Category: New Zealand

The view from my office

Welcome to my office

These photos are taken at the workplaces of people I met whilst travelling last year.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island. Technically the truck is Rhett’s office – our guide for three days.

Sunset Fraser Island

This is his evening commute. Sunset, as the tide comes in.

Whales, - Lady Musgrave

The crew get to see this after a day of looking after customers on a day trip to Lady Musgrave Island. You would think that they would be blase about this. No. The crew are every bit as excited as the customers when they spot whales.

New Zealand 90 mile beach

The coach drivers view on 90 mile beach, Cape Reinga, Far North. New Zealand. Every day he sees this. Beats the M25 on a Friday evening. Not a bad commute.

New Zealand The Remarkables

Get a hotel job in Queenstown overlooking The Remarkables. The receptionist at our serviced apartments had previously worked for a hotel on a carpark on the M6 outside Manchester. Which view do you think she preferred?

The Pacific Coast

Or work in the cafe on the Pacific Coast Train for Kiwi Rail.

Trans alpine rail

Or the Tranz Alpine Railway. Just for a change of scenery. The cafe with the best views in the world. And it changes every day. The light, the weather – something new to see.

Northern Territory Uluru

It’s a long commute – but worth it. Uluru. When Rhett isn’t spotting dingos on Fraser Island he spends his winter here.

Which view would you choose? Touch choices I think.

 

 

New Zealand by Train – The TranzAlpine with KiwiRail Scenic Journeys

KiwiRail – is this the best way to see New Zealand?

When planning the New Zealand trip with New Zealand Self Drive Tours I asked them include two railway journeys. One was the Pacific Coast with KiwiRail, from Christchurch to Picton and the other was the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth.

The DH and I started our month of roadtripping New Zealand with the Pacific Coast trip. We loved it. And so it was, two weeks to the day since the DH aka Sleeve Notes and I had set out from Christchurch Station to Picton we were back at the station with our son.

I just love railway stations and trains. We had not seen this part of New Zealand before so I was a bit like a child in a sweet shop.  Even better, our son was there to share the journey. It was his first full day in New Zealand and he started his adventure travelling across the mountains of the South Island on the TranzAlpine with KiwiRail.

The son is a massive fan of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. I had planned, with the help of Self Drive Tours, for the two weeks he was with us to be as LOTR related as possible. And what a start. The scenery is just magnificent.

This train was much busier than the last trip – two big tour companies had booked out most of the train. This meant that one of the two open air observation carriages was jammed packed, so we made our way to the second one at the front of the train which was less busy. A good way to blow away the jet lag. And of course when it gets too cold (it does in winter) and when you have to retreat inside for part of the journey , the seating on Kiwirail is comfortable. The windows are extra large so you get an excellent view.

For an introduction to New Zealand this was the best way to start his two week adventure. The contrasting scenery takes your breath away. More spectacular views (yes 24 year olds can be impressed with views – this is New Zealand) were to come during the road trip. As he said, you never know what you will see next.

For most of our four weeks we were road tripping.  And while New Zealand is the ultimate road trip destination drivers need a rest and an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the ride. And this is the best way to do it. You will need to book tickets in advance.

While our first train was not full,  the second train was. All seats are reserved so if you just show up to go it is likely you won’t get a seat. Both are lengthy journeys and you will probably need food. While some people brought picnics with them there are excellent snacks (the hearty brunch wrap was my choice) available on board. Don’t miss out on the Kapiti ice cream. The Menu is here.

If you are planning to visit New Zealand, I urge you to take the train at some point during your travels. On my next visit I may just jump aboard the Northern Explorer from Wellington to Auckland. Here Flying and Travel shares their experience of the trip. Yeah, I need to go soon.

 

 

 

 

A Warm Welcome at Waipoua Lodge

On the road in New Zealand

The DH aka Sleeve Notes and I stayed in many different accommodations during our four week road trip in New Zealand. We travelled from Christchurch to Auckland, via Picton, Blenheim, Greymouth, Hanmer Springs, Franz Josef, Queenstown, Bay of Islands, Waipoua and Cape Reinga by plane, train and automobile. Mostly on the road in a hire car. All organised (bar the last few days when we went freestyle) via New Zealand Self Drive Tours.

All the hotels and motels we booked through the tour company were good. Many were excellent.

One was outstanding.

Waipoua Lodge

A couple of days before our stay here I received an email from the hosts of Waipoua Lodge  with a menu, requesting that we pre order our evening meal. This was the first clue that this was going to be a memorable place to stay.

