New Zealand-Travelogue :Round the World 2003
Hmmm... where were we?.... New Zealand! Driving on the "wrong" side of the road... with a Campervan...
Just bringing this back to our minds:
We left Brazil on the 12th of May, Monday, and arrived in Auckland, Wednesday, on the 14th of May. Funnily enough we got our Tuesday stolen from us.. Somewhere after Hawaii... I guess... it's quite awkward... I never thought I would have a 2003 with one Tuesday less!! But, it could have been worse... it could have been a Friday or Saturday!!! This would have been a really BAD deal!
Well, Tuesday-less we arrived in Auckland airport around 4am to have an overflow of information on their Tourist Information Desk! The most organized and friendly so far! And while we digested all the inputs sitting in a café and waiting for the city to wake up to be able to check in our Hostel and start the day...after all the New Zealanders (sweetly calling themselves: Kiwis) are friendly but at this early hour we couldn't expect to have them awake to receive us!
Putting all pieces of info together the conclusion was quite easy... expensive country! We would have to make some adaptations to our travel plan in order to survive New Zealand within our budget. Solution: instead of Hostels and transportation (train, bus or car), we would get a special winter discount and rent a campervan for $40. The van plus some petrol bills would solve our accommodation and transportation problems in one shot.
After some days exploring Auckland and organizing our mind set to this new country... there we left.... Driving on the left side... like the British... on the WRONG side of the road... almost having a heart attack and trying hard to concentrate not to go into a car accident by the simple habit of driving on the right side! At first it was horrible and we thought we would never get really used to it, but after a week we were already doing pretty well! At least as drivers... as pedestrians is another story... Tati still always looks to the wrong side of the road before crossing.... And Matthias always has to save her from being killed by cars coming from the other side! I guess it is already so automatic that it is more difficult to get used to!...
New Zealand is an Island... or better... two Islands.. The North one and the South one... and looking at the map, it looks quite small and easy to travel. But what we found was... it is a country that has so many natural beauties compressed together in its small area that it makes it an amazing place to travel! Every 10km you have a waterfall or a mountain or a beautiful coastal view... not to speak of the dolphins, penguins, glowing worm caves, whales, rain forests, seals, blowholes, pancake rocks, Alpine like mountain ranges, snow fields, country sides full of white fluffy dots (...sheep... loooots of them!! It is unbelievable!! What a country!
Therefore, despite its relative small area... it is quite tough to choose from the things to see and stop for! ..Quite stressful... if you know what we mean..
We first went north through the coast enjoying our total freedom of being able to stop and have lunch, sleep or go wherever we felt like. If a little road looked interesting... there we would go and... a lookout that was mind-blowing beautiful... it would become our sleeping place for the day! New Zealand is indeed easy for Campervans... they have toilets everywhere, most of them cleaner than in some hostels, and you are allowed to stop your van everywhere if not advised otherwise. So you simply stop, look if there is a sign of No-Camp.. and if you are lucky, voila, there you have, 5-star view and a luxurious camping strategy!
We arrived in the Bay of Islands, supposed to be a beautiful spot for water activities, sailing and so on.. but we got so much rain that we couldn't really enjoy this beauty... Russell, one of the Islands, is WOW-scenic and a picturesque walk along the shore is worth the day!
These Kiwis are amazing... can you imagine walking in the middle of a mangrove (manguesal) without getting muddy to your hair? Here you can!!... They have built a board-walk... basically a bridge made of wood... that takes you in a scenic 2-hour walk along mangrove and rain forests... great stuff!
From there we drove south craving for some sunnier times... just taking our time and enjoying the most scenic sleeping places.... with the waves just beside the van... amazing sunsets and sunrises!
It was difficult to get used to have such a prime location to sleep every day! It was quite funny... every night we would search for a sleeping spot and... after figuring out a place that would be scenic, we would try to guess the position of the sun rise...just to have it in our windows when we would wake up. It was a process that could take minutes... or hours... and for an outsider could look as a dog getting a place to sleep... going around and around as if hunting for its own tail and suddenly... it would just lie down and sleep quietly! That would be our campervan... we would go around... find a spot and them would be a succession of ... "more to the right... now to the left.... Turn around... more right ... no... too much... go back... but... the sun will be on the other side.. hmmm... ok!... turn again... not flat enough..." )) Crazy us!!! But it was our ritual for every night! Until we were totally happy and we would cook dinner, read a book and sleep with the night sounds and wake up looking around and thinking... WOW... THAT's cool!
