Cruising from the top of New Zealand to Christchurch in a motor home
Wellington, New Zealand
Cruising from the top of New Zealand to Christchurch in a motor home
There aren't many days in our trip that I am not looking forward to but today was one, our flight from Australia was landing in Auckland at 1 am, we had booked an airport hotel as we couldn't pick up the campervan until 8am. Tired and not really thinking we start dragging the kids across airport carparks on roads with no pavements until we find the hotel we had booked, exhausted we all passed out in bed around 2am with the alarms set for 7am as we had a 5 hour drive ahead to the booked campsite in Pahia that night. We had only booked the first night to get settled the rest of the 12 days was completely flexible and we could travel at our own speed, this was the first time we could stay anywhere we wanted and it felt great.
We were pretty tired and the morning soon went, by the time we had done our supermarket shop, arrange local SIM cards for our phones and visited the warehouse for some cheap sleeping bags and a body board (which Luca had been requesting for several weeks now) it was 11am, the trip up was a bit of a blur but as we approach Pahia we had our first decision, should we visit The Treaty of Waitangui or leave it until the morning, since we were driving by we thought we would have a quick look and on entering the car park I stupidly cut a corner which punctured the tire, since we had already bought extra cover which covered tire change it seemed most sense to use that service and proceed into the Waitangi grounds while we waited. It was really interesting learning more around The Treaty of Waitangi but as a non-kiwi didn't have the emotional attachment that Edwina had and she was very touched.
Next day our mission was to see Cape Reinga the very top of New Zealand, we have both travelled New Zealand extensively but had yet to make it to Northland, on the way up we were recommended to stop at Mangonui, apparently the best fish and chips in New Zealand, it must have been a poor day as we were very disappointed, one thing that's a bit of a pet hate for me is that New Zealand chippies use frozen chips and don't have chippers and use proper potatoes like in the UK, but it wasn't just the chips that disappointed, the fish was like something you would get from Tesco's in the freezer section.
One thing that we both enjoy about New Zealand is stopping and all the small quirky tourist attractions normally labelled "the world's best xxxx" and Northland didn't disappoint, on the way up we stopped and the largest kauri staircase, a 40,000 year old stump (had been persevered in peat), kauri trees can grow pretty big and this staircase was carved inside the tree. We had a flat white to perk ourselves up and proceeded to Cape Reinga, upon reaching roads end you have a nice 10 min walk to reach the top of New Zealand, it felt a milestone had been reached and we were now turning around and heading south for Christmas, we loved Cape Reinga, photos taken we started our journey south, first stop was the Te Paki Giant sand dunes, these were impressive you could easily be mistaken for being in the Sahara desert, towering sand dunes filling the landscape, this was our first opportunity to use the body board bought in Auckland as the kids one by one made their way to the top of the dunes to slide down, we must of easily passed 2 hrs here and could of stayed longer but the journey south beckoned.
We stopped in Ahipara for the night, since it was late we picked up a Thai take away in Kaitaia, this turned out to be an incredible find, what fantastic curries made from scratch by a local Thai family.
Next day we thought we would see how far south we could get, we wanted to take our time and stop whenever we felt like it, heading out of Aphipara we headed for Rangiora for the short scenic ferry to Rawene and then down to the kauri forest. First on the agenda was the world's largest kauri (Tāne Mahuta) an impressive sight measuring 51m high and 13.7m wide.
