Monday, 7 February 2011

On the Road and Off the Grid in New Zealand

Hello again, everyone! Let me start by apologising for the lack of blog action in the past week or so. It's not easy finding a computer when you're on and road and living in a campervan. Our days have been action-packed too, which doesn't help blogging but has been loads of fun for us. Last you knew we were in Auckland I think, so I'll start there...

We arrived in Auckland on 25th January and Ania and I spent a pleasant few days at a lovely hostel called City Garden Lodge, in a posh bit of the city called Parnell. We ventured into the city centre a few times and saw some sights including the famous Sky Tower, which looks a bit like a massive syringe. And talking of doing drugs, if you are on them you can bungee jump off this thing! We are in the country that invented a lot of extreme sports after all!

The Sky Tower. Want to jump off it? You can! Clean underwear not included.

We're doing another campervan road trip around New Zealand with our friends Dan and Sarah, who we met in Australia. They were both arriving in NZ a few days after us, so Ania and I spent a few days relaxing in Auckland. We got ourselves to the cinema a couple of times, to see The Kings Speech and Black Swan, both of which were excellent (I especially loved TKS).

On the 29th the four of us picked up our new van! We've got another Jucy (same company Ania and I hired from in Australia, recognisable from their *ahem* tasteful green and purple exterior)! This time we've gone for a much bigger vehicle called the 'Condo'. It's really good! We've got a proper fridge, a two-ring gas stove, a TV/DVD player and two double beds!

For those of you who don't know the geography, New Zealand is made up of two islands, the North and the South. Auckland is nearer the north of the North Island, so we decided to head... you guessed it: north first, to see the extreme tip of the er... North Island. Our first night in our new home was spent at a D.O.C. (Department of Conservation) camping ground in a place called Uretiti. We had to take some detours on the way because of flooding (what is it with floods, everywhere we go?!), but we made it to a nice place to stop right next to a beach. We arrived pretty late, so didn't appreciate how incredible the beach was, until we started our day the next morning with a brief visit, where we took some good photos:

Next we set off to a lovely little town called Russell, in the extreme North of New Zealand, in a place called the Bay of Islands. We had a walk around this pretty little seaside town and drank some good beer outside a pub right next to the wharf. The barman was from Grays in Essex (right near where I'm from) so gave us a locals' discount! I guess technically he and I are locals! We ate some great fish and chips, or fish and 'cheps' as the Kiwis pronounce it. Ania got some kumara chips - that's the NZ name for sweet potatoes, which are very popular out here.
Having a drink at Russell Wharf at sunset:
Fish and cheps!The next day we spent the morning in Russell and booked ourselves a boat trip to see all the different islands that make up the Bay of Islands. The four of us went on a boat called 'The Excitor', which is pretty fast and tours a few of the islands in an hour and a half. You don't get off the boat, but you do get to see some great scenery and take some photos. It was a great trip! They whizz along at a good pace playing loud music as you crash through the waves, bumping up and down in your seat. I remember particularly enjoying The Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits and Love Shack by the B52s! We saw some great views, including the boring-sounding but actually-quite-interesting 'Hole in the Rock', which our boat drove right through.
Ready for 'The Excitor'!
It's a hole. In a rock. What more do you want?!
After leaving 'The Excitor', Ania and I went to an interesting museum called Pompallier. Ania was interested because they have a pre-Industrial Revolution printing press there. The whole place was a Mission house that produced prayer books in Maori, set up by Catholics to convert the Maori population. The books were all made by hand, so the house has two printing presses, a tannery (to make leather to coat the books) and some beautiful English gardens. The two Maori guides who walked us through the place were excellent. We also learnt here that Russell was the original capital of New Zealand!
Ania with the press, being carefully watched by the Virgin Mary(!)

That same afternoon we did a massive stint of driving south, going past Auckland to Hot Water Beach. As the name would suggest, this place has hot water on the beach! If you take a spade and dig below the sand there's geothermally-heated water! It's boiling hot in places and needs to be mixed with cold sea water to get it to a tolerable temperature. We went at 10 o'clock at night: it was like sitting in a sandy hot tub in the dark. Lots of other people were all around us doing the same thing, it was fun! On our way to and from the beach it was pitch black and we found some amazing phosphorescence in the sand. Our feet were lighting up the ground like the Michael Jackson video for Smooth Criminal.
Ania, Sarah and Dan, dancing on the lit-up sand at Hot Water Beach:

On 1st February we drove to a place called Matamata, which ten years ago would have been best known for it's cattle farming. These days, however, it's a pilgrimage site for Lord of the Rings geeks like me, Ania and Dan! It's where they built Hobbiton, The Shire and Bag End: home to Bilbo and later, Frodo Baggins. Sarah wasn't so interested so she chilled out in our van while us three went 'There and Back Again'. Now before I go any further, I must tell you that we were all made to sign a confidentiality agreement because the set is about to become active again for filming of The Hobbit. All I will say is that it was a massive buzz doing the tour and seeing The Shire locations. The tour was really great too and if you like LOTR, I thoroughly recommend it. We have loads of photos, which we will show you when we get home!
Hobbiton is actually a sheep farm, so weirdly, we started the tour by watching a shearing demonstration and bottle-feeding some lambs: Ania's going to fill you in on the next few days of our trip, so I'll finish my post by saying how much we're all enjoying New Zealand. The people are SO friendly. Just walking down the street everyone says hello and there's a really nice atmosphere everywhere you go. If you can find the time and the money, do yourself a favour and visit when you can!

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