New Zealand by Baz
Well after 20 campervan days and over 3000km we have handed back the keys and are preparing to leave New Zealand, but not without some great memories.
We arrived in Auckland on the 19th of November after a rather uncomfortable overnight flight from Santiago. The airplane's conditions matched those we experienced in some of South America's buses...not great. We intended to head South through Tongariro national park, on our way to the South Island, where we would collect the Campervan. But the weather was poor and a trip to Tongarira would be a waste of time. Luckily we had made contact with Derms cousin, Michael, in Wellington so we headed straight there. We spent 2 great nights there and were well looked after by Michael, his wife Geraldine, and their youngest daughter Michaela. Wellington is a beautiful city on the South Coast of the North Island. Its quite windy there.
Then we flew South to Christchurch to collect our home for the next 3 weeks...a little tin can on wheels. We were so thrilled when we picked it up. We had spent the past 5 months in and out of hostels and finally this was a little place of our own. It wasn't much...a converted people carrier with a bed in the back...no sink, no toilet. Seonaid was ecstatic and got to work immediately organising her nest in the back as I got on with the manly stuff of driving. We had travelled no more than 200k down the East coast highway when the right indicator unit fell off. My manliness was shattered as I have no clue how to fix anything auto-related and receeded into the featal position in the back of the campervan. Our dreams and confidence in the machine shattered, we managed to find the unit at the side of the road. It was in a bad way and wouldn't make it...I knew I should have paid the 400 dollars for the extra insurance. I phoned the hire company and after some gentle persuasion they agreed to pay for the repairs. I could tell you I made them an offer they couldn't refuse... but the truth is as I was my usual polite self, and told them I intended to bring the car straight back to the dept in Christchurch where they could assess the damage and fix it themselves. Thankfully they said this wasn't necessary.
So, on we went, spending our first night in a carpark, sleeping somewhat uncomfortably, with one eye open. We wern't yet sure exactly what the policy was on parking campervans anywhere other than proper paid campsites and half expected to be moved on in the middle of the night. We continued our flirting with the wrong side of the law the next morning, when we stole a shower. I was the mastermind behind the plan - living in Derry for the last 10 years I have been surrounded by the criminal underworld, and know how they think (I'm only joking Derry people, don't take it thick). We pulled up a safe distance away from the campsite and walked casually in, as if we were staying there and had been out for a walk. Seonaid was quivering with fear as (surprisingly, her being from South Armagh) she doesn't have much experience of criminal activity. But I calmed her nerves by telling her that this was a misdemeanour and we would probably just get sent home if we are caught, or maybe get a few months in the pen, but no more than that. My words steadied her nerves and we got away with it, a free shower. We got away...clean.
The campervan was terrific fun. It gave us the freedom to go where we wanted at our own pace and we saw much more of the South Island than we would have done with buses.We experienced all the country's weather, which I would describe as extreme. When it was sunny, it was damn roasting and you better cover up. When it was windy you could almost be blown away, and when it rained, it really poured. Our weather might be crap back home, but it is a bit more gentle...small consolation for all you freezing your butts off back there, eh?
We met up with a former college of mine at Donegal County Enterprise Board, Danny McEleney in Queenstown. We had a great night with Danny and his travelling companions. He had just completed the Millford Track and took us out to the impressive Skyline restaurant in Queenstown for a few pints and a buffet the like of which I had not seen for a very long time.
We went to Millford soon after and I was blown away by it. 15 km of cliffs shoot up to 1500m out of the ocean, while rain forests hang precariously to the cliffs and waterfalls cascade down. We took a 2 hour boat trip through the sound and had a great day there.
We have had a constant adversary during our time in the Campervan, particularly in Fiordland, but all along the West coast. Sandflies have made life very difficult, and painful at times. James Cook encountered these insects in May 1773 in the same area.His journal reads
'The most mischievous animal here is the small black sandfly which are exceeding numerous … wherever they light they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching and at last ends in ulcers like the small Pox'.
Well, Im sure James would be pleased to hear this... many of these beasts entered our campervan, some even feasted on our blood as we slept, but few have got out alive. They all feel the rath of Seonaids flip flop sooner or later. Every night before going to bed she patrols the campervan, flip flop in hand, and any illegal alien in there will be squished if it rears its little biting head.
On we went to Wanaka, where Seonaid went Kayaking on the beautiful Lake Wanaka and I treated myself to a rock climbing day. I have always been terrified but excited by heights.I climbed up the Martello tower in Galway when I was a kid and got stuck. I completely froze and Derm, who was then called "Daddy" had to climb up and get me. The days rock climbing ended in a huge 45 metre climb and abseil down again. When I was three quarters of the way up I got a chance to look down and think for a minute about what I was doing. I felt the same paralysing fear as I did in Galway, but I managed to keep control this time and continued the ascent (I'm not sure if Derm would have come to NZ to rescue me). It was such a thrill to abseil to the bottom and when the day was over I was mentally and physically exhausted.
Since our arrival in New Zealand I have been searching for a decent fish and chip. I have been led on numerous wild goose chases both by our bible (the Rough Guide) and by locals, but have not yet found a decent chipper. The fish has been ok at times, as you might expect, but I have not yet had anything other than chilled chips...and get this, they laughed at us when we asked for salt and vinegar in one place. I mention this only because I have changed my mind once again regarding my first meal when I get back to Ireland. It had been one of Derm's Sunday meals, then one of Trish's stews, but not I want to go to Longs Fish and Chips in Belfast. In the meantime the search continues. I have also bought a harmonica to go along side my Bolivian guitar. Seonaid may now be tortured by 3 instruments, if you count my voice which I have started engaging increasingly to accompany my guitar playing.
Anyway, it's now Sunday night and we fly out of Christchurch on Tuesday at lunchtime. Next stop is Australia, Melbourne to be exact.