Saturday, 31 October 2015

Campervan adventures!!

Auckland was cold and wet when we arrived and for the next week and a half it only got colder and wetter! The plane arrived at 10:30pm after a very annoying flight, (children running up and down the aisles, late food and people ignoring the seat belt signs grrr!)I did enjoy the
All Blacks Men In Black safety video rather than the usual boring demo :)

When we first entered the terminal I thought I heard someone praying but as we got closer to the source I realised it was a recording of a welcome Maori chant that was being played from a carved wooden archway, which we had to walk through to get into the security area of the airport; it was a brilliant arrival, a taste of the real New Zealand!

Bit blurry!

After getting through security (which the passport man told us was of much better quality than ours in the UK!) we grabbed our bags and got a taxi to our hostel. As it was after hours we picked up our key from an envelope on the front desk and climbed into bed, exhausted but excited for the next day.

We stayed in Ponsonby for 4 nights and explored the area as well as we could. The main street is full of cool cafes, bars and restaurants and independent fashion boutiques; it was great not to be surrounded by chains and the food is mostly all homemade and delicious because of it. We ate out at Little Easy on our first proper night for a burger and drinks… A few too many drinks for me… :( I spent the following day recovering but still exploring!

Walking around we noticed the houses looked almost Victorian with ornate awnings on their front deckings. A lot of the buildings have an art deco vibe too.

Auckland is very hilly, (good for the thighs!) the plants look faintly exotic and the streets are often lined by a palm tree or two.

There’s a good glimpse of the city centre from Ponsonby Road. It was too dark to see anything when we arrived by plane so to see the area like this for the first time was great.

Around the back streets, (and some front ones too) there is a lot of street art. It seems the towns like to add colour to even their most mundane patches...

Knowing that we had to find work soon to sustain our numerous breakfasts and lunches out we decided to get all the boring but important bits out first so we headed to the bank (ANZ) to open an account or as it turned out 2 accounts.(A woman in the street saw me eating a croissant and joked, ‘ooh is that your Sunday morning treat?’ I thought ‘no, I’ve been having one every day now for the past 4 days!’ but obviously I just smiled and nodded!) The whole banking process was rather confusing – for me anyway :/ I ended up with a chip and pin card, which I can apparently use for ‘Eftpos’ but which doesn’t have my name or customer number on… At least I can access my funds, or lack of now, online. Will seems much more clued up and has had a special debit card delivered to him, complete with name and customer number embossed onto the front. The interest rates are also so much better than those back in the UK, which is why I opened a savings account too to hopefully accumulate a larger amount of cash than when we lived in Greenwich.

The notes here are plasticy - good if you forget to check your pockets before washing!

10 cents is the smallest coin and so when you get to the till they round up or down the final amount to the nearest 10!

To get a job we both needed a tax IRD number, which we could apply for at the local Post Shop. Will had printed off the forms online before we had even got on the plane so we felt prepared. When I had filled in all of it and got to the bottom I noticed the small print – make sure you have both an original and a photocopy of your passport and driving licence. Oh. So obviously I had my passport  - and a photocopy, (how organised am I?!) And I bought a photocopy of my provisional driving license… and that was it… I have a flashback to the day of packing asking Will whether he thought I’d need my original licence – ‘No, no absolutely not, a photocopy will be more than sufficient.’ Ha! The Post Shop woman was not very helpful but I rung the tax people up, (freephone so that’s good) and the man told me to go to the central office in Takapuna – I had no idea where that was but I agreed. I persuaded Will to get a taxi with me and we set off on our quest, the whole time I ‘asked the Universe’ to help! We had a lovely chat with our Fijian taxi driver and crossed the bay to get to the office. It wasn’t too expensive but the area looked rather industrial and like there wasn’t too much else around. It turns out that asking the Universe helped - my form went through even quicker than Will’s, woo! We mooched around the area, not expecting to find much but happy that things had worked themselves out. And unexpectedly stumbled across the sea and a beautiful sandy beach...

The island of Rangitoto in the distance

A couple of days later we paid a visit to Auckland Art Gallery, which was at the top of a hill and which we later found out we didn’t really have to climb. The map of the park the gallery was in made the park look much bigger than it actually was but they had a cool looking clock tower. They had a mix of contemporary Maori and New Zealand art and a special exhibition is on at the moment featuring miniatures of the story of Rama and Sita.