The choice of food was simply outstanding – not a long menu – which is in my mind usually a good thing, yet it was clear that the person who put his menu together understood and loved food. I was not wrong. Slow cooked pork belly, rillettes of lamb, salmon with basil and lime were some of the choices for the mains.

Dinner

Unusually for Instagram fangirl me I did not take any photos of the food we ate that night. We were the only guests at the lodge and, with a personal chef and waiter aka Fran and Ian, this was a dining experience we wanted to immerse ourselves in fully. Food bloggers will tell you that once photos have been taken, notes made, the food is cold. This was not going to be a night like that.

Fran kindly sent and gave me permission to us a photo of the main that the DH had, Slow Cooked pork with chilli and lime. DH said it was outstanding. It was (I tried it too).

Waipoua Lodge slow cooked pork

I had the salmon for my main which was also excellent.

For pudding the choice was easy, the lemon souffle, a signature dish of Waipoua Lodge. A melt in the mouth taste experience. Yet this is Waipoua Lodge – here you get invited into the kitchen to watch Fran make it. She made it look so simple, and in theory it is. How can something with four ingredients, that takes moments to make and minutes to bake, taste so good?

I have yet to make it (sorry Fran still no oven). As guests we left with the recipe and an invite to be a member of her online cookery school. And when I get a kitchen I will be making a few of her recipes.

The accommodation

And while I have focussed on the food – because it is so very good – I need to tell you about the rooms and the location.

The lodge is on the edge of the Waipoua Forest miles from any town or village. We travelled from Auckland on SH1 then travelled via Dargaville on SH12 to the lodge. The last 45 km drive on SH12 was particularly spectacular. A magnificent coast and as you drive over the ridge you see the forest. It can get pretty windy up there, camper vans have been blown over, and as Ian said, if you think that is spectacular, it just gets better. It does. There are some pretty spectacular drives in New Zealand – add SH12 to the list.

A Warm Welcome

From the moment we arrived at the lodge Ian and Fran made us feel so welcome. It was as if were invited to a special house party and we were the only ones on the guest list.

They ushered us into the lounge room and served tea in vintage china cups. We chatted about the journey, our travels, the lodge and just about everything. Conversation was easy as if we had known Fran and Ian for years. A time was agreed for dinner and we were shown our room with some suggestions of a walk in the bush walk if we wanted to stretch our legs after the long journey.

Bush Walk Walipuria Lodge

The rooms are beautifully appointed. Comfortable with good bedlinen and top notch Aotearoa Koha Spa toiletries this is luxury 5 star accommodation. Yet is is not at all stuffy. I felt that we were staying in a friend’s home. A friend with immaculate taste in home furnishings and who cooks like a Michelin starred chef.

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After dinner, we chatted for hours with Fran and Ian. It was an extremely relaxing evening. I hope they enjoyed the conversation as much as we did. I think they did.

The next day, after an excellent breakfast, Ian gave us a detailed and fascinating talk about Waipoua Forest and the Kauri Trees. We had visited the Kauri Museum the day before. I was somewhat underwhelmed and thought it poorly curated. I learned more from Ian about the history of the area, the impact of the deforestation, in his short and informative chat than I had in an hour or so at the museum, with its display of some big trees, a bottle collection and waxwork figures. And that is a shame, because the Kauri and its history shape this part of New Zealand.

Ian suggested some places to stop on the drive to our next destination, The Bay of Islands, and then we reluctantly took our leave, back on the road again.

But not before Fran and Ian, owners and custodians of Waipoua Lodge, took one last photo for their scrapbook. Here we are with their dog. Bonnie.

On the steps of our room at Waipoua Lodge

 

Note: Phil and I were paying guests at the lodge. Fran and Ian did not ask me to write this (they did ask us to rate them on TripAdvisor and I have).

Addendum August 2017

Fran and Ian have now sold the lodge – and bought a luxury yacht.

Travel is my high and I need another shot of it

Travel

When you travel you will possibly be all of these things.

Exhausted, happy, sad, frustrated, angry, in pain, relaxed, tired, excited, snappy, hungry, hangry, worried, stressed, restless and contented. You will never be bored.

I have endured long flights, watched movies I cannot remember, read books, walked dogs on beaches, slept in a swag and scrambled barefoot over rocks to swim in a pool with crocodiles.

I have learned to paddle board, considered divorcing my husband when kayaking in the Katherine Gorge, snorkeled over the Great Barrier Reef, hiked the Kings Canyon Rim, slept for hours on a bus where the landscape never changed, travelled in a 4WD on Fraser Island, seen a kangaroo whose best friend is a pig and visited a city devastated by an earthquake.

