Auckland, New Zealand (21st Mar 2008)
Matamata to Auckland Via Tauranga
Driver: KaraDistance Travelled: 273.7 Km / 170.1 Miles
Accumulative Distance: 4576.0 Km / 2844.0 Miles
We had a bit of a lie-in in Matamata and when we eventually did wake up we went straight back into town. The first thing we saw was the Hobbiton sign which we of course posed for a picture next too and then we saw the tours that go to the film set. Slightly intrigued by these we went to enquire but soon decided against it as it was quite expensive and there didn't seem to be that much to see anymore, nothing that really looked like it was out of Lord of the Rings anyway. Before lunch we made our way to Tauranga but yet again our plans changed because as nice as the place was because it was Good Friday everywhere except little boutique cafe's were closed. We got back in the car and set off to drive the 250km straight to Auckland. Almost as soon as we set off from Tauranga we saw a sign saying we were about to enter Bethlehem, we found this quite amusing as it was Good Friday and so we literally abandoned the car on the side of the road so Mark could have his photo next to the sign. The rest of the drive to Auckland was pretty boring as the one lane roads we had gotten used to in New Zealand turned into motorways like we are used to at home, daunting at first but Kara soon adjusted to it. Arriving in Auckland we were surprised to find the main street closed for resurfacing so that made navigating our way around in the car much harder, even though Mark had been there before. It was quite late by the time we arrived so we had a quick look round, saw the Sky Tower all lit up, and ended up sleeping in the city centre next to a main road and a park.
After an eventful night sleeping on what turned out to be one of the busiest streets in the city we decided to spend our first full day in Auckland in the city centre as we were already parked there and we thought Saturday would be the liveliest day of the bank holiday weekend. We started the day with a bit of a walking tour but there wasn't really too much to see, we went to the harbour but it was quite small and there weren't many boats there. We also saw the Sky Tower again and contemplated going up it as it is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere but decided against it due to the $25 admission price. We did get a little bit of entertainment stood outside as we watched people take on the Sky Jump which is basically free falling off the top of the tower before coming to a fairly sudden stop just a few feet from the ground. Again it was fun to watch but the price certainly put us off! We ended up spending the latter part of the afternoon in a very well equipped library reading magazines and charging up our electronic items as we don't get much chance with sleeping in the van every night. Kara wasn't too keen on spending the night sleeping in the city again so we drove out to Auckland Domain which is a huge park right near the city centre. We parked up in a little car park that looked like it would be quite safe and quiet, boy were we wrong. Just before we went to sleep we realised, much to our amazement and disappointment that we had a flat battery and so rather than calling the AA straight away we decided to sleep on it and see if we could come up with a cheaper solution. For most of the night cars were pulling up behind and in front of us, then one car started doing doughnuts on the grass next to us and wheel spinning everywhere. We woke up thankful that we were still alive and the van was still in one piece. We ended up calling the AA out to come and give us a jump, $85 for a few minutes of their time!
Rather than spend another day in the city we decided to head out of town and see what else Auckland had to offer as it's a pretty big place. Our first spot was Mount Eden, a dormant volcano that is also the highest natural point in Auckland. It last erupted 60,000 years ago and left a crater which is still there today and is 50 metres deep. We stopped for a while at the top to get some pictures and then drove on to One Tree Hill in Cornwall Park which is another volcanic peak, this time measuring 182 metres. It is an important memorial place for all New Zealanders and is named One Tree Hill as when Auckland was first founded as a colonial town a tree stood near the summit. Today there are no trees at the summit as we found out when we finally got to the top, just an obelisk to commemorate the war dead. We decided to spend the rest of the sunny afternoon in Cornwall Park as we managed to find a deserted car park and we thought it the ideal opportunity to pack our bags and try and get the van ready for when we were due to leave. At one point we became surrounded by cows who were casually making their way across the road and round the car park to their next grazing spot, it was quite scary when we saw the size of some of the beasts! We weren't able to find anywhere suitable to stay in the park so we made our way back to the Domain and found a quieter spot in the same car park and spent the night there.
Our first stop on our last full day in Auckland was the War Memorial Museum, conveniently located in the Domain. It is a spectacular building constructed in neo-classicist style and sits on a grass plinth, the remains of a dormant volcano at the very heart of the Domain. There were all kinds of exhibits ranging from the environment to culture and history and of course exhibits that documented the various wars that New Zealander's have been involved in. It was inevitable that we would have to clean the van properly so that was how we spent our last afternoon in New Zealand. We put it through a car wash that did an average job and then we vacuumed it as best we could. As the Wicked Depot was slightly out of town we thought it best to find it the night before we were due to drop it off so once we had finished cleaning we drove to Onehunga and quickly found it. Not too far away we managed to find a nice little spot to camp for the night right by a little lake and so once we had treated ourselves to a Domino's Pizza for tea we set up the van for out last night in New Zealand.
We were up quite early to get the van and ourselves all ready to go and then it was just a quick drive round the corner to return the van that had been our home for the last 3 weeks. All was going well until, when asked to unlock the door so the guy could inspect it, Mark somehow managed to snap the key in two but luckily it looked like it had been done before and just taped up so we didn't have to pay anything extra! Then it was bye bye New Zealand as we took a taxi to the airport.