Running Wild - Newzealand by Ed
After having a really interesting time in Melbourne, which had been our longest stop of the trip to date, we again arrived at the international departures for our 19th flight of the year. It has always been a dream of mine to go to New Zealand, and we were finally on our way. When planning this whole adventure, it had secretly been the stop I had personally been looking forward to the most. It very much lived up to expectation. Here’s a breakdown of what we got up to:
Auckland - We arrived into New Zealand’s biggest city, and after spending around an hour working out how to get from the airport into the suburbs, we eventually ubered (is that a word) to the house where we would be staying for a few nights. Through an old church camp friend of Beps’ we had managed to get a couple of nights stay with a couple called Sam and Ari. They lived a stones throw from the beach in a beautiful old wooden, creaky house. We spent the couple of days riding into the city centre on their push bikes and sitting on the beach with coffees from their local cafe. What we thought would be a couple of nights free accommodation turned out to be a serious lesson in life! Sam and Ari live very well! From growing almost all their own fruit and veg, to hunting for meat. Letting total randomers into their home, and showing us once again the incredible hospitality that we have experienced so much of along this journey. Sam also happened to be on the leadership team of CAP NZ. Small world, seeing as we know so many who work at the office in Bradford.
The Northlands - After waiting for 7 hours to pick up our camper van, we set off up to the Northlands. The seemingly small peninsula north of Auckland. We stopped off for our first night in our little camper and then continued up to the Bay of Islands for some lunch. Our next stop was probably the best campsite in terms of location on the whole trip. Tauranga bay was essentially a long secluded beach with camping pitches along it’s length. We swam in the beautiful Pacific Ocean and sat out to see the most stunning array of stars I have ever seen in my entire life. We cooked on our small camping stove, and reflected about how blessed we were to be experiencing this incredible beauty. The next day, we headed up to Cape Reinga, a bit of a trek, but worth seeing where oceans collide! We then had planned to stop at 90 mile beach on the way back down, but due to lack of campsites, we headed down to a campsite that had been touted as being even better than Tauranga Bay. Much to our disappointment, it rained the entire time we were there, and we ended up leaving a night early due to the constant downpour. The Northlands was a lesson to slow down. We definitely rushed, what is a much larger part of the country than we had thought. It’s easy to forget that NZ, with it’s population of just over 4 million is actually still bigger than the UK!
Hot Water Beach - Yes, this is a tourist hot spot. I don’t think hardly any Kiwis actually live here, but it was still one of my favourite stops in NZ. It opened my eyes to the fact that this tiny country is full of crazy natural phenomena. We camped a 10 minute walkaway from the beach itself, and went down a few times. The idea at hot water beach is that at low tide, you take a spade and dig a hot-tub like hole. The hole then begins to fill with water sat beneath the sand. There are streams of lava 2km below the beaches surface which heat the water to an extremely hot temperature. You essentially sit in your self made bath, and let the hot water rise, while the sea water comes in and out, cooling you down. On our first night there, we went down at it was packed! The area where hot water rises is actually pretty small, and the rest of the beach is practically empty, so we decided to save our digging for a less busy time, and walk along the very beautiful beach. The next morning, we got up early and headed down to the beach to watch the sun rise in our little hot tub. It was pretty magical, and there were only a few other people down there at that time. I think that the majority of backpackers would shrivel up and die if they had to get out of bed earlier than sunrise, which worked in our favour! It was a great stop, and I would definitely recommend. Swimming there is pretty rough though, so watch out!
Lake Taupo - We had been recommended to stop a few places on the way down to Lake Taupo, which split up the drive nicely. We had initially planned to stay a night in Rotorua for a night, but after finding out you have to pay to see the main steaming mud pools there, we decided against it. Instead we stopped further down the road at a free Thermal Park where we saw hot, bubbling pools of sulphur-smelling mud and swam in two different hot streams on a road conveniently called ‘The Secret Spot’. We decided to camp towards the south of Lake Taupo, and spend a few nights there. The previous few days had been at a slightly frantic pace, and it was good to stop and explore the area properly. We did the great walk from another thermal park over to Huka Falls - apparently the most photographed sight in NZ - and them spent time in the best thermal spring yet. Stunning crystal clear water merging into a river, so you can pick spots of hot and cold. It was so perfect, we stopped here again on our way back up Auckland! We started looking into the Mount Doom walk (a twelve hour mountain trek), which is meant to be one of the best one-day treks in the world, but after learning about the equipment you would need, and considering we basically only had flip flops and shorts and t-shirts, we decided to admire it from a distance instead…
Wellington - Our next stop was two nights in Wellington. We were glad to be out of the small camper for a few nights as we stayed in the lovely home of some family friends. Wellington is NZ’s capital, and is a relatively small, but cool city. There are plenty of places to explore and the city has a reputation for craft beers and coffee. We went to the free museum Te Papa, which had some great info on NZ’s geology and Maori heritage. Definitely worth checking out if you’re ever there! We also discovered Sal’s pizza, which was pretty delicious!
