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New Zealand North Islanding - Part 1

“There is no better way to travel the Land of the Long White Cloud”
auckland new zealand NZ north island travel acrosstheditch
Hello NZ and hello Auckland!
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Flying extra long!
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Air New Zealand turboprop taking off

It had been some time since I had really gone on a trip of note. The last time I was in a plane was when I flew down to Tassie for 5 days in June 2021, which was now nearly a year and a half ago. Covid really had put the brakes on travelling, that and the move to Australia. When when I lived in Spain, I would average 5 or 6 countries a year; I would drive to France for the weekend, grab a quick flight to Poland for Christmas, and spend July’s summer holidays in Romania, all without trying. Living in Australia, which is a very, very large place, makes travelling more of an ordeal - you can drive for an hour and still be in Sydney, and Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne, is over 1,000 kms away. All this makes it harder to travel to different countries, as it’s 8 hours to Singapore, 15 hours to the US, and nearly 24 hours to Europe. However, much like the US, you have everything in the one country without ever having to leave the ground. As good as this is, it was time to get on a plane to fly to somewhere for a real holiday… and nothing says holiday like a Honeymoon! Yes, that’s right, I got married to my partner in February 2022, shortly after she was able to join me in Australia. We had to spend a year apart, caused by the pandemic and travel restrictions into Australia, but we were finally reunited. Although I’d been to NZ before (way back on 2007!), Agata had never been there, but it was always her dream… so that’s what we were going to do. Last time I spent a week driving around the South Island, but this time it was going to be double that, and both islands (with a ferry crossing in the middle). I have to say, there is no better way to travel the Land of the Long White Cloud than in a campervan. Not only is the country well setup for this, with van rentals extremely common (and not just with backpackers), but there are campsites everywhere, ranging from free (called wild campsites in NZ), to more commercial paid sites like you’d get around the world. I had already downloaded the Camping NZ app, got offline maps, and had scouted out a travel plan - we were very excited to be finally travelling again!

auckland NZ new zealand city citylife north island
Auckland sure likes its big glass buildings
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NZ's oldest brewery pub - great place for a beer!
auckland NZ new zealand city citylife north island
Parts of Auckland has a distinct Sydney feel to it
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Dipping our feet in the warm thermal waters
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Maori art in Kuirau Park

Our driving plan was to land in Auckland at night, stay one night, pick up the van the next day and the hit the road. I’d plotted out a rough plan, as we could stay anywhere we wanted with the camper, so no need to book accommodation. After Auckland would be Rotorua, famous for its stinky geothermal pools, then downwards through the middle of the North Island towards the capital city Wellington, stopping at beaches, mountains and lakes along the way. From there, it would be the ferry, then down the east coast to one of my most favourite places in New Zealand, Kaikoura, then to Christchurch, before heading down to Queenstown, and then into the real wilderness that is the fjordlands – Milford Sound, the glaciers, and everything nature. It would then be a long drive back up to the ferry, but to the North Island, and up again to Auckland. Why go back up you ask? Well, the flights were so cheap from Sydney to Auckland that it was cheaper to stay longer! We both took Friday off work to get to the airport, and saved a little on flights as its cheaper to fly on weekdays. Airports are airports though, and so we checked in, found our gates, and waited (and then waited some more). When we could finally get on our plane, it was delayed by an hour as one passenger simply failed to turn up. We finally got under way, landing in Auckland around 6:30pm after a 3-hour flight and a 2-hour time difference. Excited to be off the plane and heading into the city for some grub before our one booked night in the city, we got to our bags, and again we were delayed. I have no idea what it was this time, but we waited so long for our bags, we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get anything to eat once we finally got into the city. The PA system kept saying sorry about the bags, which made us feel a little bit better. After eventually getting our bags, we moved to customs, but there were more delays here – we watched with interest as sniffer dogs ran around all the bags, moving right past ours, sniffed a few more bags, then touched one with his nose and sat next to some poor guy’s bag. We’d had a long day, but I that guy was in for a much longer one! Some of the delay was because some people were flying onwards to Indonesia, and there had been a recent outbreak of foot and mouth. We got through the gate and out of the airport, jumping on a bus at just past 8pm and headed into the city. It had already been an ordeal, and hunger was starting to gnaw away at our bellies.

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The geothermal pools are Rotorua
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Kicking back at the spa
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Our transport / hotel for 2 weeks!
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Ōhinemutu Māori Village
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Māori art

We got into the CBD, dropped off by the bus, then trudged up to our hotel for the night. Now, when I say hotel, I am using that word extremely loosely. So loosely, in fact, that Oxford would have a heart attack if I defined where we stayed as anything close to what their book of words says. It was cheap, close to the centre, and only for one night. Auckland is not a cheap city for accommodation – anything under $200 was either very budget (AKA a shithole) or a backpackers. We dropped our bags off, tried not to touch anything we didn’t have to, and headed out for dinner. It was, however, too late to get a proper meal, as it was late on a Friday and everyone was drinking. We grabbed some takeaway Mexican, sat by the harbour and felt better that at least we were not hungry anymore. Before going home to bed, we decided to stop for a drink or two, to relax, fill our bellies a bit more, and also make us care a little less where we were sleeping. We found a cool looking old-style pub called Shakespeare’s, which advertised itself to be New Zealand’s oldest brewery pub. They brewed their own beer, which turned out to be quite nice, and so we were sitting outside for out nightcap when we were approached by a friendly couple that wanted to share the table. We introduced ourselves, and Alan and Sheila, a local couple, were now out best friends in NZ! We talked about everything, from their dog that they had in a box on the table, to everything NZ (including politics and whether Jacinda was doing a good job), and even the war in Ukraine. It was an interesting chat honestly, and Alan even bought us another drink to keep us there. Eventually we had to say goodnight (even though he was plying us with offers of cigarettes and more booze), and so we went home tipsy, happy, and sleepy enough not to care that much about our room. We got up early, packed out bags and left to get some breakfast before picking up our home and transport for the next 2 weeks. We didn’t have much time to talk around and explore Auckland before we had to head out, but we’d made sure we had 2 days here before leaving, so we went to get the van and start out adventure. We used an OLA car (like Uber) to be picked up and dropped off in the city, collecting our van. We checked in, inspected the van and all it came with, and then hit the road all smiles. The van was brightly painted on the outside, and fairly decently kitted out on the inside – camping cooker, gas, cutlery and utensils, bed and bedding, and even a portable chemical toilet that we refused to use even though it was clean… yes the guy opened it for us to inspect and make sure it was serviceable. A few photos later and we set off South to our first stop – Rotorua.

