Welcome/Kia Ora to the country where the sheep outnumber the people, the land is covered in an emerald Astroturf (at least in the north island), and the people are also keen to using the word “eh”. It is evident that we are no longer in SE Asia and back to a Western country as driving rules are obeyed, everyone speaks some form of the English language, and there aren’t millions of people wandering around the cities. We have officially arrived in New Zealand! As we flew into Auckland and admired the many small green, carpet like covered islands and dormant volcanoes we knew that this country would awe us with its beauty. So far, it has yet to disappoint.
My mom’s cousin and her family live in west Auckland and we were fortunate enough to stay with them for a few days while we got our bearings. It was amazing to have some home cooked meals and to have some great places pointed out to us for future travels through NZ as they have travelled most of the country themselves. We went for a hike down to their local beach on a beautiful Sunday afternoon - which was only a
White Island in the distance
5 minute drive from their house - and we were surprised to see the black sands of the west coast. Up until this point our beach encounters have been white sands, so this was something else to have this dark coloured stuff between our toes. The hike was amazing and the views along the coast line were breathtaking. It is incredible that all of this was so close to the biggest city in the country.
There were a few things that we needed to get while in Auckland to prepare us for the rest of our travels throughout the country. The first on the list was a vehicle to tour around in. We toyed with the idea of renting something as it is fairly cheap, however in the end we decided to take the risk and buy a campervan. Auckland has a great Backpackers car market set up that we went to where we had an assortment of vehicles and prices to choose from, and you could test drive any of the vehicles as well. It was a buyer’s market as NZ is entering into its winter season which means that there were lots of travellers trying to get
Our first home purchase!
We can only go up from here!
rid of their vans that they had been touring around in for the summer months. This was another selling feature for us to buy a van as opposed to renting as we’ll be selling it back when the market is strong again going into their summer. We test drove a few vans and eventually settled on one that we liked. So, we are now the proud new owners of a white 1990 Toyota Town Ace. She has a 1.8L engine, manual transmission with a mere 240,000km. Surprisingly this was one of the lowest km’s that we found, and the fact that she had power steering was a big selling feature. Never would anything like this ever sell back at home, but here, the large travelling backpackers lower the standards and there are hundreds of these van driving NZ’s roads. The van is has the front two seats as normal, but the back has been converted into a bed and storage area. Our bed is up on a makeshift platform made from 2x4 wood pieces with storage underneath. She came with camping chairs, a small table, a small gas stove, pots/pans/utensils, and even a fridge that hooks into the car lighter
so we can keep things cold off of the battery while driving. Although we would probably be a little embarrassed to be driving her back in Canada, Daisy (this is what we named her because of the flower stickers adorned to the outside), is now our beloved home! We are keeping our fingers crossed that she doesn’t spontaneously combust or disintegrate on us!
With a vehicle checked off of our list, we needed to finalize our working visas so that we can hopefully find a job or two while travelling over here. Unfortunately we ran into a glitch as our application came back to us saying that we needed to have chest x-rays done as we had spent more than 3 months in Asia prior to coming here, so they needed to rule out any risk of TB. Chest X-rays in hand and TB free, they finalized our visas. All we need now is to find work!
Having a kitchen at our disposal and excited to be able to cook again we decided to treat the Lardenoye family to one of our favourite meals as small thanks for all of their hospitality. Although we wanted to try our
hand at one of our meals we learned to cook in Thailand we decided to stick with our favourite and much easier, fajitas! All signs pointed to a good meal as we were scraping the plates and the bowls clean! A big thanks to the Lardenoye family for all of your help getting us settled and for allowing us to call your house our home! Some things to know before we begin...
• It is almost winter time here - yes we knew this coming in! - and although the temperatures don’t usually get to the freezing point on the north island, it can still get quite cold. Daily highs range from 8-13 degrees. After spending the last 5 months in hot to very hot temperatures, this cold may take some time getting used to again.
• The entire country of NZ only has ~4 million people with the majority living in the north island, and 1.5 million living in Auckland alone.
• The native New Zealanders are called Maori and unlike the rest of the world who tries to hide or shun the original owners of the land, they incorporate Maori culture into every aspect of New
A black sand beach at that
Zealand life. The name New Zealand was given to the land by one of the first Dutch settlers, however it is also known by the Maori name of Aotearoa. Road signs are written in English along with Maori, and many towns still maintain their original names, which we have fun (and most likely butcher) trying to pronunce.
• Nothing in NZ is flat, and we have had to learn to make sure that we always have enough gas in the van, and that 20 km may take us a hour depending on how Daisy decides to cope with the hills. It will also be hard for us to get a speeding ticket here as Daisy has a built in dinging sound that goes off non-stop as soon as she hits 100km/h. We often get passed by large trucks as a result!