We headed into Auckland and spent the night outside Mark's house an old friend of Edwina's. Kids really enjoyed the company of our kids
Next day Coromandel, our aim was to get to hot water beach camp site and spend the afternoon lazing on a beach. New Zealand had hit us as a bit of a shock after 2 months on temperatures over 30 degrees, we were surprised to hit New Zealand with winter temperatures, initially we felt that it would be short lived and the temperatures would rise but it soon dawn on us that it would be a few weeks before the temperatures rose. Walking over to hot water beach we were all very excited, it's one of the must visit places of the Coromandel, a hot spring on the beach where you dig your own family Jacuzzi is how the advert goes, nothing quite could of prepared us for what we saw, there must have been over 200 hundred people digging holes over a 50 meter stretch of beach, 5 holes deep with no care for other people's personnel space often holes breaking into other people's holes, most of the holes were full of cold water and only around 5 had hot water, this was a million miles away from the tranquil scene of bathing in your private Jacuzzi on the beach postcard. It was so bizarre that the only thing we could think of was to join them and off we went into the midst of the crowds to try and find a hot pool that the kids could experience. The water was around 64 degrees when you did find it and far too hot to bathe in or even dip you toe in, eventually some left a pool that had some cold water added in and the kids got to experience the hot pools. Lucky we had brought down the body board and the kids all got to experience for the first time using it in the sea, the kids of course loved it and complained bitterly when it was time to drag them back to the campervan for tea.
Next day and we felt compelled to see Cathedral Cove and the spectacular beach with a dome cave linking 2 beaches and the location for the movie Narina Prince Caspian where they emerge from the sea. Initially we had planned to walk the 60 mins from the carpark, but it seemed you had to get there early to get a spot in the small car park and instead had to park in the town nearby and get a water taxi into the cove, although it cost more in the end it allowed us more time on the beach and was the right decision for us. The cove is surrounded by Pohutukawa trees (New Zealand's Native) which unfortunately were not all flowering red but must really light up the place when they do.
Next stop was Hobbiton and whilst looking for a place to stay nearby we found out that we could park up overnight in the car park as they left the toilets open all night, how could we miss the opportunity of sleeping in Hobbiton for the night. Middle Earth holds a special place in my life and reminds me of my later teenage years having fun with good old friends from Loughborough and the good time we had playing games set in Middle Earth, it was a hard time for me at the time and it was my vehicle to escape. Now I know this was only the movie set but was still very excited and the prospect of visiting it. We had visited around 10 years ago just after Lord of the Rings came out and it was just a few mud holes with some plywood, this time they had decided to build a permanent set of Hobbiton for the film The Hobbit so that it would last 50 years so that tours could follow.
Arabella had decided on this trip that one way to make extra pocket money was to pull her teeth out and see what the tooth fairy would bring, the first was in Ayers rock and then Brisbane, since we were leaving to NZ the next day she didn't want to get Australian money and decided to hang on to her tooth to get some Kiwi dollars, Hobbiton seemed like the perfect place for a magical tooth fairy to appear so Arabella placed it in a glass of water and wrote a little letter asking the tooth fairy questions. The tooth fairy was called Rosie and she came from Buckland, hopefully Tolkien would have been proud.
So the next day I woke up with a sense of excitement I had not felt since I was a kid at Christmas and eagerly awaited the start of the tour, not only had they built a movie set but in fact built the whole of Hobbiton as a village with 44 hobbit holes some not even seen in the film, it was amazing to see the detail that had gone into the construction most would never be seen on camera like paintings and carvings under fences and mailboxes and although peter Jackson didn't always follow the book to the letter he would sew on hundreds of plums onto a tree that would flash by in a few seconds on screen or the large artificial tree built on top of bag end with sewn on silk leaves just because it was mentioned in the book. The whole thing was incredible, it took 2 years from start of construction to filming and then it was only used for 12 days for filming of The Hobbit. The last stop on the tour was a free ale from The Green Dragon Inn, and of course had to have elevenses (cheese scone). It was truly a memorable experience for the whole family and if nothing else the kids now all want to watch all the films.
For the afternoon we headed to Rotorua, we wanted the kids to experience some Maori culture and Te Puia seemed to tick all the boxes with a Kiwi house, geysers, bubbling mud and Maori cultural show.
