Well we left the glorious sunshine and beautiful Island of Fiji and landed in Auckland on the 24th September and what greeted us couldn’t have been much more different. Gone were the beautiful golden sands replaced with grey concrete, gone was the big warm sunshine; in its place was crazily heavy rain and gale force winds. Now we had realised that New Zealand was going to be colder than Fiji, but the day we arrived was the same day some sort of big storm arrived also. This meant one thing, it was time to go and buy some warm clothes as the shorts and flip flops we had been wearing for the last 3 months weren’t going to cut it. Shopping for clothes on a budget is an experience but thanks to our new found friend Cotton On (which is NZ’s equivalent to Topshop/ Topman) we managed to pick up some new jeans and hoodies for not too much without looking like tramps. We spent the day trying to avoid the rain and do some sightseeing and from what we could tell Auckland would be a lovely place when the sun is shining, particularly down by the harbor where there are loads of really nice looking restaurants. As we hadn’t been to a pub for a while I found us a great looking little pub called The Bluestone Room, which was a bit like The Abbey for all you Derby folk. Here we could do the Wednesday night pub quiz. Well to say it went badly was an understatement, it was the most competitive and organised pub quiz we had ever seen and all the other teams where made up of at least 10 people, us two little Brits didn’t fair that well, especially when the questions shifted to New Zealand TV and Politics. The only questions we did alright on where the Kings and Queens, music and Sport. Unfortunately we did come in last place (only by 2 points!) but managed to act like it wasn’t our name read out first and sloped off quietly!
Our third day in NZ is when the real adventure began as Caroline had been ferociously searching for a camper-van for us to hire for a few days and had found us a real bargain with Wicked Campers. We made our way down to the depot and picked up our pretty awesome looking camper that was called Candy as it was covered in graffiti of lots of different sweets.
After filling in the paperwork and raiding the free food and supplies bin we set off South! As Candy was automatic and they drive on the left in NZ it didn’t take us long to remember how to drive after 4 months! Our first stop turned out to be a real cool surf town called Raglan which was full of surf and coffee shops, very much like a Cornish town. Despite this the thing Caroline has insisted on my mentioning most is the talking public toilet we used!! When you went inside a friendly voice told you how to lock the door at that you only had 10 minutes before it would open again (ready or not!) and then proceeded to play a very happy little bit of music to help relax you whist spending a penny! There was even an automatic loo roll dispenser, after the horrors of the Vietnamese toilets, it no wonder Caroline was so excited by a toilet! Our final stop in Raglan was to he butchers to pick up an incredible bit of NZ lamb at a ridiculously cheap price that we would cook on our BBQ that night. As we left Raglan we stopped off at a couple of the surf spots and watched the ‘dudes’ in action, the surroundings were spectacular and the waves looked decent.
Soon after it appeared we had met the end of the road, as the lovely smooth tarmac was replaced with loose unsealed gravel. The Navigator (Caroline) assured us it wouldn’t be for long at that we should keep going….. 55 kilometers later we met tarmac again!!! The drive along the coast and through the rolling green hills was beautiful and constantly changing. Eventually as the sun set we pulled into a real old fashioned campsite by an estuary in Kawhia as there was no free camping allowed in the area, which was a bit of a bummer but apparently they have changed the law a couple of years ago and it would now be more difficult to just camp where we fancied. Undeterred by the darkness we set up the brilliant brand new gas BBQ we had negotiated out of the guys at Wicked and cooked a real sensational dinner of lamb and veg. There would be no pot noodles or beans on toast on this trip!
The next day we woke up early and were greeted with the beautiful view of the estuary we had camped in before heading off in Candy to the Waitamo glow worm caves. We had heard about the great trips you could do involving absailing and cave tubing but couldn’t believe how expensive it was so just settled for the guided tour and boat trip through the underground caves. The tour started with a wander through lots of cave systems looking at stalagmites and stalactites but the undoubted highlight was the 10 minute boat trip on an underground river in the pitch black only being guided by the little blue lights given off by the glowworm larvae, it really was incredible inside, like looking into the night sky full of stars.