My Fav :)
We had to travel to the airport on Monday to pick up the campervan! After looking at the website I was quite disappointed to find our car wasn’t bright green and purple with the huge Jucy logo on the side but thinking about it, it’s probably best that our ride was a little less conspicuous and obviously touristy. After a quick run through of the particulars off we drove…

I was excited to see the misty mountains in the background but Will was more concerned about driving a new car
Our first night’s stop off was at McLaren’s Falls, a proper camping experience. It got dark pretty quickly and we still had to cook and set the bed up, sigh. As soon as we turned on all the lights to start cooking on the small gas hob at the back in flooded the midges and moths! Rookie mistake! We shut all the doors and had to swat loads but I still managed to get bitten in the night. We had stopped off at the supermarket on the way and picked up some spaghetti and 'tomato paste', which we assumed was sauce you could use for things like pasta but it turns out it was concentrated tomato puree! :/ Needless to say the taste was very rich but we ate every last morsel! 

The walk down to the falls gave us our first glimpse of those famous curly ferns

We took a walk through the forest to discover a pretty little waterfall but didn’t go as far in to find the glow-worms – it was getting too dark and we were both a little nervous (despite what Will says!)

The bed took a little while to get used to. We had to push the front seats as far forward as they would go, slot the middle piece into place, then move the chairs slightly back again so we could squeeze in our suitcases! Then we had to put the sheet down, put the duvet cover on and sort out the pillows. It was pretty cold too. I wore loads of layers, including my big green hoodie and my nose was still chilly in the morning. It was weird knowing there were loads of sheep around in the field and we occasionally heard the odd ‘baaaa’ in the night!

The showers and toilets smelt a bit like sheep in the morning but were very clean regardless and the water was hot. I was very glad I bought a pair of cheap flip-flops so that I didn’t have to touch the floor with my bare feet! I think Will was secretly annoyed; he only had his trainers and it seemed to take ages to take them on and off again every time! After some morning ‘Weetbix’ – they have no ‘a’ here, we set off for our next destination.

On our way to Rotorua we drove through a small town, Matamata, made famous from the set tours of Hobbiton. We picked up some lunch from a typical bakery/cafĂ© – a bacon sandwich with a sweet onion relish, absolutely delicious! These cafes are all over New Zealand and are self-service with hot display cases on the counter. The cakes and pastries are all homemade using the fresh produce of the many surrounding farms and we could really tell the difference. I picked up a Neenish tart (a citrus creamy pastry) and Will took a warm meaty pie for the road, (which later slipped out of it’s bag and slid down my leg – by accident I might add! It still tasted good though, apparently!) The woman behind the counter chatted to us about New Zealand’s love of the All Blacks and how they were doing in the Rugby World Cup, something Will could comment on more than me! After that we noticed they had flags everywhere and even a big painted message on someone’s roof!

Our stop for the next two nights was at Waitete Trout Stream Holiday Park. We parked up next to the stream and Will fed the ducks some pastry from his pie. 

It was a short walk to the edge of Lake Rotorua and the ducks were eager to follow. We could see all around the lake and the island in the centre, Mokoia, which has a traditional love story attached to it:

Two people, an illegitimate chief Tutanekai and the high-born Hinemoa fell in love but the girl’s family forbid the union. Tutanekai lived on the island and to stop them being together Hinemoa’s family hid their canoes. One night she heard the sound her love’s flute across the water and decided to swim to him. Hinemoa waited in the bushes until a servant came past and caused a commotion. When Tutanekai came to find out what had happened he came across Hinemoa and she fell into his arms. Ahhh!

There were loads of birds around as the island is a sanctuary and the noises they made were bizarre. Will nicknamed one the 'police duck' because it's call sounded like a siren!

The kitchen was well equipped so we cooked meatballs for dinner, with the same tomato paste mmmm! Our little fridge in the back of the van started smelling like tomatoes!

During the next day we visited Rotorua’s smelly town centre, due to the amount of sulphur in the air coming from the thermal hotspots. It was fascinating to see steam rising from the ground and areas cautioned off because they were too dangerous to walk over. 

It's a goose!

That evening we went to Mitai, the family run Maori village about 20 minutes away from where we were staying. We were picked up by a friendly guy called Timbo, (who has the biggest hands I’ve ever seen!) We were separated into two groups and went to see the ‘hangi’ or steamed feast and how the Maori used to cook and in some places still do - wooden logs with rocks on top are burnt, which heats the rocks. These then fall into a pre-dug hole and wet sacking is placed on top. Then meat, mostly chicken and lamb, kumara (sweet potato), stuffing and their steamed pudding gets put into steel baskets and more wet sacking put on top and finally a steel lid to keep all the steam in. The food was cooked for about 4 hours and was all lovely and tender when it came out. The stuffing was particularly good and I really want to try and find a recipe to replicate it! Will helped out and got to try a potato first, which he shared with me! It had a smoky taste to it but was delicious.