Some of the times we would get the sunrises that are difficult to describe...you open your eyes and you see all the sun-rising-colors and cliffs, just surrounded by the most beautiful waves... and you just feel happy to be there!
Of course waking up was a difficult process... not the waking up part... but the getting up one! Getting out of the sleeping bag with 5 or 6 degrees outside... it's tough! And as we got New Zealand's wintertime... that was pretty much the average we found at night! But the thing was... the days were short.. it would get dark at 5:30pm and we would have sunrise at 8:30am... so in order to have the best of the daytime light... we would really have to push ourselves to get moving... or... Matthias would have to push Tati to get moving!!!! ..Not always an easy task!
But... we... where were we?? Ah... getting south hunting for some sun! We passed again through Auckland and ...by the way... Auckland: Nice city with a cosmopolitan air, Asian faces, a Sushi place in every corner!! Not especially beautiful, not deadly busy ... after 6pm it gets totally dead and after 7pm it's difficult to get something open during the week! Not a party place I would say and also not an amazingly beautiful setting also!
After refilling ourselves with info on working opportunities in New Zealand we drove southwest through beautiful autumn colors and rolling hills until we hit Raglan. Raglan is a bucolic surfer's paradise with its long waves: a mix of surfer boys, hippies contrasting with the country style environment!! And that was what caught most of our attention, if we were to be a cow or a sheep that's the place for it... imagine to spend your life eating grass over looking gorgeous cliffs and turquoise ocean colors!!! That's the life of this Kiwi cows and sheep.... Not bad!!! We've never seen this mix of super green hilled farms suddenly ending on a beautiful beach!! From Raglan we drove south through a gravel-curvy road, the most scenic drive so far! Imagine some perfect green hills, astonishing cliffs, turquoise water of the ocean and one sheep or another from time to time.... Wow!!
Well... we were not exactly allowed to drive there, Tati learned after arriving in the next village. Matthias got the tip of this road from the Dumont guidebook together with the observation that: campervans or drivers without considerable gravel road experience should not try this one! True that many times Tati thought we would get stuck over there (Tati: my experience with gravel roads are more close to inexistent than of competent) and it was not exactly legal to drive our campervan on gravel roads...for a start!... but the risk was more than worth taking! This piece of road is of comparable in beauty to the touristy Australian Great Ocean Road, with the advantage that we had it all for ourselves! (...Thank God...two cars wouldn't pass in this narrow and curvy road!)
We went to Waitomo Caves, a village that survives from its glowing worms caves. Yes, it sounds weird and these are weird animals. The cave itself is not interesting at all...as the river passes through the cave so all its formations are washed away (no stalagmites or stalactites....) if not for the worms... these caves wouldn't have any attractive. But we went in a black-water rafting through one of the caves (literally sitting in a old tire and going down stream a river inside this total dark cave) where we found the funny glowing worms... which look indeed like a 4cm-long-bege-coloured-thin-worm that live in the cave ceiling and at one of its ends... probably not the mouth... ...it glows a small but strong green light, as small as a dot. It is as if the warm would be holding a mini-warm-size-torch!!! Funny if you think about it but when we floated through this dark cave and slowly passed the ceiling with thousands of glowing little-guys... well... the effect is as having a dark sky in a clear-full-of-stars-night!!! Incredible beauty!!
From there we went to the sulfurous smelling (Tati: this stinks!) Rotorua, a city that sits on the top of a volcanic area and therefore has all thermal springs and all different kinds of water sources. The most amazing for us was to simply go around the city and see that in every garden or street water escape... everywhere that could have a connection to the underground was simply: smoking! There is stinky white (or sometimes yellowish) smoke blowing from everywhere! We know... we have already used the word "stinky" lots of times just in this single paragraph...but.. we can not help it! How to describe Rotorua without this word???... Maybe saying the sulfurous Rotorua... or rotten-egg-smells... hellish-flavored city!! Ha ha ha
Well, anyways... we enjoyed Rotorua a lot, went to thermal springs spas, going around the city central park, which is simply the most amazing demonstration of thermal activity we've ever seen: with its garden being blown away from time to time because a new hot spring or geyser simply decided to appear or disappear from time to time! We met one of the garden keepers. He said that after working there for 15 years he is still not bored! Every day is a new finding... It is an amazingly changing environment: a geyser that erupted from the center of the park, 150 meters high, and gave a bath to the whole block; the lake heated over night... Now imagine you are a Duck! Yes, a Duck! After a long migration season you spot your always friendly lake, the one you have been last migration season. Looking forward to a rest, what do you do? Flight strait towards it and start a landing...just to find out that your butt is frying because your stinky-but-romantic-looking lake is now boiling hot!!! No fun!