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The green hills of New Zealand
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The shore of Lake Taupo
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Water sports on the lake
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Our van for the 2 weeks
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Sunset on Lake Taupo

It was only a couple of hours drive from Auckland, and there was very little traffic, but we had to stop for petrol first as it was running low already. Apart from the fact that it started off below ¼ tank, I don’t think this van was going to do very well on the mileage, being a 2L auto. Anyway, it was what we had. Petrol here was the issue though – although there were plenty of petrol stations (in the North at least), the price per litre was more than $3, sometimes even $3.5, which was more than double Sydney prices. We drove into Rotorua, and immediately spelt the sulphur, which told us we were in the right place. Set on its namesake lake, Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity and Māori culture, and we had a little time to explore before moving on to the next town – there are always time constraints, especially when you want to drive a country top to bottom (and back!). We parked and had a snack out of the back of the van using our little kitchenette (which included a sink and water pump), and headed right into see the smelly sulphur pools. What we found was steam / vapour drifting over the whole town, stinking the place up with a kind of rotten egg smell, but it’s surprising how quickly you get used to the smell. We entered Kuirau Park, the free and central place to see some of the pools and geysers, and didn’t see much to begin with, then the wind moved the steam (smoke? vapour? gas?) and we realised that we were right in the middle of it! There are wooden walkways all around the park, going over hot pools, and leading you around nicely. There were times that we were completely surrounded by the white mist (fog?) of the pools, hiding even the sky, then it would blow away and you’d see everything again. Some pools were extremely hot and would have burnt you had you touched the water, but there was a free thermal foot bath in the centre of the park which we sat at and dunked our feet in for a bit and enjoyed the sunshine. The rest of the park was very green and grassy, with plenty of trees and picnic areas, so it is a great place to have lunch. We explored a little more before heading down towards the lake to look at Ōhinemutu Māori Village, a place where people have been living since around 1350AD after journeying from Hawaiiki, modern-day Polynesia. There is a traditional Māori meeting house in the village, named Tamatekapua, but it was closed to the general public, so instead we walked around and admired it from the outside. It sat right on the lake, and was beautifully carved and inlaid with paua shells, which are very typical from New Zealand, and was also part of a cemetery and war memorial. There were also little Māori statues everywhere, called Toi Whakairo, each a little differently coloured and shaped, but all with those shiny shells as eyes. The lake where the village is located is also geothermic, and steamed away beautifully, but with the breeze from the water you couldn’t really smell anything (either that or I’d gotten used to it already). Although there were more thermal pools to see, we didn’t have time, so we went back to the van and headed off to our next town and place of rest for the night: Taupo. If I ever make it back to Rotarua, I will have to visit the big geyser (which was closed by the time we got there) and the Redwood Treewalk – there is just never enough time for everything!

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Sunset on Lake Taupo
lake taupo NZ new zealand blue nature beautiful sunset
Just keeps on getting better
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Watching the wildlife
lake taupo NZ new zealand blue nature beautiful sunset
Watching the lake
lake taupo NZ new zealand blue nature beautiful sunset
Sunrise or sunset... not sure, but its beautiful

The town of Taupo, which sits on the vast lake of the same name, was out last stop for the day. We pulled up at the top of the hill to stop and enjoy the sun setting, which cast a dramatic light over the lake and town. There was just a little bit of drizzle around too, so a rainbow was out and showing off, and with the clouds behind us, it was almost magical. We drove into town, parked, and went for a walk immediately, wanting to enjoy the light before it was lost. Taupo sits pretty much smack bang in the middle of the North Island, and is also on the edge of a volcanic caldera, which is the huge hole that is left after a volcano blows itself apart. So, the lake was one big volcano, but there are others on the North Island, and I’m sure I could see one from town even. Tomorrow we’d be heading off further south and stopping at the Tongariro National Park where there are active volcanoes. We had a bit of dinner and a beer at a bar on the lake’s edge, relaxing after a long day of driving 320kms with only a few stops. Sadly, most of the town was full of fast food outlets like MacDonald’s and KFC, but there was still a little bit of a lake town charm, if only on the waterfront. We finished out meal and drinks and headed back to our campervan for the night. We stayed at a free site, which didn’t have any facilities, but we were so tired it didn’t matter. It also rained overnight, so we just went straight to sleep to be ready for the morning. That was three days done in New Zealand already and we’d barely scratched the surface – but not too bad so far really, lakes, volcanoes, good weather, sulphur feet washing, and plenty of green landscapes. New Zealand, bring more of this on!

lake taupo NZ new zealand blue nature beautiful sunset
A great first 3 days in NZ

Remember to also follow me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/myuncletravellingmatt



MyUncleTravellingMatt. November 2022.


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