20.01.17 – 7.2.17
Setting foot on ground in Auckland was pretty – magical! Especially Ellen was super excited to finally explore New Zealand, a country which was the top one of her places-I-wanna-go list. 😉 As always we headed to the city centre and had WiFi in the shuttle bus, impressive. Particularly because New Zealand is known to not offer free WiFi in hostels, haha.
Once we moved in our 14 bed dorm (along with 2 teenage girls from the USA who basically lived on the floor…shoes, dresses, jeans, shirts, food everything around the bed, omg) we made a plan for the following days. Our mission was to find a good looking, cheap, totally equipped, comfortable and nice camper van…sounds easy! 🙂 First we went to several car rental stores, but the offers were either for cars and not vans or terribly expensive. Our next chance was a car fair where typically backpackers sell their vans to other backpackers. One Toyota Estima Van looked exactly like what we had imagined, only the price didn’t…we left and decided to try one more car fair. Sunday early morning we made our way out of Auckland to find our van for the next weeks. Several cars were already there, many of them from dealers who seemed everything but trustworthy. 😉 strolling down and up the lines of offers we saw a silver Toyota Estima…1996, awesome built in kitchen and bed, super nice owner and when Ellen saw the registration expiration (22.05.2017), her birthday, she whispered in Jakubs ear: „That’s a sign!! This is our van!“ 🙂 And she was right, after doing a pre-purchase check which was positive, we drove to the next post office with Pauline (the previous owner) to change owners and done! We just bought a camper van named „Aby“, yaaaay!! Adventure, mountains, lakes, endless highways, nights in the nature, here we come!
Okay okay, Jakubs responsible voice spoke up and demanded an insurance for the car…so, insurance done, finally we can hit the road. 🙂 Going straight North, our first stop was „Pak’nSave“, a huge grocery store where we spent a horrendous amount of money and got gas. The first campground was close to Whangarei, in the middle of nowhere. We couldn’t wait to spend the first night in our van and when we woke up in the morning, we grinned at each other and were so happy about Aby – the night was comfortable and we slept like rocks. The campground also had a kitchen area, where we had breakfast and talked to 2 girls from Germany (Germans everywhere again!!), travelling for 6 months, 19 and 20 years old – how brave it is to buy a car and travel around in their age!
The Abbey caves were our first destination – they are supposed to be so dark that you see glowworms everywhere. We climbed in with our headlamps, because it was indeed really dark and at one moment switched off the lamps…oh my…small stars everywhere on the ceiling, that’s what the glowworms look like! What an amazing view. So beautiful!
Our next stop was a waterfall in Whangarei, easy accessible and we had a picknick in the park. Thanks to the App „CamperMate“, we easily found our camp for this night and headed to this calm campground located directly at the water.
We decided to relax here and stayed for 2 nights – one night, when it was really dark we checked the night sky and saw millions of stars, no light pollution to be seen…that was definitely magical.
Further north we visited Russell and Pahia, 2 cities which belong to the Bay of Islands, a beautiful area on the North East Coast of New Zealand. We crossed the country then from East to West and stayed at a farm campground, where we enjoyed breakfast with our new friend the horse…idyllic.
Our next stop was the Waipoua forest, which makes up the largest remaining tract of native forest in Northland. Most of Northland’s ancient forest cover has been lost to saw and fire, plundered for the precious timber of the kauri tree or cleared for farmland. However the forests are now under the protection of the Department of Conservation. Waipoua is home to the kauri, one of the world’s mightiest trees. The largest kauri reach more than 50 metres tall, have trunk girths up to 16 metres, and sprang from seed as long as 2,000 years ago [http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/northland/places/waipoua-forest/]. The biggest of these trees is a short walk inside the forest – and all of a sudden it stood right in front of us, the Tane Mahuta. Never have we seen such a huge tree, emitting so much power and history….we’re impressed and enjoy the silence in the forest, when suddenly a native Maori guide started to sing in Maori. Magical.
