New Zealand - The Hippie Camper Diaries Week One and Two
Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand! Time for a new adventure. A different sort of adventure at least. I imagine it will be far colder and wetter than the last but I'm excited non the less!
After the breathing failures on the last flight, Dan, I'm sure, was dreading being stuck on another plane with me for ten hours. But luckily we had a pleasant flight with no panic attacks from old Crawfy so Dan finally got some peace! It was actually quite enjoyable in comparison to all the horrendous bus journeys we've sat through in Asia. The food however, well, let's just say it left a lot to be desired but we were on a plane after all.
We arrived into Auckland airport around midnight and after having packed our bags to perfection we were a bit nervous that the border control staff were going to raid our luggage looking for foreign enemies from Asia. Dan was thrilled when we saw a sign saying "Border Patrol filming here today" it's his favourite programme and he was hoping to get his fifteen minutes of fame. We'd been provided with declaration forms on the flight that were somewhat vague and as the kiwi girls had told us "if in doubt declare it!" we had put some silly stuff on there in fear of being caught with undeclared items and being fined! Whilst this seemed the most sensible thing to do whilst sitting on the plane, it seemed a bit embarrassing when the gentlemen asked what wooden goods we had and Dan showed him a wooden bracelet and I pulled out some chopsticks. Not surprisingly they let us walk through, not before laughing at us silly Brits and we made our way to the arrivals lounge with Dan sulking because he didn't make it onto the television!
We had yet another Agoda hotel booking disaster when we arrived, why we still bother using the company I don't know! The airport staff seemed to have never heard of the hotel we had reserved a room at and that made it tricky to get transport there. After wasting time and money trying to find out the address we learnt that the hotel was in fact known under an entirely different name to the one that Agoda had provided and it had been right in front of our faces on the list the whole time. Eventually we made it to the hotel to be faced with yet another problem. Has any one heard of a day rate for a hotel? Perhaps it's quite common but it wasn't something Dan or I had ever come across so we were somewhat surprised when the hotelier demanded we pay an extra $15 for arriving after 5pm. The chap was very pleasant and said they've had quite a few problems with their Agoda bookings and offered to give us an invoice to send to them in order to receive a refund for them having mis-sold the room. We were too tired to bother arguing with the chap so we headed to bed and decided we'd send Agoda a complaint soon.
I had the best nights sleep ever only to be ruined by the most foul man I've ever come across in my life (not Dan I hasten to add!). We headed to the reception to collect the invoice the man had promised us the night before and we met the hotel manager. He was such a hideous man and he completely unnecessarily launched into a verbal attack against Dan and I. I assume he has had a lot of complaints regarding the Agoda mix up but we had politely asked him for the invoice, stating we did not wish to complain to him, we were happy with the hotel, wished to stay there when we were next passing through etc etc and he shouted at us calling us idiots and imbeciles! He was talking to the pair of us as though we were stupid little children who hadn't read the terms and conditions. We had in fact checked them the night previously after being told about the late arrival charge and there was no mention of the additional late night fee anywhere. Stupid man! He made me so cross!! He refused to give us any form of receipt, stupidly claiming that we were trying to obtain Agoda's credit card details which were on the full invoice. It was almost comical. There was a gentleman in the waiting area who was chuckling to himself and when we left he said he thought we dealt very well with the awful man and he couldn't understand why he had shouted and screamed at us! I can't wait to give him the worst review on trip advisor, revenge is sweet!
We soon forgot about him as we were both excited to go and collect our hippie camper-van that we we renting for two weeks to explore the North island. We knew it was cheap and cheerful but it was hilarious when they brought it round the front of the office. There were serious camper vanners sitting in the office and there were we picking up a van covered in flowers and peace signs. Far out man! We looked like absolute douchebags but it was great! At first we were blinded by excitement and it seemed like the greatest van ever, this excitement soon gave way to misery when we were freezing but more on that later...
On our first day we decided to drive a few miles north of Auckland to the Uretiti campsite. All across New Zealand there are department of conservation campsites and they are fantastic, all very cheap, if not free and in the most stunning locations. This particular site was on the coast, practically on the beach and the views of the ocean were amazing to wake up to. As we hadn't yet had time to visit a supermarket we feasted on tomato soup, which tasted like heaven in a can and then fell asleep to the sound of the sea.
