove really far to find an acceptable freedom camping spot before Wellington. We finally made it to Masterton where we stopped for the night and it actually turned out to be one of the warmest nights we had so far.
Once making it to Wellington we visited the WETA Museum who are a CGI and prop-making company famous for working with Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit. The museum was small but it was free entry! They had a small screening of a film which detailed how WETA works on the films. We found out from the film they had actually also worked on Avatar, District 9, Tin Tin and King Kong.
Another highlight of the North Island was visiting the Te Papa museum in Wellington. It was a fantastic museum! Huge, and there were several very different and innovative exhibitions that were interactive and child friendly. The main exhibition we saw was about the WWI war in Gallipoli between the Australians/New Zealanders and the Turks. It was incredibly well displayed with modern technology and art which I felt helped me retain more information. There were massive models of soldiers as well as nurses who attended to the wounded and sick.
We then proceeded to get the Ferry over to the South Island…