As always we searched for a campground on CamperMate, but when we arrived there the owner didn’t have any vacancies for us (weekend and last vacation days for kids), neither the next one…damn it. We ended up on a super expensive Holiday Park camp, but learned our lesson. 😉 Luckily we so far had great weather and usually enjoyed warm evenings, but cool nights – good for our groceries which need to be kept cold and hang in a plastic bag outside every night. 🙂
With no big plans for the next day we accidentally ended up on an American Muscle car gathering and enjoyed some time at the beach.
For the first time, we planned to stay at a free campground, zero costs and zero luxury. 😉 There were already 3 cars parked and guess what, the people were from Germany! 😉 We talked to one guy who has been travelling for 4 months already and he mentioned the app „WikiCamps“ – basically, we thought, just another camp search app. He stated that he didn’t spend a single dollar on camping because WikiCamps finds all the free camps and additionally public showers, free drinking water refill stations and so on. Awesome! We downloaded the app and from this day on, except for 3-4 nights spent 0$ on camping. 😉 Cheers mate!
On the following day we drove Aby up the Coromandel peninsula, where we went to the Hot Water beach – here we received the explanation for the shovel in our car! 😀 There are subterranean hot water sources which you can dig out on low tide – and wow, that water was hot! All around us it was steaming and people digged their holes, so funny. As mostly we saw at least 6 dead possums on the road…nasty.
Obviously, being in New Zealand you truly feel like in a real time Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movie set. This is why we decided to visit „Hobbiton“, the area where the Hobbiton village was filmed for both movies. Did you btw know that the first part of Lord of the Rings was released in 2001?! That’s 16 years ago!! Holy s#!%. 🙂 Additionally we learned that the movie set appears in total for only 30 minutes in all the 6 movies of LOTR and Hobbit…or that the tree behind Bilbo Begging house was a fake tree with fake leaves, each one painted individually…crazy!
Our next stop was Rotorua, the „sulfate“ city – yes, we smelled it from far away already, like rotten eggs. 😉 We visited the Whakarewarewa native Maori village, where we learned a lot about their way of living and how to use hot springs and steam from underground to cook dinner! Further south we explored the volcanic Valley Waimangu by foot and it seemed so surreal, almost like from another planet! This area is the worlds youngest geothermal system, consisting of steaming volcanic crater lakes and geysers.
Before we headed further South to hike the famous Tongariro Crossing, we stopped at Lake Taupo, enjoyed the beautiful lake view and visited the Huka Falls, a stunning tunnel of water where 200.000l a SECOND are pushed through!
The mountains are calling, Tongariro Crossing is on the list. 😉 Close to the starting point of the walk we stayed on a campground and met our new personal evil enemy: sandflies! These small beasts can be so annoying and bite you everywhere, grrrr.
After we linked together with 2 other girls to organize our transport (you start on a different point where you end up, hence you need 2 cars on the 2 spots) we started early in the morning – the weather was supposed to be great! Oh wow, and surprisingly all Asian tourists heard of the hike as well and were at the ready. 😀 The first 20min lead through stony areas, then a steep path winds its way up. Here the hikers can decide whether to ascend the famous LOTR Mount Doom or walk further. Of course Jakub was thrilled as well as the girls, whereas Ellen took it easy and stayed down. The views from the summit were stunning, although the way basically consisted of stones and slippery rocks and was very strenuous. The further we walked the better the hike got – we crossed emerald lakes, volcanic craters as red as a the lava itself and beautiful blue lakes. In the end and after 23km and 10hs we were all happy to be back at the car!
Our last stop on the North Island was Wellington, where we went to the Weta Caves. It’s the special effects company for several movies, of course also for the Hobbit and LOTR.
In the night, we took the ferry to Picton and continued our adventure on the South Island, which will be summed up in our next article – stay tuned, amigos. 🙂