After the numerous bus journeys in South America, we were excited about the freedom of pootling around New Zealand in a campervan. Due to the time of year we managed to upgrade to a high top Hiace van instead of the planned converted car, with much more room and a proper kitchen to cook inside if the weather was a little inclement, giving us a better chance of surviving the 6 weeks travelling in winter together!
On picking up the keys we set off out of Auckland over the harbour bridge and into Northland, initially nervous having never driven anything this big, being an automatic meant it was mainly point and shoot, even if Bee did keep trying to change gear at every junction!
Waking up and peering out of the curtains, we were greeted by an uninterrupted view of the beach and bay at Ruakaka Reserve. Alfresco breakfast of sausages cooked in the van and we were totally hooked, campervanning was going to be brilliant.
Next stop was the bay of islands. Tim had only taken a slurp of coffee on the first morning, when word went round the camp site that the Orcas (killer whales) were in the bay. A family of huge whales came right in, shooting water up out of their blowholes and crashing their tail fins into the water, apparently hunting dolphins and sting rays in the bay, quite a scene all before breakfast!
After kayaking round the bay (although the Orca's had unfortunately left!) we had fish and chips to shelter out of the rain in Shippys an old wooden sailing boat, followed by a walk through the mangrove swamp to the water falls (though we didn't make it and had to walk back for an hour in the dark).
The next day we took the van on the ferry to Russell, ready for a trip around the bay of islands. It's a picture postcard location and offered a number of scenic boat rides. We had hoped to see dolphins but they were being elusive so we got free tickets on the afternoon boat ride to do it all again! This time dolphins were spotted and we got the chance to snorkel in the sea with them (everyone else bundled up in winter coats and hats, we were the only two struggling into wet suits and jumping off the back of the boat!)
Having missed the falls the previous day, we decided to camp there the following evening, it offered another great view from the van. We decided to see how close we could get and kayaked into the falls and down the river to the sea. We both loved the freedom the camper van offered and it felt like NZ was the perfect place to make use of it.
Crossing from the east coast over to the west we stopped in at Ngawha springs, a set natural volcanic thermal pools, each a different colour and temperature, "the Doctor" being the hottest at around 43°C. We only managed a few minutes in this hot one, our wedding rings made of silver changed through gold, to iridescent purple and finally to black in the sulphur, making an interesting change that would last a few days.
Travelling down the west coast we stopped off to walk into the forest to see the 2,000 year old massive Kauri tree, before passing Auckland on our way out to the Coromandel Peninsula.