In NSW I ate some of the best food I have ever tasted and eaten endless ham sandwiches with tour groups in the NT, breakfasted at Macca’s, brunched on the best poached eggs in Melbourne (nowhere has matched that city for brunch) drank the best coffee made with freshly roasted beans (again in Melbourne) and sulked over lack of beetroot.

But I have never been bored.

How can you get bored when travelling?

When I was planning this four month trip to Australia and New Zealand, someone asked me “don’t you get bored being on holiday for so long?”

What?

I waited a moment and answered with one word. “No.”

What I wanted to say was how could you possibly get bored when you travel? When you are seeing so much, meeting so many new people, doing things that will challenge you and change you?

I didn’t. I just knew that they would not get it. Because what they mean by a holiday and what that is to them is not what it is to me.

This is not a vacation, this is travel

In their map of the world a holiday is seven days escape from work, be it to a caravan in Bognor or a villa in Majorca, eating ice-cream and sitting on the beach. And after seven days of not doing much they think that is it time to go back to the 9 to 5. Because that is what you do. Hate Monday, live for the weekend and if you are lucky get a week away in the sun.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Been there, done that and probably will again. I like holidays. Long ones, short ones, package holiday and round the world travelling ones and weekends in sumptuous B&B’s and camping. I like to go travelling, while I still can.

I don’t get bored when travelling – because every holiday, every weekend away, being down under for four months or a package holiday to Skiathos for a week, a day out to Weston Super Mare, I see as an adventure. That is my map of the world.

I do get bored restless sometimes. When it rained for a week in Melbourne and I had watched every episode of Stranger Things I was ready to climb walls. Cabin fever did set in. Previous to this house-sit I had been on a ten day adventure in the Northern Territory. And while I had a love/hate relationship with that trip, with hindsight it was one of the most amazing journeys I have ever been on.

I was a broken woman

I ached and I wanted a bed and a shower and not to worry in case a dingo stole my shoes. After seven days of continuous rain and when the bites had healed and I had eaten brunch and cakes and Greek food and done all the washing I was restless. Eager to get back on the road again. Travel is my ‘high’ and I needed another shot of it.

Housesitting and travel plans

Yes I loved the comfy beds the hot showers, the food, did I mention the food in Oakleigh? Yet I was eager for more. New people, old friends, trying new food, seeing new places, getting on a plane (despite pre travel jitters that hit me before every flight) I crave the change. I feel that I may be addicted to change. Once healed I needed adventure again.

I could have wallowed. I didn’t. There was a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane to plan and book. New Zealand was a blank page. Flights in, flights out and no plan to get from A to B. So while it poured with rain, in between dog walking, kamikaze magpie dodging and eating souvlaki I stopped procrastinating and got on with transport and itinerary planning.

And yes I had procrastinated. Most of the trip had been planned in March. Flights had been booked, trips to Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island planned to fit in with flights. The NT trip to Kakadu, Alice Springs and Uluru was sandwiched between two house sits in Melbourne. An unexpected three day window filled with a visit to Tasmania.

Yet this bit of the trip was blank. And while I like to think of myself as free spirited Phoebe, Monica is stronger in me. I need a plan. Yes I do like to have room for some spontaneity, I am not that rigid, yet I have learned that I do need to know some basic whens and hows and so does my husband. I don’t want to arrive in a strange city without a bed for a night. That said we arrived in Brisbane with a room pre booked and hated it so much we found another room in 5 minutes thanks to free wifi and Booking.com.

This needing to know where I will be sleeping is possibly a symptom of my anxiety. I didn’t know that till now (see this writing malarkey really is my therapy). Perhaps realising that I can turn on a sixpence will reduce this anxiety and  the need to be in constant control?

New Zealand Plans

When you have a month in New Zealand, a country that has so much to thrill, excite and amaze you, a plan is good. When a third person who has different interests to you is joining you for a couple of weeks and would rather put needles in his eyes than go on a tour of wineries, you need a plan.

In 2011 Phil and I travelled in a campervan from Auckland to Christchurch. When it was good it was awesome when it was bad it was not so awesome. We had no itinerary, booked as we went along and it worked out OK but we missed so much and ran out of time.

This time, after wasting hours getting jaw dropping quotes from Camper Van and Motorhome hire companies, trying to work out how to fit in almost everything we wanted to do I and failing, I used a travel agency, New Zealand Self Drive Tours. I found them via Facebook (sometimes those annoying ads are useful) gave them a list of what me, my husband and my son wanted to do, flights details and they planned and booked it for me.

