There and Back Again

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Oceania » New Zealand » North Island
November 26th 2011
Published: November 28th 2011
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Tina Writes

For the past two weeks we have been travelling the North Island in our van ‘Donkey’. After our first nights campervanning, we headed further north, in fact we went to the most northerly part of NZ, Cape Regina. It was a nice drive up. We parked and headed down to the lighthouse and lookout point. There was information everywhere about the traditional Maori views about this area. This is where the spirit goes to after death. You can also see the Tasman Sea meeting the Pacific Ocean.

We soon headed back down the coast and decided to stay at the same free DOC campsite as the night before. Setting up camp can be good fun, one of us cooking and the other setting up either outside or inside the van depending on the weather. We also usually try to find a spot close to the toilets but not too close and so that most of the van is in the shade because when the sun comes up in the morning it can turn into a sauna otherwise.

We then headed south again and down the East coast. We took a car ferry over to Russell. This is the area where the Europeans first landed on NZ. The treaty house was based here, where the Europeans and Maori signed a treaty agreeing to share the land but it cost something like £20 each to get in so we had to miss that one out. We drove down and round the coast heading for a campsite on the map but we seemed to overshoot it by some distance and ended up staying at a private campsite that we spotted a sign for at the side of the road. It was in a farm and the farmer greeted us. For $15 dollars we could set up camp anywhere on his large farm but we stayed near the toilets. We had a chat to the farmer and his mate who were having a Friday night beer and smoke, so they repeated a lot of what they had to say. Nice guys though.

The next day we headed south again and back through Auckland. It was hard to resist going back to the Sky Tower for the amazing buffet! We drove to another DOC campsite called Shag Stream, a lot of places have this word as its name but apparently there is a bird with the name and that’s why. Doesn’t stop us from laughing each time though.

The next morning we headed to a town called Matamata A.K.A Hobbiton. As many of you will know, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was filmed in NZ and visiting the film locations is big business here. We had watched the trilogy again over the past 3 nights in preparation. The farm that Peter Jackson chose to use as The Shire has been a huge tourist attraction since 2000 when the films came out but the owners were not allowed to keep the original set and most of it was stripped to the barebones leaving only the plywood shapes that made up the doors to the hobbits homes. It was still enough to attract thousands of visitors especially because the ‘party tree’ is a real tree and remains. As this is such a big feature of The Shire, it likely made up for the lack of set. However, 2 weeks ago they finished filming at the same farm for The Hobbit which is in production and starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo and this time some deal was made to keep the set exactly how it is in the film. We couldn’t have been luckier! If we had been here 2 weeks ago we wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near. So we got to visit Hobbiton and see it for real. It was fantastic. We absolutely loved it, especially seeing Bilbo and Frodo’s house (Baggend). We had a guide that took us round and showed us the different parts where filming had taken place. We also got to see a sheep being sheered and feed lambs which was ace! When we bought our tickets at the tourist information office (£33) we had to sign a confidentiality form, promising not to publish any of our photographs on Facebook etc as the film is still to be released and they don’t want anything to get out before the release. However if they really were concerned about that I am sure they would not allow tourists in at all, especially with cameras plus the set looks exactly the same as it did in the trilogy. So no harm I think. There is no way I am not posting my photos! As we travelled further south we also passed Mount Doom from the films. We took some pics but it was covered with cloud.

We headed to the Waitomo caves. I had read about these caves and thought it worth a visit. They house millions of glow worms so it looks like looking at a star filled sky at night. There were lots of options of how to see the caves, by boat, by foot, by abseiling, and by tubing. We decided this would be one of our first adventure activities and went with a company called Rap Raft ‘n’ Rock (£80). We arrived at their base and given wetsuits and harness’ to put on. Rob looked ridiculous. We started by abseiling down into the cave from about 90 ft then we walked through the freezing water into the cave. The guide pointed out that there were eels in the water and one in particular was their friend ‘Jeff’ who swam right up to us and let us pet it. We carried on through, the water getting much rougher in parts and the rock walls pointy and jagged. We squeezed through holes in the cave wall in all directions, this was not for anyone with claustrophobia. Then we got our tubes, these are the inner tubes of tyres and you use them just like the inflatable rings at aqua parks and float down the river. It was great fun. We left the tubes behind and walked further into the cave and took a seat on the ‘shore’. The guide told us to turn off our head torches and there we sat staring at millions of tiny little lights on the ceiling of the cave. It looked amazing. Then we heard a bang, a loud one. We all got a fright and the guide explained he had literally just hit his tube off the water to intentionally give us a fright as it makes your pupils dilate and take in more light so we could see so many more glow worms. I tried not to think about the reality of what I was seeing, millions of minging worms all over the place but the guide turned on his head torch and showed what they actually looked like, it wasn’t too bad actually. It’s interesting how they live. The worm lives on the ceiling of the cave and creates a long web-like string to hang down below it. Their light attracts other insects and they are caught in the stringy web which they then eat. They do this for about 9 months then they turn into tiny flies. Unfortunately these flies do not have mouths so cannot eat, o they live for only 2 or 3 days and in that time they mate and lay eggs for the whole thing to start again. Ironically, sometimes the flies get caught in the glow worms string on their way out and get eaten! After this we tubed some more and climbed through lots of tiny holes. At the end we had to climb back up where we had abseiled down from. This was proper rock climbing and I was to go first (that’s because I was the slowest btw), it was sheer rock face in some parts and I only had my hands to help me climb. I was just like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2! Of course we had safety ropes on in case we fell. It was really good fun and although expensive, it was worth it. Of course we could not take our camera so the guide had a waterproof camera and we bought the CD Rom with all the pics from the day for only £10. Personally I hate being charged for pics of myself that I could have taken myself but usually you are charged some ridiculous amount so we reckoned £10 wasn’t bad. Only thing is we don’t have a disc drive to actually view them or put on the blog so you will have to wait til we get home.