• We are now living out of a van...usually parked down by the ocean! I know this all sounds so glamorous and desirable, but let me assure you, it’s not. Maybe if the temperatures were warmer and we could camp out on the beach or even have fires to keep us warm (they are banned all over NZ) it
would be a bit more appealing. Our lifestyle, cooking out of the back of the van or at random rest stops along the highway while enjoying NZ cheese and the local wines, can only be described as white trash meets haute couture!
We are currently looking for places to take up residency for a couple of months as it is getting quite cold at night and we are getting sick of only having a 8x6 cubicle to live out of. Having said all of this, Daisy has provided a great home to us and saves us having to pay for accommodation each night. The Coromandel
With Daisy all packed up and ready to go, we set off to explore the Coromandel Peninsula on the east coast of the north island. We drove along the Pacific highway with the ocean waves threatening to splash up over the road on one side, and lush forests on the other. We drove over numerous mountainous hills and through many small towns. The Coromandel has lots of beautiful beaches, but since it is going into their winter season here in the Southern Hemisphere they weren’t as desirable as one could imagine
on a hot summers day. A couple highlights from the Coromandel:
• Hot Water Beach - along the north east coast of the peninsula is a beach that lies in a geothermal area. This beach has been made famous as you are able to bring a shovel and basically dig your own hot pool right beside the ocean. You have to play the tides right as the area is only accessible for a few hours each day, but you literally sit in a pool fed by thermal waters right beside the frigid ocean temperatures. Fantastic!
• Cathedral Cove - in this same area, and also something that you have to time with the tides, is a neat rock formation that forms a cove that can only be walked through at low tide. The hike down to the cove was also great.
• A visit to Whanamata - pronounced “fung-a-ma-ta” - which is Kati’s (friends we met in Asia) hometown. Kati, it was very nice, quaint if you may, but we can see why you chose to move to somewhere bigger....where is everybody??? The scenery around the area was fantastic though! Hamilton
Yes, NZ has one of these
as well, and from what we have heard, it is the butt end of all the jokes too! The reason we decided to visit this city, apart from feeling back in our glory days at University, was to take in a Super 14 rugby game. The Super 14 is the professional rugby league that includes NZ, Australia, and South Africa - think the NHL of rugby. Rugby is the most watched, the most played and the most coveted sport of this country. We were fortunate enough to get tickets to see the Waikato Cheifs vs. Wellington Hurricanes, two of the top 4 teams in the league, and both who host many players from the more famous NZ All Blacks national rugby team. Matt was in his glory watching the game, and I was learning the rules as the plays went by. Just two weeks out from playoffs there was a lot of hype around the game and the spirit of the sold out crowd was infectious. We were soon branded with a Chiefs scarf from the people next to us and we cheered along with the rest of the crowd. The game didn’t disappoint with the home team coming out
on top. Taupo & Rotorua
We drove along the Thermal Highway which brings you along areas most famous for random hot springs, steam spewing craters and boiling mud pools. Or as Matt likes to put it, the eternal emittance of sulphuric flatulence! Taupo is situated on the north end of the biggest fresh water lake in Oceania, Lake Taupo, but more correctly, it is the largest volcanic crater mouth which has, over time, filled with water. The entire country of Singapore can fit into this lake! We spent a couple of days in Taupo admiring the already snow capped mountains on the horizon and walking through a few thermal areas. We really wanted to complete one of NZ’s Great Walks in this area, the Tongarario Crossing, however winter has come early this year and most of the path is covered in snow already and wind and ice storms leave the visibility at next to none. I guess there is a reason why summer is the popular trekking time! Some highlights from this area:
• Craters of the Moon - a geologists ‘steamy’ dream, walking through an area where sulphur invades your sense of smell, and everywhere you
looked are small to extremely large craters which spew an equivalent amount of hot steam and show off unique rock formations with lots of cool colours . It literally was like walking on the moon. It was quite humbling knowing that every step we took on the guided walkway was over top of a very large crater formation situated over liquid magma (can anyone say that word without the Dr. Evil accent?!?), and one which is inevitably going to erupt one day.
• Celebrating my birthday with a few activities including an afternoon at a thermal spa where we enjoyed sitting in outdoor hot tubs admiring the views. See the next blog for more details on how we spent this day!
• Our campsite in Rotorua where we parked Daisy right beside a stream, Matt fished in the river for some dinner (sadly unsuccessful) and we had one mean ping pong competition for hours while it rained! Whakatane
Pronounced ‘fa-ka-ta-nay’ as the Maori influence changes the ‘wh’ to an ‘f’ sound, we rolled into this town in the afternoon which is famous for White Island, the country’s biggest active volcano, about 50km from the shore. This area
also has great fishing off the wharf and while I made lunch, Matt snuck off and came back carrying a brand new fishing rod! Some highlights from here:
• Watching Matt fish for a few hours in the afternoon sun, again not catching anything while the others around him reeled in fish after fish! Apparently he was using bait for snappers which was good for around the corner and not where he was.
• Parking Daisy up on top of a hill with a view down Ohope beach and a beautiful sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.
• Just saying the name of the city - it kept us entertained!
Love to all,
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