8.00 I'd been awake for ages because of the horrendous wind that was rocking the van all night. I stepped outside to take a stretch and obtain a better look at the weather - overcast, rainy and very windy. I saw a ranger winding his way along the snake like road and pull into the car park beside us. The large Maori figure wound his window down and asked if I'd slept there, I felt obliged to tell the truth; it didn't take a genius to work out that I had - curtains still shut, hair all over the place and eyes like a mole. The friendly kiwi said that he had the right to charge me but wouldn't, because we haven't littered or abused the grounds. I carried on chatting to the ranger about sand boarding, I told him that we wanted to do it that day but the weather was grim and wet, however the middle aged chap advised me that the best time to board is during the rain.
After breakfast we drove a few km to Waitiki which consisted of a shop, petrol station, hotel and a few peculiar looking people; we picked up a board for $10 and headed back to the huge dunes. I was thinking that the board would have some king foot bindings or string like hold, however it was basically a water body board. We stripped off to swim shorts and a waterproof jacket and waded our way through a small river, up a small dune, across a barren region of sand before the gut wrenching climb up a steep dune. One of us would stay at the bottom of the dune whilst the other one climbed it and tried to ride the board down; unlike snowboarding there was no way to stop or steer, you basically pointed the board downhill and let gravity take its course. The easiest way to ride the sand was to travel headfirst making sure to close all orifices before launching yourself down the embankment.
After about an hour on the dunes we were shattered, soaking and completely covered in sandand subsequently headed back to our van to warm up. We drove back to Waitiki to use the public showers in the shack like hotel. The showers cost $1 for 4 minutes, it took us a while to get them working and I immediately lost my first dollar, however with a bit of perseverance we managed to not only get both working - but get them working for free. My first coin fell out of the machine allowing me to keep reusing it, the third time I put the coin into the slot it not only spat my coin out but spat out a number of other coins; it was the best shower ever.
We spent the rest of the day driving back to Auckland, we had planned to drive to the West coast and visit the peaceful settlement of Hokianga Harbour but decided against it because one - we hadn't seen Auckland yet and two - we had quite a lot of things to sort out before moving on to Fiji (on the 29th) such as a possible changes to our itinerary. We will hopefully change our flights and leave Fiji on the 23rdish (instead of the 9th) and miss out on LA, we've figured out that it would be far more cost effective to run with this option. We parked up in a little car park beside the SH1 near Wellford, around 80km from Auckland and cooked up our final curry.
We freshened up before completing the final leg to Auckland which marked the start and the end of our road trip which has clocked up nearly 6,000km on the clock. I hate driving and parking in cities especially when in an oversized van, we eventually found an outdoor car park that would accommodate our van for a reasonable price $8 for the day (about £4).
The city centre is dominated by the concrete Skytower, on the corner of Victoria and Federal streets, built in the mid - 1990s as a symbol for the city in the run-up to the new millennium. At 328m, it just pips the Eiffel Tower and Sydney's Centre point and is New Zealand's tallest structure.
We headed to Queens Street and into Base backpackers hostel which was a roomy establishment with a lounge area, kitchen, laundry and computer access. We spent most of the day on line - uploading photos, writing to our family and friends and tweaking our itinerary. We will be definitely spending 2 additional weeks in Fiji (3 in total) and missing out on California; this should not only save us a bit of money but allow us to relax on some of the world's best beaches for longer. As soon as the changes had been made I walked along Queens Street and into a book store to purchase a Fiji guide book (products here are more expensive than the UK - including books).
After a stroll around Auckland we headed back to the van and drove around until we found a half decent place to park - a residential area a few kilometres out of the centre, probably the worst place we've stopped since visiting New Zealand, it's always the same in cities.
After breakfast we headed back into Aukland in search of a garage where we could empty our toilet and top up our water reserve. However none of the garages in the city provided this service and we ended up emptying the grim tank into a public toilet - not pleasant. We then stopped off at a garage and managed to top up our water reserve with a fire hose before attempting to fill our LPG (gas) bottle. The lock on the mesh door was open so Lloyd and I walked into the small shed which was hooked up to a huge outdoor lpg tank. The whole set up looked a little complicated but we thought what the hell we'll have a go at filling the 7kg bottle just as the electronic display flagged up Error, a young Chinese bloke ran up to us and luckily stopped us before we blew up the whole street. The garage employee told us that it wasn't self service and that he had to have specialist training to undertake such a task; I'm sure we would have figured it out.