After some days in Rotorua Tati was already feeling sick only to think of the smells of the city and we were looking much forward to some fresh air! So we went down to the Tongariro National Park. There we met Barbara and Meike, two German girls also doing their world trip. Great and cheerful company for our next days! After some tea mugs and lots of laughs we decided to go together for the traditional Tongariro Crossing, a hike said to be one of the most spectacular in New Zealand... if you have good weather! Weather is an important detail, as a cloud seams to always be hanging there on the top of its volcanic shaped high mountains!! Next day we went to try our luck as the weather forecast predicted "cloudy morning but clearing in the afternoon".
The morning came as predicted... cloudy and bloody cold!! So we had to pray for the other part of the preview also to realize!!
We walked for hours in a volcanic area... as far as we could see... I mean... not much!... it was all volcanic lava rocks everywhere and little golden bushes. After a while the clouds started to give some view and only then we realized that we have been walking in a volcano crater, first on its flat bottom and then climbing up its ridge. At the top, we were all trying hard to eat our lunch without being blown away by the strong winds nor became an ice-cream. It was cold, raining deadly windy! The clouds were passing fast and between one cloud and the next we had some seconds of nice view of the Red Crater and some lakes, but the big volcano we have never seen! Sounds like a 5-hour-hike of lots of suffering and no fun, right?? But I have to say.... Not at all!! We had lots of fun walking and chatting with Barbara & Meike, exchanging trip anecdotes and laughing our way up the hill and back to the park entrance! It was a great day!! The weather forecast failed in the "opening in the afternoon" part but we had lots of fun with our friends!
Well... I know it is mean... but one observation I cannot avoid making... If you come to NZ, you have to go for a hike, at least one!!! Not because NZ is a hiking country, nor because of its incredible beauty, but, I tell you: see the Kiwis hiking is a cultural experience that can not be missed!!! Why?
Imagine the picture. First you get up in the morning and you go for a hike. It is cold, not snow level, looks like raining. You get your hiking gear. What do you put on? Some trousers, good shoes, Gore-Tex pants and jacket, gloves, hat, fleece (warm ones) and your backpack with some food and lots of water, right?
Wrong! That's what we learned!! Not with the Kiwis at least. They have a really peculiar way of dressing up for a hike and also behaving during the hike!!
What a Kiwi-hike-wear? They put on their woolen underwear (kind of long Johns make of thick wool) not exactly mono colored... actually Benetton looks quite pale when you get to Kiwi hike-wear! So, they have their colorful Woolen-Long-Johns (stripes, bolls, pink, neon green... be creative is the rule! Although Tati prefers the pink and striped ones!), and then on the top of it you put your shorts. Shorts? Yes, shorts! Don't' ask us why, it is beyond our imagination. And then a T-shirt, a woolen pullover on the top and sometimes a fishing vest. That's about it! No rain gear... besides their gators! Yes, GATORS! Covering their ankles down to the boots: gators!! What for? We have no clue!!! We had long discussions trying to figure out the usage of a gator...but we have to admit that we failed! Barbara & Meike told us they read in a Kiwi manual for the hikers that you should wear gators in order to avoid getting stones inside your boots while crossing a river!
Pause with me for a second to meditate about this point. You have a river between you and your destination. What do you do? Rule number one of hiking: keep your boots dry!! You don't want to spend hours, if not weeks, hiking with wet boots, right? So, again: You have a river between you and your destination. What do you do?
First you try to find a way to cross it without getting wet. If not possible, you take your shoes off and then carefully cross the river, right? And if the river is too strong to cross safely, well, better think twice if crossing it at all.
But anyways, after crossing, you put your shoes on again and voila...dry shoes! Well, I thought it was default, but apparently Kiwi hikers have a different strategy for that, they simply go for the river, with boot and everything!! Well, if you want to do that, ok, your business, but the question remains the same, why the gators? If you are dipping your feet in the water anyways... no point in protecting them with gators, and if the river is so strong that would make stones get into your boost... I wouldn't cross it anyways!!!
Well, we guess Kiwis are tough hikers!!! Surviving a hike with woolen materials in a rainy and windy day, with wet feet... only a wimp would try to arrive home warm and dry!! We are most probably missing the point but there is no way out: go and see all those Kiwis with their Long-colorful-Johns, shorts, gators, boots, pullover, and fishing vest! It is a combination that makes it hard for us to hold our laughs!!!
Maybe we should have tried that outfit... but we were too chicken to get out of our sleeping bags with such a funny mixture of clothes!