I worked with them to tweak it and there is some spontaneity as the last 8 days there is no plan. No accommodation, no activities just the car and us and I like that we have no idea where we will be or what we are doing. I also like that for most of the time we just turn up and the hotel is booked and the car is waiting for us and we know how many km’s we will be driving each day.

Road trip New Zealand

I am currently in New Zealand, have been for a week and so far the plan is working. The car is easier to drive than a camper. Not for one moment have we wished we had got one.

The rooms have been warm and clean and the Coastal Pacific Rail journey was breathtakingly brilliant. Phil and I have travelled to Christchurch to Picton on the Pacific Coast Railway, driven from Picton to Christchurch via Blenheim and Hanmer Springs.

In Blenheim we had a lovely day touring the wineries with Highlight Wine Tours and were guided around the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre Air by Bunty, a 96 year old World War 2 Spitfire pilot.

We have bathed in thermal pools in Hanmer Springs, driven past snow capped mountains and followed a steam train through Weka Pass. Yesterday we rode on a vintage tram around Christchurch and walked around the city at sunset. Tomorrow we travel the Tranz Alpine Railway.

Yes I am worried how I am going to cope when I get back to the small house in November. Being in one place and shopping and cooking and the grey skies. I am sure that the Farsickness will kick in and know that I need to come up with a strategy to manage that.

I am confident that I will.

In the meantime – New Zealand awaits.

There will be mountains and geysers and hot beaches and Hobbits and planes and trains and automobiles to transport us.

#notboredyet

 

New Zealand by Train -The Pacific Coast Railway with KiwiRail

  • Long White Cloud

The KiwiRail Pacific Coast Railway

Travelling on the KiwiRail Pacific Coast Railway had been on the someday list for far too long.

Boarding KiwiRail in Christchurch

Someday became today

For five years I have dreamt of it. It became reality due to saving and planning. And a real desire to make it happen.

This was Day One of a four week trip, by plane, train and automobile with New Zealand Self Drive Tours. What a way to start. Travelling along the Pacific coast from Christchurch to Picton. In 2011 I drove along part of this route in a camper van with my husband and it was breath taking. We were staying in Blenheim and while at the station this train was there, with its open air viewing carriage, dining car and carriages with huge windows to maximise the view from your seat. I said then that I would be back and I would travel on this train. And five years later, here I am.

Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, did not disappoint.

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I should be so lucky

So many people when they heard of my travel plans tell me that I am lucky.  If lucky means working and planning for this trip since 2011. If lucky means focussing on what I needed to do and I De-cluttered and downsized for this. If lucky means assessing what was important to me and knowing that it wasn’t stuff it was travel, then I am lucky.

I wish I could travel

And oh the people saying that they wished they could travel. The ones that say ‘I’d love to go to Australia/Canada/Rome/Paris but… I can’t because’ …

How many times have I heard these words ? Hundreds of times.

Just do it

Well I just did it. One of many things that had been on that someday list for far too long. I made them happen this year. Put a date on it.

Don’t tell me you wish you could. If you really want to, you will find a way.

Housesitting in Melbourne and other travel plans

Housesitting is the lifestyle plan for me and Phil, my husband, going forward

Eventually we will sign up with an agency, probably Trusted Housesitters. We have not needed to as yet as we were fortunate enough to land our first housesitting assignment through a uni friend.

I hadn’t seen my old uni friend for over 20 years and as part of the round the world trip Phil and I  did in 2011/2 the plan was to go visit her in Melbourne. Our dates clashed with her planned visit to England, which was disappointing as I was looking forward to seeing her again. Then she mentioned that all they needed to organise was a house and dog sitter and I proposed that we could be those sitters. Surprisingly she said yes, having only met my husband at our wedding. I had never met hers. However they entrusted us to look after Mac and Poppy while they were away.

And so it was in November 2011 we got to Melbourne and panicked when questioned by passport control about where we were staying in Melbourne.

‘I don’t know.’

Having since watched Border Control I now realise this was not a good answer to give.

‘My friend is meeting us’

I had realised by then to say ‘a friend I have not seen in over 25 years and just recently got back in touch with through Facebook’ would not have been a good idea.

‘Do you have a phone number for her?’

‘No, I don’t and I don’t have a phone that will work in this country yet.’

‘What if she doesn’t meet you?’

‘She will.’

I don’t think they checked if we were met, but I guess they could see that we had a flight booked out of the country so we reckoned they did not consider there was a big risk of us overstaying our visa. We were let into Australia. Also as it was incredibly busy in the arrivals hall, I think they just needed to get us out of there.

My friend was there at the gate.

