Around the world adventure
We arrived in Auckland at the crack of dawn. Having nothing else to do before the taxis started running, we headed to the food court and listened to people speaking English. Glorious English. The next day we met up with Jim and Caroline, friends of Zoe from summer camp. They showed us around for two days. Auckland, The City of Sails, is the most amazing place. Boats, beaches and volcanoes in every direction. Much is made in New Zealand of what a big and busy city Auckland is. So it was with some surprise that we looked out of our down town hostel window at 8h30 on Monday morning to see one fellow in a suite, a woman walking her dog, and a street cleaner. That is the kind of 'rush hour' we could live with. After a very enjoyable week we met Jethro. Jethro can only be described as the Rolls Royce of camper vans. Over the next 30 days we became very attached. The three of us headed north in a state of high excitement, Roxette singing Joyride was the perfect sound track. We spent our first night at Mangawhui heads drinking the first of many boxes of red wine. From here we headed up to the Bay of Islands. A beautiful place, but we will always remember it for the sand flies, tiny little things that have a bite that itches like nothing else. The sand flies and boxed red stayed with us for the whole trip. Cape Reinga is the northern most tip of New Zealand, and where the Maoris believe the spirit of the dead escapes to the after life. Due to heavy rains (another constant) the dirt roads were pretty muddy. Just before we got to Reinga we hit a queue of cars, each waiting their turn to slide up a particularly steep section. The whole operation was being marshaled by a disinterested construction worker. Having witnessed a couple of near misses our turn arrived. The construction worker bid us good luck, I waved our security deposit goodbye, engaged a low gear and floored it. 60 adrenaline fueled seconds later we arrived at the top of the hill unharmed. I don't really remember much of Cape Reinga because for the rest of the time I was s***ting myself for the return trip down the hill. The next couple of days were spent making our way down the west coast of the north Island. Big trees, beautiful forests, and untouched lakes that anywhere else in the world would have developers falling over themselves to make a killing, but in New Zealand you can camp for free. We met up with Jim and Caroline again for an extreme caving experience at Waitamo caves. Something Zoe had agreed to, much to my surprise, forgetting that she is claustrophobic. This caused a couple sleepless nights but on the day all was well. The adventure started with a hundred meter abseil into the cave. In a wet suit it is very difficult for a bloke to make the necessary minor adjustments, the result being that Jim and I spent the next half an hour literally suspended by our testicles. Once in the cave and everything put back where it should be we had the most amazing time. Four hours underground, incredible glow worms, and lots of reckless fun that would only be allowed in New Zealand. From here we headed to Rotorua to soak our weary bones in some of the hundreds of hot pools in the area. Once recovered we headed towards Lake Taupo to do the Tongariro crossing, billed as the best one day hike in the world. The weather closed in, the mountain was closed, and would remain that way for a number of days. Rather than wait around we decided to head south. A brief stop in windy Wellington, a nasty experience in a multi-storey car park (not a good idea in a camper van) and we were on the ferry to the South Island. The ferry takes you through the Marborough sounds, which we are told on a clear day is breath taking. We gasped a couple of times when the clouds briefly cleared. We drove to Blenheim and booked ourselves on a wine tour. The New Zealand wine tour makes the Argentinian ones look like a church service. Our first stop was at Wither Hills at 10h30 in the morning, 7 generous samples later it was clear how the day was going to pan out. We stopped at the famous Cloudy Bay and plenty of others, had a superb lunch at some point and were deposited back at the camp late in the afternoon full of good will toward man. Our group then proceeded to polish off most of the wine we had brought during the day. With sore heads we made our way into town for a large strawberry milkshake, this gave us the strength for the drive to Nelson. From here we made our way to the Able Tasman park where we did an amazing 20km hike along the coast. You take a water taxi to a point where you think you can walk back in one day and head off. Some of the best scenery in the country and I am sure much better than the Tongariro crossing. Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier next. Spent two days hiking around and enjoying the views. Very impressive. We did some panning for gold in Arrowtown, didn't make our fortune and headed for Queenstown, the adrenalin capital on New Zealand. Having very little money we didn't bungy, sky dive, or jet boat. We did climb up Bobs Peak and did the luge run twice. Luge is basically down hill Go-karting and is probably the most fun I have ever had on four wheels. Zoe had some technical problems and ended walking most of her first run, once she figured out how the breaks worked she flew on her second go. From Queenstown we headed to Milford sound. The drive from Te Anua to the sound is beyond description and the sound itself is the same. When we got back to Te Anua we bumped into Dixie and Jane, whom we had met on the wine tour. We had a very pleasant evening playing scabble and drinking more wine. At this point things started going a bit wrong. We headed to the bottom of the South Island and it got cold, very cold. They had snow for the first time in 30 years, and lots of it. A camper van with no heating was no place to be. This went on for 4 days until we got to Dunedin, cracked, and booked into the best hostel in the world. Billy Browns Backpackers sits on top of a hill with stunning views of the bay. The notice on the door states that if nobody is around come in, make yourself at home, and we will catch up with you later. The old farm house complete with large wood burner , warm large rooms, and a record player with hundreds of records is probably the most welcoming space we have ever been in. We lit the fire put on a record and forgot about the raging storm outside,we had the whole place to ourselves. The next day feeling rejuvenated we headed into Dunedin to meet up with Keith, an old school friend of mine, and his family. After a long afternoon catching up we returned to Jethro to find that he had a flat, revenge for leaving him alone we are sure. From Dunedin we headed inland to Mount Cook (Mordor for fans of Lord of the Rings) and then back to the coast and to our final destination Christchurch. Just outside Chirstchurch is the banks Peninsula, a breath taking old caldera. Here we sat drinking a surprisingly good bottle of red and bid farewell to Jethro. The next day we boarded a plane bound for Sydney and into the waiting arms of Martin and Priscilla.