From North Island Travel
We are now officially living out of a van. I think we might be moving backwards on some comfort level but I'm not sure....
We're working our way toward the south island since people repeatedly tell us it is the best but we've taken some time to see a few things too. I just don't think I'm going to be able to write anything too extensive on this tablet since it would take forever. Every Kiwi we meet, any book we read and nearly every parking area tells you: Lock it or lose it. Seems breaking into cars is a serious pastime in NZ and we of course have our van full of all kinds of great outdoor stuff; we didn't want to take the risk of losing a laptop too. I guess we'll post a few pictures (can't view them very well either) and try not to be too wordy.
We left Whangarei last Sat and felt glad to have just managed to pull ourelves away from the boat since it can be hard to do when there's so much that needs doing. We drove to Coramandel region which the dental hygienist said was quintessential NZ. Over a couple of days we hiked in a beautiful gorge that used to be a gold mine so the trails meandered through old tramways, through tunnels, along pipelines and past old foundations for housing and mining equipment. There was an awesome bike path that had a 1km tunnel in one part of the old mine- longest bike tunnel ever! The whole area was so interesting and beautiful.
Yesterday we hiked to a small waterfall from our campground first thing, then headed out to see two of the top NZ must-see spots- Cathedral Cove & Hot Water Beach. Mind you, we realized after we left that this was a holiday weekend so of course everywhere was busy. Cathedral Cove is reached by a 30 minute walk on a beautiful path that ends on a white sand beach with a huge natural arch, big white cliffs & interesting rock formations. It was busy and the sea was rough so we didn't swim. Instead, we had our minds set on digging our own hot tub at the famous Hot Water Beach. So we headed over there in time for low tide- along with about 200 other like thinkers. There is actually only a small area of beach where you can dig a hole and have it fill with hot water but when you get that great spot, it is really neat- sitting at the tide line in your own sand walled hot tub. The neatest part for me was knowing that in 2 hours, the sea would have cleaned up & filled in all those ugly holes that were dug- it was such mayhem there! But good to see. We didn't get our own hot tub but we got the idea.
We spent 2 nights at a DOC (conservation) campground and are still getting used to the style here. You pay quite a lot of money per person to be able to pull up in a big yard to whatever space is open. There is no assigned site, no picnic table, fire ring. There are tire tracks all over. There is often a communal cooking area though. We pulled into one campground and it looked like a huge refugee camp. We didn't stay. Can't say as these have anything on the sites we know in the USA! Now tonight is a different story. We are camped for free in Taupo, right alongside NZ's longest river, the Waikato. It drains Lake Taupo, and is in a highly volcanic area so the water is crystal clear blue, smells a little of sulphur and is moving very fast. Great swimming along the edge! We walked some trails along it today & went to the BLUE Huka Falls. Some towns allow you to camp for free- there aren't many left but this spot is first rate.
Who needs to go to California to see the redwood trees (we've been dying to actually) when they have a whole forest of them here! 100 years ago, they planted a bunch of them thinking they would become a big lumber industry tree but for some reason they changed their minds and now the whole area is a huge park. So we had lunch under them & then took a great walk among them. It was a nice switch from yesterday's baking sun. When we got back to our van, someone, presumably a kid, wrote the word "poop" on our back window. Earlier in the day, we had driven down Puke Rd. Can't explain it. All we know is we all thought that NZ would be different than it is as far as pronouncing names of places- everything practically is in Maori which means we can hardly pronounce or remember anything. The redwood forest is in Whakarewarewa. It still feels very much like an island and very similar to what we encountered crossing the Pacific. We've noted racial tension here. Sad. But still, it is an outdoor paradise that makes you feel like you could never explore every trail there is even if you had a lifetime.
With all the driving we've done so far we can definitely say that the roads are incredibly curvy, relatively slow, but the speed limit is mostly rated at more than we can do. You'll be 50 yards from a stop sign and there will be an 80kspeed limit sign-- too funny. Classic cars are big here. A lot of NZ has been logged. There are livestock almost everywhere. And gas is really expensive at >$7/gallon. We think in terms of shopping and storefronts of Main Street towns, it must be like what it was in the US in the early 70's. Definitely feels like going back in time.
We hope to be in the south island by the end of the week. We bought another blanket today being that we're not all that warm now!