And I got to spend two weeks with her as she had to change her dates due to some big music awards thing (Aria is pretty big) she had to attend. It was great because it gave us the opportunity to reconnect, and she and her husband got to show off their city. And we got to see Dolly Parton in concert, for free.

The next time we went in 2015 I had the addresses, emails, phone numbers all ready if I got questioned. Although we had no idea where we were staying in Sydney.  As one of our hosts was a barrister I reckoned she would get us out of the airport if detained.

‘Don’t mention housesitting, I have heard they have a dim view on housesitting.’

I must have said this to Phil a dozen times.

The arrivals hall was empty and we were made to use the retina recognition machines (always a challenge to those of us who wear specs) and sailed through border control in a matter of minutes.

Up until that moment I was convinced we would get the same questions, especially as I had a different visa than I had in 2011. But that is another story. I really must stop watching Border Control.

And now Phil and I are going back for the third housesit at the same house with the same dogs and I am getting all panicky about the visas again. This time it is because we will be in Australia for just under 3 months, the maximum time the e visa allows us to stay.

The reason for the longer stay is that we have two house sits booked now, both in Melbourne, with a gap between them.

Travel plans

The plan was to zoom in, get over jet lag, dump excess luggage in Melbourne and then fly to Darwin, travel over land to Alice and see Uluru. In 2 days, since beginning to write this post, plans have changed. We will now be arriving in Melbourne the day before the sit begins.

This is because Carole King is playing in Hyde Park, London. To make the most of the three-month visa restriction I have had to change our plans. Do you see how complicated and random my life is? Fortunately nothing was booked.

I have three itineraries in front of me and numerous tabs open on the desktop.  Australian Border Control, Viator, Tripadvisor,  tour companies to help decide on tours we can make in-between and after sits. I want to use an Australian based company to tour with, not some big multinational company based in Canada. It is hard to tell with some of them and if you book via Viator I have yet to find out if you can see who the tour operator is.

There are other things to consider.

Do we drive from Sydney to Brisbane? Wait, didn’t I just say we were going to Darwin, Uluru and Alice? Yes I did. That is still the plan between house sits.

We have to go to Sydney as Yum Cha is a must with our friends there.  I wanted to go to Tassie to but no time to fit it in and it will be cold in August. Darwin and Brisbane will be warmer, although the tour operators warn that temperatures drop at night in the NT. I am taking thermals.

So far the itinerary looks like this

10 July Birmingham to Melbourne via Dubai

13 July arrive Melbourne

14 July house sit until  22 August

23 August fly to Darwin

24 August 10 day Kakadu to Uluru tour

3 September fly from Alice Springs to Melbourne

4 to 21 September house sit in Melbourne

22 September fly to Sydney

22 to 25 stay at Rocks YHA Sydney – may do a Bridge climb, will go for Yum Cha

26 September drive to Brisbane using this itinerary

1 or 5 October  Five day Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island tour (dates to be confirmed by operator) the trip gets great reviews although it is expensive

11 October fly Brisbane to New Zealand (tbk) or home or……..

With just two days left on the visa.

I am panicking that something will go wrong and we will overstay the visa and be banned from entering Australia for 3 years (Border Control again).

The other issue I have is packing. What to pack and what in? I still have my back pack but my back is not good. On tours you need to take minimum, yet in Melbourne we will be city slickers and need at least one good outfit. My Dubarry boots with a dress sufficed for Melbourne casual dining but those boots will not be suitable for hiking around Uluru and scuba diving at Lady Musgrave Island. They will not fit in a back pack.

And if we go to New Zealand, do we get a camper van again? We had a love hate relationship with our camper in 2011. Do we fly into Christchurch and see more of the South Island? Will it be too cold? It is often cheaper to hire cars and campers in Christchurch if going to Auckland as the companies want the main stock on the North Island.

After New Zealand I would quite like to visit The Cook Islands. Those Dubarry boots will be of no use there either. Men don’t have these problems.

Oh, did I mention we have a friend working in LA ? We would like to go see him too, and maybe drive to Las Vegas, maybe San Francisco and we always said we wished we had spent more time in Pismo Beach.

Maybe one big road trip across America?

Decisions, decisions.

And then there is the insurance to sort out….. our annual policy will not suffice. The to do list is getting longer.

Where do you think we could go?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand in a camper van – Woodville, Greytown and Wellington

After a peaceful stopover in Dannevirke we had an early start as we had some distance to cover if we were to get to Wellington that afternoon. A ferry was booked to cross to the South Island for the next day and people we had met in Russell had offered to let us park up on their drive overnight.