We then headed to Wellington, the capital of NZ. It’s a lovely city by the sea. This is also where you get the ferry to South Island (£110 for 2 adults and van). We went to the museum here as I have read rave reviews about it. It was a very good museum and had the only preserved colossal squid on show. We also had ‘fush and chups’ as this seems to be a speciality in NZ. The fish was something I had never had before and quite frankly was a real disappointment especially when they cost £7 each!

I thought I would write a bit about how things are with living in the van etc. One thing is we drive A LOT. And driving a lot means a lot of petrol. The petrol here is only slightly cheaper than home, on average £1.03 a litre. We fill up with approx £30 a day petrol. We also find we go to the supermarket too much and therefore spend too much on food. This is probably because neither of us can cook. We have had a lot of Carbonara. I also remembered something I seen on the Graham Norton show years ago, he was interviewing an Australian (Holly Valance or someone) and she shared an OZ tradition with him. They have biscuits called ‘Tim Tams’, they are a bit like Penguins but you can buy different fillings. You bite off each end of the biscuit and then use it like a straw to suck your tea through, this saturates the biscuit with the hot tea effectively making it the equivalent of a super dunk. You then need to shove the whole biscuit in your mouth before it collapses into your tea and OMG. It’s amazing and has become the highlight of my day. The bed is quite comfortable and warm and there is plenty of space for us both. Driving is quite easy as it’s almost exactly like home but I tend to only drive when Rob really can’t be bothered anymore. He isn’t a fan of me driving because when I panic I show it by screaming ‘HELP ROB’ even though there is nothing he can do, so he expects me to mess up constantly and looks over my shoulder correcting me every two minutes which doesn’t go down well. Finding the DOC campsites has also been a little more difficult than it should be and we have spent quite a few hours going round in circles. The DOC booklets are the worst written ever and their directions are terrible. We had hoped we could just pull up a side road or something now and then but these don’t seem to exist and all the land seems to be private farmland. We charge our netbook and phone from the car battery while we drive so we can watch a film at night with our tea and Tim Tams and go online in the morning for Skype (if we have a signal). There are a lot of insects especially biting flies, my feet are covered in bites and itch like mad. Considering I have major phobia of such things I am coping quite well.

So that’s it for North Island (I am writing this on the Ferry to South Island). We are really looking forward to what South Island has to offer. Apparently it’s much better than North. We shall see soon enough.

Additional photos below
Photos: 43, Displayed: 30


28th November 2011

New Zealand looks so clean and bright. Did you do a lot of Samwise impressions while you were at The Shire?
28th November 2011

I love you Mr Bauer
Kirsten, i'm guessing this is you.
28th November 2011

Have you Hongi'd a Maori yet?
28th November 2011

I haven't hongi'ed one yet, no. I don't think i'll get round to that actually.
28th November 2011

a wee cheap and nice dinner
Al you need is 1 potato , 3 eggs and oil- chop up potato, skin on, into wee cubes fry it in quite deep oil for about 10 to 13 minutes.Drain oil off so you can reuse it. Beat up eggs and pour into pan ( you can add wee bits of bacon or chicken or any other meat or veg too) cover pan so steam cooks it all through- voila 5 minutes later you have a spanish tortilla, flip the pan onto a plate so the nice panny shape is on top and slice and serve with salad or sweetcorn or Glesga salad(chips/crisps)
28th November 2011

Thanks Clair, i'll try that.
28th November 2011

Thanks for the detailed information
I have been following you blog and just got around to Recommending you. My wife and I will be traveling through New Zealand and Sydney, Australia along with the South Seas Islands next October for our 40th anniversary, so the details you provide help me to plan our trip. We will also visit South American in the not to distant future so we will refer back to those blogs too. We've lived in Southeast Asia for years so will enjoy reading your blogs once you get there to get your impressions. We also lived in Europe for 18 years and enjoyed trips to the Untied Kingdom.
28th November 2011

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Makes my day when I see other people are enjoying the blog and not just family and friends (who are required to :-P ). Your recommendation is really appreciated and will get me back on the front page with the new requirements, so thanks very much!!!
29th November 2011

Good to be on the road
Looks like your adventure continues. NZ is the best. We will be following along.
30th November 2011

Hobbitland looks perfect for all the Metcalfes wi their wee Meccy legs, a mass migration looks on the cards since there appears to be plenty of social housing available. I'm volunteering your Mum to lead the way. Enjoy yourselves, Pops.
4th December 2011

I want a Tim Tam..... Donkey looks super cute too. We are enjoying the adventure with you although I sooo want to be driving along in donkey with you both. :-b x

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