We passed a replica of a canoe, hand crafted by a family whose tribe is well known for the best wood crafting. Our guide, cousin Jimmy, encouraged us to ask questions and this is what we found out as a result:
This boat is made from 1 tree
They could hold about 18 men
Only men were allowed in the boat as it was predominantly used to take them to battle
At the front of the boat would be carved different sculptures relating to what tribe you were and what was important to you
Sap from a tree would be melted down to use as a kind of glue instead of using nails

Then as a group we walked down to the stream where we waited with baited breath for the warriors to come down in their ‘waka’ or canoe. Being in the forest made it all the more magical, especially when they carried fiery torches and sung whilst dancing with their oars.

We then sat down to watch what they called the cultural show. Both the men and women were wearing traditional dress and they all had facial tattoos, 'moko'. The men’s were all over the face, where the right and left side have slightly different designs based on their mother and father’s sides of the family. The women just had their lips and chins covered with an owl design, which I think refers to them looking over the home. They sung and danced with a lot of eye bulging and thigh slapping thrown in for good measure. The chief showed us their weapons (mainly clubs) their musical instruments and the exercises practised to maintain good physical strength.

After the meal (no pictures I’m afraid, think we were too busy eating it!) we went for a guided tour around their native forest, Rainbow Springs to see the ferns in their natural environment, the spring itself and we also caught sight of a large group of glow worms! The ferns, although green, have a silver underneath and could be used turned over to guide someone through the forest late at night so as to not get lost. The Maori also used the ferns to cover their wooden homes so that if an enemy tribe tried to burn them down, they wouldn’t be able to because the ferns would keep the foundations so wet. John the guide was funny and kept us entertained, that is until another person in the group (an Australian I think!) made a joke about his ‘man bag’! We went home stuffed :)

The next day we decided to try out the Luge. We took a gondola ride up a large hill with great views of the town and lake, took a helmet and grabbed a go-kart. Our ticket gave us 3 rides, which was no-where near enough; it was brilliant! I failed in trying to persuade Will to upgrade to an annual pass! It went so fast I thought I might come off it when I went round corners and actually took off going over a bump! Aaaand I overtook Will woo! The only sport I might actually be good at!

On our way to Lake Taupo we stopped off at Wai-O-Tapu, a geothermal wonderland, as self-proclaimed in their leaflet! We had to get up early so we wouldn’t miss the geyser eruption at 10:30am. There were quite a few annoying selfie sticks in the way but we managed to get a good view. The guy told us the story of how the geyser was discovered –
Near to the site is a forest of pines, which had to be cleared of it’s original flora and fauna back in the day and who better for the task than the local prisoners. They soon realised that the water around the area was hot so took their laundry down one day to be washed. But when the soap touched the water it set off a chemical reaction and the geyser erupted! Now they induce the eruptions every day.

Lady Knox Geyser

Devil's Ink Pots

Artist's Palette - so many colours, really beautiful

Champagne Pool

Devil's Bath was a shocker right at the end

Walking around the many pools was one of the best things we’ve done so far. The colour ranges were amazing and the steam coming off gave them a mysterious creepy look. Will’s favourite was the champagne pool and mine was the artist’s palette. The vivid green at the end was a super way to finish it all off.

As co-pilot I think I did pretty well but I missed a rather big turning on our way to find the next holiday park. Luckily enough though the way we ended up going instead brought us to our ‘second on the list’ back up plan and very nice it was too! The town didn’t have much of anything in it so we just wandered around the lake edge, relaxing and soaking up the views.

Back on the road the next day we passed Huka Falls, a brilliant waterfall with vast amounts of water squeezed into a narrow passage 15m wide and 10m deep, which produces a violent crashing of ice blue waves. 200,000l falls 9m over the rock face every second. 'Huka' is the Maori word for 'foam' and when the water plunges over the falls it picks up loads of air bubbles which creates the cool colour. The falls drains Lake Taupo and is part of the Waikato River, one of the longest in NZ. We caught sight of a jet boat tour going almost all the way up to the falls but the sheer power of the water pushed them back.

We arrived at Napier and I have to say I was a little disappointed. The internet had bigged it up to be a spectacular town with amazing architecture, easily transporting you back to the 1930s. A lot of the buildings did have grand looking facades but only their top halves; the bottoms had been converted into your average high-street and many shops were empty with big ‘for lease’ signs in the windows. We walked up Bluff Hill for a good view of the Pacific ocean but this was mostly taken over by the busy port.