The weather was overcast and raining so we headed back to the Base youth hostel to wash and dry our clothes and sort out a few financial undertakings. We were both hooked up to our radio/mp3 players, tuned into the Rock fm counting the top 1000 rock songs of all time -today being the final.
We made it back to the van for the top 10 clutching our washing and 12 Steinlargers. The top ten was good but a couple of entries wouldn't have made my top 100.
Before we drank anymore we needed to find a place to sleep; we parked up next to some fancy apartments next to Auckland Domain which consisted of pretty parks and fancy building including the Museums. Earlier in the day we'd cleaned the toilet and didn't fancy doing it again so like typical Brits abroad - used the embankment next to the van. There was no 'no camping' signsand our alibi for if the police tried to move us on is that we are too intoxicated to drive and that it was 'rock fm's' fault for making drinking during the top 10 mandatory.
28/08/10 Last day in New Zealand
Woke up a little later than usual, and the road was much busier; my first task was to try and wee next to the van without anyone seeing, I managed with one interval. We'd run out of cereal a couple of days ago so breakfast consisted of boiled eggs, ginger biscuits and an orange, after breakfast we headed back to Auckland's centre.
We parked the van in the usual car park and realised that we were about $4 short of what we needed. Lloyd had a $5 note on him so we drove across the tarmac to a middle aged woman who had obviously just completed her morning workout in the nearby gym. The friendly looking woman opened her purse and pulled out $2 and said you can keep that, I told her that we couldn't take her money but she insisted; she told us to stay put and walked a few metres to her BWM where she retrieved another $2 (kiwis must be among the most friendly people in the world).
We spent most of the day perusing around the shops in search for a small souvenir; we've bought a souvenir from every country so far but had struggled to find an appropriate (reasonably priced) memento from New Zealand.I settled for a wooden Hei Tiki which seems to be one of the most popular Maori collectibles in New Zealand, the strange looking human form complete with a protruding tongue cost me around £15.
I decided to have a bit of a hair cut before cleaning the van and packing up our bags ready for our onward journey; this is always a bit of a chore however the sun was shining and we had cold beer on hand. We drove towards the airport and topped up the van with diesel and had a shower in the petrol station car park. We found a dirt track which led down to a golf club and decided to park there, it was perfect - reasonably quiet and about one kilometre from the airport and Backpackers.com. We cooked up our last-kiwi-supper (tuna pasta), drank and ate the remaining bits of food and drink we had before calling it a night.
I've described New Zealand as being 'The Lake District on steroids' and I still stand by this statement, in terms of scenery the country can't be beaten (especially in the South Island). The people here are very liberal, laid back, hospital and ridiculously friendly; I've been given money off a stranger, towed out of a bog and let off with a parking fine. We've also managed to park up every night for free and had very little hassle; people here seem pleased that we're exploring their country and enjoying ourselves all in all I don't really have a bad thing to say about the country except for it being too far to visit on a regular basis. However New Zealand isn't as sociable as Australia for camper van users, in Australia you finish the day around a bbq or a campfire and exchange travel stories and such like, New Zealand isn't really like that (may be because it was winter). The van was perfect for Lloyd and I as it gave us complete freedom and worked our cheaper than stopping in the hostels but for someone travelling alone or wanting to meet lots of new people maybe the hostel route would be better.
Favourite area - Around Queenstown
Favourite accommodation - Ehhh the VW van
Favourite person - Crazy Dave (the world record holder for walking up the world steepest residential road the most times)
Favourite food - Scallops and rice
Favourite drink - Moa Kiwi beer (trappist style)
Favourite moment - Caving and rock climbing in Waitimo
Worst area - The crap places we slept whilst in Auckland
Worst accommodation - Ehhh the VW van
Worst person - Tour guide at Fox Glacier who kicked us off the ice
Worst food - Crackers that went soft after a day (carr's are the no.1 cracker - fact)
Worst drink - Tap water from the VW
Worst moment - Getting attacked by sand flies
Favourite area - Tongariro
Favourite accommodation - The tour bus
Favourite person - Goat shooter Tony who helped us tow our van out of a muddy ditch
Favourite food - Garlic Scallops (Timaru)
Favourite drink - Steinlarger 'New Zealand's finest larger'
Favourite moment - Mingling with the penguins in Oamaru
Worst area - Aukland (parking and traffic)
Worst accommodation - Tour bus
Worst person - All the miserable camper van drivers who don't wave
Worst food - $hit (cheap) ginger biscuits
Worst drink - Unpotable water
Worst moment - Flipping my luge cart in Rotorua resulting in minor injuries