For all our previous journals we have written day by day accounts but for New Zealand we are going to do it in two big chunks – the north island and the south island. It seems appropriate that we write it in this way, given the nature of living in campervan for the best part of a month where the days just rolled into one big adventure!
Our time in New Zealand will always be remembered for the campervan, who we called Ebony (thanks to her number plate). After a strangely fast and easy flight from Australia we arrived in Auckland at 11pm local time. Not ideal for finding somewhere to stay so we set up our beds on the airport benches. With lights on full beam and flights going on through the night it was hardly a great night’s sleep, but a free one nonetheless. So then we picked up the campervan and did our best to make the bright green and purple thing look cool, decorating it with various ironic signs, colorful streamers and animal mascots – hungry jack the jellyfish and Larry the lobster. We were ready to hit the road and that’s exactly what we did, driving straight to our first adrenaline pumping stop, Rotorua. We decided that we would explore the rather large and intimidating Auckland when we returned for our flight. With Kings of Leon blasting on the stereo we were on our way, free as bird. Awesome.
Rotorua was a very, very fun place – purely because of the action we packed into our three days there. The town itself was like most in New Zealand – modern, clean and in a grid formation all lined with bars, restaurants and adrenaline activities. So which activities did we do here? Luging, White Water Rafting and Zorbing. First up was luging, which is essentially a one man, one go kart type vehicle and one windy hill track with gravity working with you! Me and Dunham raced each other down all three of the tracks available. Not much more to say on that, it was just great fun! We had parked our van in an inconspicuous looking spot and prepared for our first of many ´free´nights of accommodation in New Zealand. First of all though we went out for a drink at the local ´Base Bar´, which we knew the Kiwi Experience (a NZ bus tour for 18-24 year olds) would be staying at. We figured that wherever that bus went; there would be a good number of people and a bit of a party. It was a fairly quiet night for us though, as we prepared for our next activity, white water rafting! There are five different grades for rafting with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest and most dangerous. It seemed pretty obvious which one we had to go for and we set off in the rafting bus to do some serious grade 5 rafting! This was one of the best things we did in New Zealand, with the highlight being the 7m waterfall we plunged down, flipping the boat over in the process. Good times. The rest of the rafting was spent splashing and bantering with the other boats, swirling around and down more waterfalls and taking in the remarkable scenery. A brilliant experience.
That night we headed to the base bar again where we met two girls, Laura and Lucy from Sussex who were also driving around NZ. So in our slightly intoxicated state we promised them we would race them down to Taupo (our next stop) at 12pm the following day. But before we headed off in this mini road trip we had some Zorbing to attend to. This is probably about as much fun as you can have in 10 seconds! Hurtling down a hill in massive ball filled with warm water, we were loving it as I’m the pictures will show! Wet and refreshed from the zorb we headed to met Lucy and Laura, apprehensive that they would be there, but they didn’t disappoint and so we headed to our next stop, Taupo.
I think there is one thing that and one thing only that Taupo can be remembered for. Jumping out of a plane at 15,000ft! Having booked our skydive as soon as we arrived in Taupo and endured a messy game of ´Ring of Fire´ in the van the night before, we woke up for our plunge in the sky feeling a little worse for wear. These feelings however, soon evaporated. We were surprisingly calm on the way to the flight centre, maybe it was the tiredness, but it wasn’t really sinking in that we were about to jump out of a plane! We got ourselves kitted up and waited to board our small plane. Our instructors talked to us on the way up, I think they were just trying to keep us relaxed but as the plane got higher and higher and the people and buildings below smaller and smaller the fear became a little more real. It is hard to put into words how we felt about what happened next but it was the best thing we did in New Zealand, simply incredible. Our instructors scooted us along the seats one by one (Dunham was first out, Westall was last) and then we had to tuck our legs outside and under the plane. A quick turn to face the camera and then push….we were flying. The freefall from the plane was 60 seconds but it felt more like 2, it is so scary/exciting that you spend the entire time just trying to make sense of what is going on - we both remember having a perma-grin though, as the DVD and photos show! After the initial craziness of freefalling in the sky our instructors floated as around Lake Taupo and talked us through the incredible scenery beneath and around us. For something we had never done before, floating through the sky felt incredibly natural and so, so peaceful. I think it’s fair to say that we wouldn’t hesitate to do another one. Simply awesome.
After a night of reminiscing about we had done over several beers with Lucy, Laura and Jamie (a guy we met on the Kiwi bus) we left Taupo in search of our next adrenaline pumper. Before that though we took stock in Wellington, where we spent a relaxing couple of days with my distant second cousin, Graham Clendon. Being Easter weekend, there wasn’t too much going on in Wellington but Graham took us to some fantastic view points overlooking the city and fed us some much needed healthy and homely food! After a trip to the very interactive museum in Wellington and a stroll around the port we booked our ferry ticket and headed to the ´promised land´, the South Island!
Blog to follow soon!
Mark and James