That night we got chatting to a couple who had just come back from Kent to visit their daughter and new granddaughter. Both were working casually in the local area and after speaking to others on our trip it seems like this is the lifestyle many choose; working when they want to and travelling around – sounds good to me!

It was freezing cold in the camper van that night!! Our phones lost power really quickly as even they struggled to keep warm :/

We stopped off for some petrol in the morning and quickly realised we didn’t know how to open the petrol flap. We tugged and tapped and pressed some unknown buttons in the car but didn’t have a clue so resorted to asking the garage worker. She found it immediately, lifting a small lever by the driver’s chair, ‘there you go mate!’ She said it happens all the time but I wonder if that’s true. Will drove our red faces quickly away…

Wanting different views and experiences we decided to stop at Turangi, just south of Taupo on our way back and asked at the tourist i-site about any local places to park up the campervan. The woman kindly suggested Camp Habitat, which was conveniently located next to both a pub and a supermarket. Well thank goodness for the pub!! The kitchen was filthy and in a time-warp – there was even a ghetto blaster on the side! I didn’t want to even leave any food in the fridge it looked so grimy. The site reminded me of some American teen hostel horror film with motel rooms spread around. Everything seemed to be broken or not in use and dirty. It was such a shame because the owners were lovely! We didn't want to hang around indoors, partly because of the dirt and partly because it was so lovely and sunny so went for a walk on a nearby trail which followed the Tongariro river and climbed a big hill for a great outlook. The views were amazing - it was so nice to be completely surrounded by nature and we kept saying to ourselves 'well is this is just the North Island imagine what the South will be like!'

We passed lots of men fishing for Trout, the place is famous for it. Unfortunately for me they don't sell it anywhere so if you want to eat it you have to catch it yourself - reminds me of working at the Fishery!

We ate dinner in ‘The Tavern’, sausage and mash for me with some fancy parsnip crisps and a burger for Will which was reasonably priced. I also tried out Hokey Pokey ice-cream for the first time; absolutely delicious bits of toffee and honey comb in vanilla ice cream! (I have since tried to re-create the experience by buying several bars of Hokey Pokey chocolate; their brand Whitakers is particularly good!) I braved the shower the next morning but Will backed out – again SO glad to have the flip-flops!!

Our last stop of the trip was back in Matamata and this time we did Hobbiton!! They pick you up from the town centre and it’s a short drive to the farm where the film set is. The woman was rather grumpy and kept moaning at the other tourists who couldn’t speak English properly and getting annoyed when they didn’t understand. I’m glad she dropped us off with Paul our guide, who Will and I discovered originally comes from the midlands back in the UK. The i-Site in Matamata has been decorated to look like a hobbit hole from the outside so we were excited before we even got on the bus!

The tour took around 2 hours and we found out cool stuff about the films like what the lichen on the fences was made of and how they re-created a whole plum tree, with individually tied on leaves! Paul’s first question was what was the first line of The Fellowship of the Ring, that Frodo says to Gandalf? And I butted in a bit too quickly ‘You’re Late!’ We stood where the actors had done years before and listened whilst Paul told us about other crew members, including one whose job it was to go out every morning and evening to put up and take down the hobbits’ washing on the lines in the gardens. The farm was and is still in use and keeps sheep and cattle, which absentmindedly wandered across the roads whilst we were in the bus. At the end we got a free drink in the Green Dragon! Me and Will kept humming parts of the LOTR soundtrack to each other, which we had been playing in the car whilst driving :) Although tempting to buy a Gandalf cloak in the gift shop I held back and we got back on the bus, (where the lady was busy shouting at yet more tourists, ‘no go the other way. Back the way you’ve come. Through there!’)

We had to try out the costumes for a proper experience!

We still had a few hours of the afternoon/evening to spend and saw a sign for another Falls (Wairere) nearby. It said 45 minutes to the look out so we eagerly started the climb. After doing some research we discovered that these falls are the highest in the whole of the North Island! The walk wasn’t too hard going, although in some places there wasn’t any boardwalks and we just had to clamber on to the rocks. Runners passed us on both sides; I have no idea how they managed it with not a twisted ankle in sight! The view at the top was well worth it; just breath taking really and wonderful that we caught sight of a rainbow too! We got chatting to a couple of women who said they were doing the walk up here once a week and I thought how lovely it would be to have this on your doorstep. Well, we have for this year too!

So the last day of our driving adventure had arrived. We were sad to leave the campervan; it had served us well over the past week or so and we had kind of grown attached. It felt unfamiliar to have to get the bus back to town. And so we settled back into the hostel and got cracking on the job hunt…

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