It's difficult to blog about New Zealand in the same way as I have been doing for Asia as we visit a new place every day and whilst it takes our breath away, it would bore you all to death to hear about another sunset, another beach, another gas stove dinner, so I think I'll just try pick a few highlights!
The first walk we did was incredible. We'd only planned on having a short hour long stroll down the beach but it turned into an epic five hour, 20k hike across 200m high, desert like sand dunes on to endless rambling hills and swamp like forest. It was beautiful albeit difficult! After what seemed like an eternity we made it back to our campsite to settle in for what we had hoped would be a relaxing evening. Unfortunately, we made a discovery and found a creature even more irritating and blood thirsty than the Cambodian sandfly, the North Island Mosquito.
Christ! As Dan was cooking I noticed a few fly in so we hopped inside and closed the doors. Suddenly there we're hundreds, no thousands, a swarm! I have never seen anything like it. It was horrendous. There was no way we could kill them all but we couldn't sleep in there as we would have been demolished. We took to driving around the campsite with the windows down trying to blast them out but that didn't work. Nothing did. Not only did it mean sitting there swatting mozzies all night, it meant we couldn't cook as that involved having the door open. So I had my first ever peanut butter and jam sandwich for dinner and his under my duvet to try get some shut eye. The van was a site in the morning after the blood bath of the night before and unsurprisingly we were head to toe in bites and pretty tired!
It's inevitable that at some point in this blog I'm going to mention Lord of The Rings so I may as well get it out of the way. One of the most beautiful drives we've done so far was through the area of the Tongaririo national park, a vast desert plain, with burned trees jutting out of the ground at all angles, caved in by towering mountains raising out of the clouds, incredibly eerie - the perfect setting for Mordor. It was a wonderful drive. We had driven there hoping to walk the alpine crossing which is an eight or nine hour hike across the volcano but unfortunately the weather was terrible and it wasn't safe for us to complete it. We actually had a terrifying wake up call whilst in Tongaririo. There had been a terrible storm all night and it had finally settled at 6am when suddenly the volcano alarm sounded. I froze, I wasn't quite expecting to be woken up in such a manner and couldn't think for the life of me where I had left my don't crap yourself pants. How silly of me! We hopped out of the van to join a gang of bleary eyed travellers who were equally concerned as to whether we were about to drown in lava. The locals seemed quite nonchalant about the whole thing and told us to go back to bed. We never did find out what happened, false alarm I suppose but it was quite unnerving!
Travelling by camper van is a vastly different experience to backpacking, a feat I imagine to be quite difficult and somewhat lonely in New Zealand - everywhere seems deserted! In my opinion, hiring a camper van and driving is definitely the best way to see the country apart from perhaps joining an organised hop on hop off tour but that's not really my cup of tea. It's safe to say I've spent most of the last two weeks trying to catch my jaw whilst gawping out the window at the most spectacular scenery, it truly is mind blowing. I do miss the social aspect of Asia though. Whilst there are like minded camper vanners around every corner. it's quite difficult to meet people. It gets dark at 5.30/6.00pm and everyone takes to their plush campers whilst Dan and I fight the cold trying to cook outside. We did meet a lovely couple one evening though and had a great time knocking back wine and sharing stories. They were similar to us and had just bought a clapped out old car so were somewhat forced to spend their evenings outside. I do enjoy it, it feels like a real camping trip being outside all the time, but god it's cold. The cold showers aren't much fun either but the knowledge that we're picking up a super deluxe van in a few weeks keeps the spirits up. I'm definitely roughing it much more than I was in Asia, but I guess that's what it's all about!
We're both so pleased we decided to hire a second van for these first two weeks in New Zealand. I feel if we hadn't we would have missed some of the most beautiful parts of the country. We've spent the majority of our time following the coastal route and camping out by the sea. It's been wonderful and the weather has been so kind to us. Only one day of rain, all the rest beautiful sunshine! We've been able to keep our tans topped up so we won't be too pasty on our return! The camper van, simple as it may be has been perfect for the North Island, after the taster of bad weather at Tongariro it's clear the van would be useless in bad weather. You're outdoors all of the time so it gets very cold and wet, especially when raining and your bed is practically outside! We're really enjoying our time in New Zealand, it's great to be at a different pace doing such different things to what we have been doing in Asia. It really is so beautiful here!