After that we headed off to Rotorua (Egg Town) famed for its geothermal activity and smell of eggs from the sulphur. On our first night we found a Government campsite which only cost 3 quid each and slept in a very quiet location next to a lake on the outskirts of Rotorua, under a sky nearly as pretty as the glowworm caves. This was fine until I nipped to the toilet in the middle of the night, on my way back my head torch decided to stop working at the exact point a possum clambered up a sign directly in front of me, scaring me half to death!!
In the morning we headed to Wai-o-Tapu to look at the volcanic lakes and the Lady Knox geyser which conveniently erupted at 10:15 everyday. The eruption was encouraged by the tour guide putting some soap powder down the hole. Two minutes later it started foaming and then shot water and steam about 30 meters in the air and thanks to the wind all over us as we were standing at the front. After that we walked around the whole grounds (‘Never Enough’ Caroline said she didn’t want to miss out on anything!) and saw the various pools and lakes of all sorts of colours and sizes.
That night we slept in our camper-van in a hostel car park purely so I could get the internet and watch FOREST V DERBY which was on at quarter past midnight thanks to the 12 hour time difference. I watched it on my iPad and the picture was pretty blurred and interrupted but I got the gist of what was going on and realized that for once we had lost to the Red Dogs (goodbye Nigel). On our last day we went for a very pleasant walk amongst the giant Redwood trees of Redwood Forest, they were massive!!
Our last night was spent sleeping in another cheap government campsite in the middle of nowhere where the only facilities you have are a toilet and sometimes drinking water, but thanks to trips to our other new friend Pac-n-save Supermarket and the fact that Candy had everything you need to cook a decent meal it was really nice to be away from civilization for a bit. We spent the afternoon playing poo sticks and skimming stones. On the 2nd October we headed back to Auckland via Devonport which was a little town only 12 minutes commute across the sea to Auckland and said goodbye to Candy our Campervan. That night we slept in a giant hostel called Base Auckland and we even allowed ourselves to go out for a Nando’s! It was delicious of course!
One thing we had wanted to do since we had planned this trip was to offer ourselves to work for a week or two to help out a good cause. We had already done this in Cambodia for the CHOICE children and loved it but this time we were doing it through a website called Helpex where you go to one of hundreds of different hosts who will provide accommodation and food in exchange for a few hours work a day. We had done lots of research and sent a few applications off and decided to go and help a guy called Marty who was building a centre called the Timber Trail Centre in Ongarue, which will provide holidays for underprivileged families in New Zealand and will run a host of lots of different skills and well-being courses for a variety of topics. After 4 hours on a bus to the middle of nowhere we were picked up by Marty and taken back to the centre, which was an old school house, church and cottage that was full of lots of animals including alpacas, peacocks, chickens and roosters (and not forgetting Jerry the mouse in our kitchen)! After chatting to Marty it was apparent that he had undertaken a huge task on creating the centre. He said he had started with a list of 850 jobs and now had about 250 (ish!!) left, it was clear we were going to be busy, which was good for us as we needed to do a bit of hard work again!
Marty had a background if finance originally and had lived in lots of different countries around the world including, Tibet, India and England so had many stories to tell, it also meant he was clearly used to having a PA do a lot of his planning for him as the list of jobs he gave us at the start would probably have taken us 6 months to get through! The one thing we were definitely going to be doing was digging up and planting blueberry trees as he has purchased 100 from a lady in a town about half an hours drive away. Caroline and I spent the next 3 days digging up the small looking plants using an axe, a shovel and a lot of elbow grease. It was absolutely knackering work and each plant probably weighed 60 Kilo’s or more with all the soil attached to the roots. It felt good to do some proper exercise and we certainly earned our food everyday. We were staying in an old cottage which was a bit of a building site at the time but thankfully the two wall heaters worked and kept us warm. There was also an Aussie bloke staying there called Dave, who was an awesome laugh and had the driest sense of humor. We all got along really well and enjoyed a good chat over our coffee breaks and evening dinners. The other thing we had really missed was cooking, so after being left to our own devices we rumbled up a few meals and even baked ginger cakes and made Anzac biscuits! After 3 days of digging my hands were full of blisters so we switched to painting the cottage we were staying in, which was a whole lot easier than digging up 15 blueberry plants a day.