As ever we had no plans, had done no research, had no guide books either. We did  have a clever sat nav system that gave a guided commentary as we travelled south on Route 2.

We made a stop in Woodville for no other reason than it looked a good place to look around and take a driving break.

And maybe get some cheesecake.

Then later, when we saw the sign for the Tui Brewery at Mangatainoka, we decided to make a short detour.

Their adverts are risque and often sexist.

They would never get away with these in England, yet some are amusing.

We didn’t have time to take a tour of the brewery but did take a look around the museum and buy a couple of t shirts on sale in the gift shop.

And take some silly photos.

Then back on the road and next stop Greytown. I loved this town immediately.  I wanted to move in there and then and live there. I know I have said that of almost everywhere we visited in New Zealand, yet this town seemed to offer the life I wanted somehow. I really liked it here and was sorry that we could only stay a short while.

As well as the community supermarket, there were lots of quirky shops to browse.

Beautiful buildings.

And is a place to visit if antiques are your thing.

A good pub to park the husband in, while the ladies shop.

More New Zealand humour sexism.

The journey so far had been an easy and pleasant drive. Interesting road signs and building. Wide straight roads.

Time for tea and cake with company in Greytown.

And then as we headed toward Wellington for the final stretch the clever sat nav with commentary announced that it was now going to stop talking. We were taking a mountain route that needed our full concentration. This was the first time we had been warned to drive extra carefully. We had been challenged by the drive to Napier, what, it gets scarier than that? This road is gated off in bad weather. It is that scary.

It was some relief as we descended into Wellington via Upper and Lower Hutt.  We then navigated our way through our first city since Auckland to meet our friend in Miramar, home of the Weta Studios.

At the time I couldn’t share my photos as these are props from The Hobbit which was being filmed while we were there. As well as visiting the Weta Cave, we went to see the green screen (which is at the back of a supermarket)

and went to the board room and saw the awards including The Oscars and The Crunchies that Weta have won. I regret not taking photos of those. It was an amazing experience and was a highlight of our visit.

At the suggestion of our Weta guide and friend we then went to explore Te Papa Tongarewa and the harbour area.

Te Papa Tongarewa is an excellent museum and we really did not have enough time to do it justice. The earthquake experience was realistic and a stark reminder that this beautiful country has been devastated by earthquakes on many occasions.

Recently named as one of Lonely Planet’s top 500 places to see on the planet the museum is well worth a visit if you are ever in Wellington.

The next day we were sailing to the South Island so this visit to Wellington was all too short. Fortunately we had Tim and Jo-Anne, who we met in Russell,  as city guides and we packed a lot in a few hours.

They had told us we could park up on their drive overnight and as we had just met them on a campsite a few days ago I thought this was really generous of them. I had no idea of what lovely kind and generous people they were. They welcomed us into their beautiful home and  gave us their guest room for the night. That evening they took us to see a film at The Roxy Cinema after treating us to dinner at Coco at the Roxy. We then drove up to the Mount Victoria Lookout to see the city at night. Unfortunately there was not a moon as big as this big moon that night yet it was still spectacular.

The next morning our guides had more planned for us. We had a few hours before our ferry,  and so we went for a ride on the iconic cable car.

We then walked back down through the beautiful Botanic Garden.

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We had under 24 hours in The Coolest Little Capital and we packed in a lot. Wellington deserved more of our time.

On the way to the ferry I saw this billboard. I thought the Tui adverts were pretty risque and I doubt this would be allowed in the UK. New Zealanders just seemed so laid back about everything. Which is probably why I loved it so much.

Too soon we had to say goodbye to our friends, and embark on the next part of our New Zealand adventure.

The South Island. Wine tasting, whale watching and meeting new friends in Havelock and more stunning road trips. I love this country, can you tell?

New Zealand in a campervan – Napier and Dannevirke

A challenging journey

The drive from Taupo to Napier was challenging but stunning. I have only a couple of photos of the trip which is a shame because it was spectacular.

We stopped, to recover from the journey, at a winery/cafe/gallery and had cake and coffee. Her we met two English couples who were combining driving, cruising and the train journey from Picton to Christchurch for their New Zealand experience. I can recall that conversation as if it were yesterday, but not the name of the place we stopped at. Which is why I take photographs of everywhere I visit, signs and all, except here. Possibly because the journey had traumatised me with rain and poor visibility and those precarious roads.

It may have been the Linden Estate Winery or River Valley or neither of these. I have included the links because I have just spent hours on the internet looking for the place we stopped at. All I can say, it was after the challenging mountain drives and in the valley, and pretty much the first place to stop on this drive. And you will need to stop, after the drive. The other couples in the cafe were with me on that one.