The Tongariro Crossing itself... it is probably beautiful if you get the right weather. Just before sunset the clouds disappeared and we could appreciate the beauty of the mountain in the warm sunset lights. Maybe next time!
Anyways...after lots of gator-discussions and lots of fun we spent some more time with Meike and Barbara we said goodbye to our friends and went south while the two were heading north.
Wellington was our next and last stop in the North Island! And how we enjoyed it!!! Cinema (we got there just in time for their Gay Film Festival: Out Comers! Lot's of fun!), museums, good food and a top sleeping spot at the top of Victoria Hill (we would sleep and wake up with the beautiful harbor view of Wellington. Great city!
After a 3-hour ferry ride to the South Island we arrived in Picton and we went straight driving through the coast heading west. The North Island is beautiful but we can not explain exactly why the South Island grabbed so much more our attention! Maybe its mixture of lush rain forests and bucolic rolling hills, or maybe the quite not inhabited West Coast with the highest rain fall of New Zealand... it's a lot of rain! Or maybe the dramatic cliffs of the coast, or the pancake rocks with their blowing holes (literally a rock that look like you have pilled thousands of pancakes, one at the top of the other... shaped by the ocean forming the most amazing forms).... Or maybe it is the profusion of its super green forest that simply shares their space with a Glacier!! And if you are tired of forests and glaciers, you can still go to the south coast and see some whales, penguins, dolphins, sea lions, seals... you name it!!
I can not say for sure where the charm of the South Island lies but fact is that it is great fun to travel over there!!! Near the Tasman National Park we (woofed) stayed in a organic farm with the Opie Family, Rhon and Anthony, a very nice couple! In exchange for some help in the farm we had great food, first class accommodation and interesting talks all night long! We felt guilty because our working time was so much fun that we really thought we haven't really deserved all this first class treat!! The highlight here was our honey harvesting... from taking the plates out of the nests to centrifuging the honey and packaging kilos and kilos of this precious and delicious honey into glasspots... we had lots of fun!!! Tati was attached by some bees but other than that the result was one bee-bite vs. 20kg of beautiful honey!!! We would do everything again!!! Other than that a little bit of weeding, collecting pruned wood, teaching the dog to play with a stick instead of teeth-threatening-rocks... great fun!!!
We will always be thankful for the opportunity to have a break from our campervan and get a bit of an insight of the New Zealanders way of life.
From the farm we got lots of luck with the weather and got the most perfect days in the West coast!! Going through beautiful coast line, hiking to the Franz-Joseph Glacier.. Hunting the best mirror picture of the mountain range in the water (Kiwi Alps)... and driving long distances hoping that the next gas station would be there before our gas runs out, those were 2 gorgeous weeks!!!
We went hunt some skiing in Wanaka and Queenstown (two lake cities with the good New Zealand skiing mountains)... but luck worked against us this time, they had simply NO snow (30cm of snow... not to say that it was zero snow)! Everybody was waiting for the snow to come and the season was to have been opened since 2 weeks... but nothing!! Skiing had to wait! Maybe in Australia....?? The snow was late and we had to go on!
We hat a difficult decision to make... postpone our flights or skip going to Milford Sound. Milford Sound won!! With one extra week to go we visited the mind-blowing Milford Sound... on the way: a mix of MASSIVE rock formations with water falls falling from all over, lush forests and white peaks... this drive to get to the sound... it is simply unbelievable!!! Then you get there and the water gets to the high green mountains in a mixture of clouds, green, water... total mystical!! We were really happy not to have dropped this one!!
We headed south and after lots of sea lions, penguins, water falls and lots of small hikes we got to the east point of the south Island: Nugget Point... with one of the most impressive sunsets we had, with those rocks popping out of the ocean as gold nuggets, the beautiful old light-house... all illuminated by the sunset lights!!
We continued north direction Christchurch passing by a beach with impressive rocks perfectly round as huge soccer bolls... hunting some German bread in a city called Oamaru (tip from Barbara & Meike), pity that when we arrived at the beautifully old building of the Baekerei, it was already closed!!! Our mouths were already feeling Brezel flavors!!!... Enjoying the university flair of the young Dunedin... and having our last night of sleep inside our campervan on the top of the hills of Christchurch!!!
We delivered our campervan and said goodbye to our beautiful sunsets and sunrises in bed!! Sad in one hand but also happy on the other... the temperatures were falling drastically as the winter was coming closer and closer... and our 6 sleeping bags were already having a hard time to keep us warm during the night!!!
|Start of journey:||January 2003|
|End of journey:||January 2004|