Another lad called Christophe from Germany arrived on our third day and whilst he was a little more quiet but he was willing to chip in with the hard work. He even volunteered to kill one of the roosters Marty had lined up for a rooster curry one day. Whilst Marty held the rooster still, Chris chopped its head off with an axe and looked mighty uncomfortable about doing it. If the killing of the rooster wasn’t enough to put him off, the plucking and gutting certainly was and he vowed to never do it again. He couldn’t even go back in the utility room where the plucking had happened anymore because of the smell reminded him of the whole experience. Marty eventually cooked a fairly oily rooster curry up although it took so long to make we had to eat it the next day!
We were given the Saturday off and decided to use some of the bikes that the Centre had and went on a 45Km bike ride on the Timber Trail, which was a combination of huge suspension bridges, dirt paths, hills and railway tracks that were originally used by the loggers in the 1800’s. Caroline took one of the electric bikes and I took one of the mountain bikes. After a fairly uphill start we had a horrible feeling we had been going in the wrong direction for the first 15 Km’s.
This was disappointing as we had wasted a good hour and a half of energy and effort. We decided to turn back and go the other way. It proved to be the right choice and it was a lot quicker downhill on the way back to the start. Disappointingly the next 10 Km’s were pretty much spent pedaling uphill, or in Caroline’s case letting the electronic bike do all the work for you! The scenery at times was spectacular and non more so than the enormous suspension bridge that was a good hundred meters up and 140 meters long. Soon after that, my legs started complaining and cramping up, which led to a fairly uncomfortable and very whiney Thomas for most of the journey home!! I think I hit the mountain bikers equivalent of ‘ The Wall’! To be fair to Caroline, her electric bike ran out of batteries fairly early in the trip and so she was left to pedal a pretty unsuitable city bike a long way through mud and water. We made it home before dark and collapsed for the night!
We said goodbye to the animals, Dave, Chris, Marty and the center and waited by the side of a highway to catch our bus down to Wellington. After a fairly uneventful bus journey we arrived in another wet and windy city and wandered around trying to figure out where to catch the bus from to our hostel. Looking like little lost tourists with our backpacks and map out an incredibly nice business man asked where we were heading and said he was heading in that direction and we could jump in his taxi as it was raining. Try as we might he wouldn’t accept any money and wished us well on the rest of our trip. It reminded us of the nice old man in Osaka who walked us to the Sky tower for 20 minutes just to help us out. Makes you realize they are some very nice people around and next time we see lost tourists we will definitely help them out.
Wellington itself was a nice city and we had a great fun night out in the city and saw a brilliant live bit of music in Mighty Might (thanks to Aussie Dave’s recommendation) by a guy called Hammond Electro, which was one guy and his keyboard playing very original electro tunes. He was really good and very entertaining as were the locals who all started dancing very crazily! Whilst there I managed to talk my way into two Crossfit gyms (Central Wellington and TAO) and took a bit of a beasting in their gyms, but it was a great experience and they were all really friendly, CW even let me train for free!
We went to the Ta Papa museum which was very impressive and absolutely massive, there were about 7 floors of really interesting stuff. The highlights were the embalmed Gigantic Squid and the earthquake simulator. We also caught the cable car up the hill to get a great ariel view of the city and walked back down. On the way down we walked past a giant statue of the (very) ex NZ Prime Minister, Richard Seddon who was born in Eccleston, Lancashire, much to the delight of Caroline.
We managed to book a flight to Christchurch for 20 quid each and set off for our next leg of the journey, the SOUTH ISLAND. We were really excited about this as we had enjoyed our time in the North Island but everyone kept telling us the South Island was much better!
Sending everyone back home all our best and hope you survive this storm we keep hearing about.
Tommy and Caroline