Napier

Napier

New Zealand rarely disappointed me on this trip, yet Napier just did not do it for me. I had been looking forward to seeing all the Art Deco buildings, and yes there were plenty of them. However it all seemed a bit run down. There was a lot of refurbishment going so perhaps I caught Napier at the wrong time.

So many of the Art Deco buildings were ruined by modern shop fronts.

Look up and you can see the beauty of the buildings.

We didn’t linger. We only had three days until the ferry crossing to the South Island, and we had plans to meet our new friends in Wellington. Back on the road.

Heading south

We were on Highway 2 and again the landscape changed as it so often does in New Zealand. The road was straight and there were no big mountains with windy roads to navigate. We travelled through small towns with Ma and Pa shops and no campsites. We skipped Norsewood, a town settled by Scandinavians in the 1870’s, although I was tempted to stop and take a look around given my Norwegian heritage. If I am ever that way again I would make sure I made time to visit this unique village, a little bit of Norway in New Zealand.

Dannevirke, by comparison was much larger, and like Norsewood, founded by Scandinavians.

Dusk was falling, we needed somewhere to park up and then we saw a sign for a campsite. On locating the house of the site manager and paying in advance we were given a key to the gate and the facilities.

We drove for 10 minutes or so through a forest and found this. A complete contrast to any other site we had stayed on. This was not a Top Ten site with thermal heated pools and luxury kitchens. This was basic camping.

We were possibly the only people there. There were a few static caravans on the site and these interesting chalets. We never saw another person while we were there.

The toilets were reminiscent of 1970’s camping holidays with the Guides. Basic, cold, peeling paint and spider webs. The communal kitchen was underwhelming. Looking at the website now it seems Dannevirke Holiday Park has had a much needed makeover.

The location is beautiful. The wildlife abundant. This is a get away from it all campsite.

Although it seems the wildlife could be dangerous.

How could Bambi be so bad?

We slept so well, no light pollution, no people, no noise at all. Perfect. Well rested for our long and challenging drive to Wellington the next day. I am glad we stopped off at Dannevirke.

New Zealand in a campervan – Tauranga, Rotorua and Taupo

So reluctant were we to leave The Coromandel, we only made it as far as Tauranga the next day.

The campsite was overlooking a beautiful beach, which we were not allowed on due to the Rena oil spill.

Already the landscape was changing. Cooks Beach and Hotwater beach had been wide and calm, here the coast seemed more rugged.

We got ourselves a take out meal.

And watched the sun go down.

This campsite had some interesting vans on it.

One had been converted from a bus and it looked as if the family lived in it permanently. We were seeing more campervans now we we heading south. I got a bit obsessed with them, comparing them to ours, which was pretty basic, although I wasn’t hating it yet.

And road signs are different in New Zealand. Some more can be found here.

We were leaving the coast behind to explore the hot springs inland. This area is much more of the backpacker route, indeed Rotorua seems more geared up for the younger traveller, a lot of hostels and pubs.

Although the architecture was interesting and there was a good library.

Obviously there is an upmarket side to tourism here, with seaplane and helicopter trips on offer (out of our budget) yet Rotorua didn’t do it for me. A quick walk around the town, lunch and a look at the lake and I was ready to leave.

On the way to Taupo we stopped by at some hot springs.

And visited the disappointing Volcano Activity Centre.

Cheap and tacky.

I much preferred Taupo to Rotorua. The campsite was very good and it was bliss to sink into the thermally heated pool, while waiting for our washing.  The Top 10 group of campsites were the ones we used the most in New Zealand. We bought a loyalty card and got a discount on the fees. As well as pitches for tents and campervans, most sites also offered other accommodation from basic chalets to motel like facilities. Communal areas were clean and kitchens well equipped.

Unfortunately we couldn’t linger here as we had to be in Wellington in three days time to get our ferry across to the South Island. We were realising that what we thought was and what started as a leisurely driving holiday in New Zealand was becoming a whistle stop tour.

As it was for most of the campervan tourists. When I revisit New Zealand I would probably hire a car and stay in motels and campsites in chalets. Many of the roads are challenging drives and the non campervan drivers hate the campervans. When we stopped in a town after a particularly long and winding drive, a coach driver approached us and verbally attacked us for holding him up. My response? The speed limit isn’t a target number.  He didn’t like that much. BB_LTSA_Target_(Small)

New Zealand in a campervan – The Coromandel Peninsular

The Coromandel Peninsular

Before I went away on the big trip in 2011, I spent an afternoon with two work colleagues who had travelled in New Zealand, getting ideas as to where to visit. Diane, who had lived in New Zealand for a year, told me that I must visit The Coromandel. Her absolute favourite place she said. Then she added that due to time restraints (we had only two weeks in New Zealand) that perhaps we should skip visiting here as it is out-of-the-way when driving from Auckland to Christchurch. I was somewhat taken aback, after all hadn’t she just said that this was her number one place to visit? Of course she was thinking it out from a practical point of view, yet of course now it was  firmly on the list. Telling me not to do something has that effect on me.