I had heard on our built in travel guide that if you got picked as chief all of the family would get to sit on the front row so when the cultural show started and a volunteer for the chief was asked for my hand shot up. As chief for the show my first duty was to attended a welcoming ceremony, the Maori warrior screamed down the path and I was told I couldn't lose eye contact with him and all though I knew it was all staged it still felt quit intimidating. It was a real cool experience for the kids for their dad to be chief although Arabella was a bit embarrassed, they got to stand right behind me in the procession up to the Marae and indeed got front row seats in the show. Next up I had to go on stage and press noses with all the Maori man dressed as warriors on stage and around half way through the chief had to get on stage to perform the Haka, this is not something I would normally do but felt I couldn't say no, they then asked other members of the public to join in and what surprised me the most is Luca getting up on stage next to me to perform the Haka, the other kids and Edwina took much delight in us two being on stage and videoed the whole event.
After we headed into Rotorua to look for a place to sleep and found we could camp in the car park of the Polynesia spa for free, great we could camp up here and then in the morning head into the spa for a swim and shower. I just wanted to go out for a family meal at a table, it felt that we had not done this for a while and although we agreed much to my disappointment Edwina suddenly had other plans and wanted to catch up with a friend she had not been in contact with for 20 years.
Next day we headed into the spa, the pool was lovely and warm and the kids pool even had a slide into the pool, it was so nice being in their so early relaxing in pools up to 40 degrees Celsius. Next up was a drive to Waitomo to visit the glow worm caves, these caves look like they light up with 1000s of blue fairy lights and the kids faces just lit up as we entered the cave on the boat, just magical.
In the evening we just wanted to get as close to wellington as possible as we wanted to maximise the amount of time we had there, Maddalena was born there and myself and Edwina had lived there together for 2 years and wanted to visit a number of old haunts.
We made it down to Huntersville and again found a free camp, since getting to New Zealand the temperature had dropped dramatically for us, tonight we camped in 7 degrees, we had resisted buying warmer clothing but the cold spell was dragging and the next day we felt compelled to buy fleeces from Kathmandu, luckily the winter wear was in sale.
We found a motorhome camp right in the centre of Wellington off Cuba Street and felt we should spend the first night in the city and the second out of Wellington at Whitby to stay with old friends from when we lived here Helen and Mika.
First up was a drive around to show the kids the sights, we went to Khandallah to visit the houses where we lived, onto mount Victoria, Maddalena was desperate to see the hospital where she was born so we drove past that and then eventually went into town to park. It was lunch and Arabella favourite food is sushi so I wanted to visit my favourite sushi place in Wellington where I would spend most lunchtimes when I worked here around 10 years earlier. We headed for California Sushi and wasn't disappointed, the same couple were running the place and sushi tasted as good as I remember, the lady was so pleased we revisited after 10 years and gave us free sushi and sushi keyrings for the kids.
Next up was Te Papa, we had told the kids a few months earlier that there was an earthquake simulator in Te Papa museum and the kids have been desperate ever since to ride it, we entered Te Papa all very excited and made our way to the simulator as our first stop. The simulator is a small cube which mimics a Richter 7 earthquake, we stepped in and the kids were terrified at first but soon got used to the shaking and by the end where probably a little disappointed.
We then went to see Gallipoli exhibition created by Weta, as you walk it you are met by giant replicas of people and learn their story, the Weta models are truly amazing and looking so lifelike. As we walk around they have a large scale model of the Maheno ship which was used as a hospital ship, the kids recognise it straight away, "we have seen that" they all shout. It was the shipwreck they explored on Fraser Island a few weeks before.
For dinner we had to visit one of our favourite restaurants not sure where it ranked with the Wellingtonians today but we had to go back to Chows which we all enjoyed the tapas style Asian food.
Next day we drive the campervan down to the sea for breakfast, we want to utilise it to the uttermost and have as many scenic meals as possible. We then head to our prebooked tour of the Weta studios. As you drive through the suburb of Miramar you a greeted by a number of wooden warehouses hardly a setting for producing some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters but very Kiwiana. As you approach the Weta Cave the starting point for the tour you are greeted by the trolls from the hobbit and LOTRs movies of course a photo opportunity for the family. The tour continued with its Kiwiana feel entering the wooden warehouses with no heating packed with movie memorabilia, it was an amazing insight into how the films were made and especially loved the blacksmiths area where all the swords were made for LOTRs, Luca especially like the fact that they had to incorporate a wee hole into Sauron's suit so the actor could pee in costume. Weta have been involved in a lot more films than I was aware of and it was interesting to see the effects of those films also. In the middle of the workshop they were building a final figure for the Gallipoli exhibition and it was great to tie this back to yesterday when we were in Te Papa, Weta also do private commissions and we saw all of the LOTRs characters created as gerbils for someone's garden.