Kaikora - We arrived on New Zealand’s South Island after a 4 hour ferry ride through pretty spectacular scenery. Straight after landing we drove a couple of hours south to a spot called Kaikora, which had been recommended by our host in Wellington, Toby. The drive down to Kaikora was pretty spectacular. Not only did we get to see more of the stunning New Zealand coastline, but also the recent earthquake damage in that area. We were at times driving through miles of roadworks, where parts of roads had literally disappeared and had to be rebuilt. It was a really unique insight into the aftermath of an earthquake, where the landscape has been drastically changed. Kaikora itself is a nice small town. There are a few quirky little shops and nice cafes as well as a beautiful clifftop walk along the coast. The real reason why we were there though, was to get up at 6am, get onto a small boat to take us out to sea, and find some wild dolphins to swim with. We’d been generously given some spending money, and out of all of New Zealand’s incredible adventure opportunities, this one ticked all the boxes. The whole experience was unlike anything I’ve ever done. The dolphins are completely wild, and you cannot try and touch them or make them show any interest in you. Thankfully, they were very curious, and out of the group of hundreds swimming round the boat, they would come in groups of twos and threes to see what these strange creatures in the water were. Magical seems a little overused when your going round New Zealand, but this was definitely one of the highlights of the year.
Christchurch - We didn’t stop for the night in Christchurch, but passed through on our way to the mountains. It’s hard to believe how small each of the cities in NZ, and Christchurch is no exception. We had a coffee and some lunch, and went to look round the Cardboard Cathedral, which was really stunning. It had been put in place as a temporary cathedral following the earthquake damage to the original one. Definitely worth seeing. Apart from that, there’s not loads to do there.
Mount Cook National Park - We drove down to one of the passes, which allows you to drive through the epic mountain range that runs down the centre of the South Island, and would get us down to Queenstown. The scenery was absolutely unbelievable. It’s everything you expect of New Zealand and more. We spent time just driving around perfectly blue lakes, with epic mountains in the background. We stopped at the visitors centre, and much to my amazement a bus of Chinese tourists arrived all of them wearing the face masks one might wear in a polluted city. It was quite funny, seeing as there probably isn’t many places in the world where you will breathe cleaner air than up there. Sadly, all the campsites around that area are really overpriced and not very nice, so we moved on stayed on a farm a few miles down the road.
Glenorchy - We stopped for lunch in the famous Arrowtown, which is a stunning little historic town which had been built during NZ’s gold rush. On arrival we noticed that the temperature had suddenly dropped. Considerably. We had opened the car door donning our shorts and t-shirts to find that it was around 4ºC outside. The coldest thing we had experienced all year. Our campsite was another lovely old town on the other side of Queenstown, Glenorchy. We were told that this part of New Zealand had originally be settled by a large Scottish community. Even at 4ºC, it was probably better weather than in Scotland, and with the stunning lakes and mountains all around, it had a certain feel of the highlands about it.
Able Tasmin - We travelled back up the west coast, stopping in Wanaka, the Franz Josef glacier and Hokitika en-route to spend our last few days of camping in the beautiful Able-Tasmin Park. We were very thankful to have some sun again! We ended up staying for three nights in a christian campsite called Bethany!! Our last few days were spent on epic walks into the park, lounging on the beach and making the most of the campsites barbecues.
We said goodbye to the South Island, and drove back up to Lake Taupo for a nights rest before continuing to Auckland. I was determined to have a swim in the thermal stream, which connects to the river that runs into Huka falls on the way, and it was a fitting way to end our camping trip. We arrived in Auckland to return the camper, and stayed in Sam and Ari’s beautiful home once again, ready to head to the USA!
On a side note, if you are ever planning to travel New Zealand (which you should, it’s amazing!), here’s a few points of advice:
1 Consider a self-contained camper (i.e. with a toilet and shower on board). It means you can stay in a lot of free camp sites long the way, which we weren’t able to do in our tiny one. Depending on how long you go, it might be worth paying that bit extra for a bigger camper.
2 Take your time - NZ is bigger than you think. At certain times, like in the Northlands, we were definitely rushing through a bit too much. Allow yourself time to stop and relax at places you love along the way.
3 Straight away get a Top 10 campsite membership. Top 10 is a group of campsites all around NZ. The membership is around NZ$50, but you get a discount with it on the ferry between islands, which instantly pays for itself. We also got a big discount on the dolphin swim, so even if you don’t stay in their campsites (the hot water beach one is really nice), the membership is well worth it.
4 Make sure you have enough cash. NZ is sooooo expensive. Food will cost you a bomb, The cheapest supermarket we managed to find was Pack ’N’ Save, so check them out. Also, all activities are really expensive, so be prepared to splash out, if that’s your thing. We were so fortunate that someone paid for our dolphin swim, which was a once in a lifetime thing.
5 Be present, disconnect from technology, and enjoy that stunning country!!