And that is why on our fifth day in New Zealand, after a day on Waiheke Island and a night of sleeping in a real bed in Auckland, we set off to The Coromandel.

Cathedral Cove

We hiked part of the way down to Cathedral Cove. Signs informed us that due to some rock falls, we would not be able to walk all the way. It is about a 2 hour hike in all and we decided to take the shorter walk and take in the view as we had to be at the next stop at a precise time, determined by nature.

Hot Water Beach

The Coromandel is the weekend playground for Aucklanders. What Weston-Super-Mare is to Brummies, but better. With more sun. And a Hot Water Beach.

You have to time your visit to an hour either side of the low tide hence our short visit to Cathedral Cove.

Everyone comes ready with spades to dig holes on the beach and wallow in the hot water that bubbles through the sand. We just used our hands, although there is a shop selling spades on the entrance to the beach. And it is hot, very hot. I would hesitate to take young children there, although this didn’t seem to put off other families. Us risk averse Brits, I am forgetting that I was in a country where adrenalin is in their blood. Hot Water Sands, this is chill out zone in comparison to jumping of bridges attached only to a piece of rubber band.

We were there during low season on a Sunday. The car park was pretty much full as was the nearest campsite. The rest of the beach was deserted. When you get too hot, take a dip in the sea to cool off.

Purangi Winery

As the campsite at Hot Water Beach was full we set off to find somewhere to stay. And got diverted by a winery. By chance we had stumbled upon possibly the most bonkers winery in the world.

Purangi Estate and Pizzeria  gets interesting reviews on Tripadvisor. I recall the guy in the tasting room, being completely crazy but in a good way.  I have just asked Phil if he recalled the visit and he said ‘what that hippy dippy place?’ Sums it up marvelously.

There is  a wood oven in the garden where they make pizza, which I regret not trying out. They also offer a volunteer intern scheme, providing food and lodgings in return for volunteering and learning about growing organic produce.

Danny, the crazy wine guy, advised us of a campsite at Cooks Beach although, according to the website, campervans can now park up for the night. Perfect if you want to spend a night tasting the range of wines, liqueurs and ciders with your pizza. And have the organic tea for breakfast.

Cooks Beach

Thanks to Danny at the winery,  we scored a great place to park up for the night.  He told us that he’d noticed a refurbished campsite had re opened after being closed for a while. It was so new that the girl in the reception didn’t know what the overnight charges were.  We told her what we usually paid and agreed on a price.

There was one tent and one other camper on the site with us. We had all this almost to ourselves. The guy in the campervan was English, taking a few days out before joining Portishead on tour. In a bizarre and random conversation I discovered that he knew an old friend of mine, Mike, who was the lead singer of The Spics. Two campervans, Cooks Beach and this happens. It is indeed a small world.

Cooks Beach Holiday Resort is now fully opened with top notch facilities. We were so fortunate to have been able to stay here when we did as I reckon now it would be fully booked most of the time. When we were there, there was no shop and the new shower and toilet block was unfinished so we had to use the dated but clean one. We had the pool to ourselves and look at those kitchens.

At almost every campsite we stayed on in New Zealand, the facilities were excellent. A well equipped kitchen, BBQ area, lounge rooms with games and a TV, a laundry and clean toilet facilities with hot showers. The only thing that was shocking was the cost of the wi-fi. My solution was to find the local library where internet access was free.

Cooks Beach was a sleepy place when we were there in November. One shop, one restaurant.  However in the high season it gets very busy and there were lots of top end holiday homes here. And the odd one or two that were not so top end.

Interesting street art.

We enjoyed a very laid back time here and were sorry to leave.

Not before checking out what to do if there was a Tsunami.

Back on the road, we stopped off at a the Colenso Cafe.  The cafe specialises in local and seasonal produce and there is also a shop and a gift shop set in beautiful gardens. I would definitely recommend a visit.

The Coromandel is a stunning part of New Zealand that deserves more time. Two days wasn’t enough. As we drove south heading toward Tairua, we knew that this beautiful country would call us back to explore for longer.