After the tour we headed out of town to Whitby to visit some old friends Helen and Mika. We parked up in their driveway and set about catching up and reminiscing into the early hours. Up until this point we hadn't had the Christmas feeling but Helen and the rest our her street decorate the outside of the houses with lights, decorations and inflatable characters, its turned into a mini local drive by with cars appearing most night until midnight, the kids went out with baskets of candy canes to hand out to the passing cars.
We were up early the next day and heading for the interislander a ferry linking the north island of New Zealand with the south, we were all very excited about setting foot on the south island, we felt a bit rough and luckily we had a smooth sailing over. During the crossing Luca volunteered for a magic show and got a motorbike balloon which he was proud of.
We both love tramping and wanted our kids to experience as much as possible in New Zealand, there is just something about sleeping remote and the reward of walking there, so we have booked the last 2 days of the Abel Tasman walk and our camp for the night was in Marahau the start of the walk.
The next day we got a water taxi to bypass the first 3 days walk up to Totaranui passing golden beaches, costal bush and a seal colony which gave us a glimpse of what there was to come. The first day we had around 4 hrs walking and it was around 90 minutes to get to the first beach. When walking you often find a steady pattern, I was up the front with Luca as initially he needed motivation to get going and Edwina was trailing with Maddalena and Arabella, just before we got to the first beach I heard a big yelp coming from the back with tears flowing, as a parent you can very quickly workout which child is screaming and this was Arabella, I back track with Luca around 100m to find Arabella sat of the path still balling and blood gushing out of her leg. She had tripped on a tree branch and cut her knee, it was a deep cut and we were worried about permanent scaring. Edwina had left most of the first aid kit in the motorhome but we patched up the cut as best as possible and carried on, after around 15 mins we hit the beach and could wash the leg in salt water, the leg didn't seem to give her any pain so we decided to carry on. A further 90 mins going up and over a costal hill lead us to the spectacular mutton cove which was our lunch stop and swim.
After lunch we had another 90 mins to Whariwharangi Hut where we had prebooked beds for the night, it also had a ranger station where we borrowed some steri-strips, there was also a nurse from Scotland staying who washed out the wound and applied them. We were all tired and in bed early, the hut had communal beds and there was one other person in the room. At some point in the night I felt a big jolt and I awoke suddenly seeing a shadow quickly disappearing away, it looked like Edwina, I rolled over and fell asleep, the next day I asked what Edwina was doing apparently I was snoring and she decided to give me CPR to stop.
The next day we had a short walk to Wainui Bay where a bus was picking us up at 13:30 to take us back to the motorhome, this again was one of those days we weren't looking forward to as we then had a 5 hour drive to Hamner Springs. I could sense the frustration on Edwina she was just wanting to see her family and cut short our mini holiday in New Zealand but felt we should see this through.
The next day Edwina was very keen to get going but I wanted to give the kids a blast on the water slides before setting off so we headed to the springs, it was a welcome change spending time in a water park where the water was warm and we all really enjoyed our time there, I went down the slides with the kids whilst Edwina relaxed in the adult pools, lunchtime came all too soon and we had to get out. We had the traditional pie from the bakery and then headed to Christchurch to drop off the motorhome where we would be greeted by Jane (Edwina's sister) where we would transfer into a car generously lent to us by Edwina's mum and dad. Christmas was only 2 days away and we were keen to get to Queenstown to visit Edwina's mum and dad so we had always planned to continue on arriving in Queenstown late, it was great to see the old folks again.
All excited Xmas next.