We had one last home-cooked meal and a game of tennis before we had to say goodbye to the Jays to catch our flight to New Zealand. We were booked on a red eye flight that left Melbourne at midnight and arrived into Auckland at 5:30AM. Even though it was so early in the morning, I was still excited to see that the Auckland airport was adorned with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings memorabilia. With only a few hours of sleep, we found a place in the airport where we could catch a few more Z’s before picking up our campervan. The rental agency was two kilometers from the airport so we hopped in a taxi only to find out that the fixed fare to any area around the airport is $35. The thought of paying $35 to go a little more than a mile seemed to be incredibly ridiculous. Still a bit jet-legged but determined not to be ripped off, we jumped out of the cab before it took off and started to hoof it. Just when we were beginning to really feel the weight of our backpacks, a cabbie who was getting off for the day saw us walking on the side of the road and offered to drive us free of charge. Our first real interaction with a Kiwi and it was pure kindness!
For the next 34 days, we will be driving New Zealand’s North Island and South Island in our campervan. Our campervan is equipped with a stove, oven, cooking utensils, water tank, pantry, storage space, sofa that converts into a double bed, fridge and a foldout table with two chairs. Compared to other rental agencies, we found our camper for almost half the cost. We’ve heard of flash campers that come with the works (television, sink, etc.) so apparently we sacrificed several amenities for the cut in price. Since this is our first time to the campervan rodeo, we really can’t complain because we have nothing to compare it to. We filled up on gas and stopped for groceries and supplies before heading to Raglan, our first destination just a few hours away. Raglan is known for its surf beaches and was a convenient stopover for us as we make our way to the South Island. We camped in a grassy field next to the ocean and went for an evening walk while the sun set on the black sand beach. We spent the next day walking along the beaches (the water is way too cold to swim) and hiking to scenic overlooks before we were back on our way.We camped in a town outside of Waitomo so we could make it to our caving adventure early the next morning. The town of Waitomo is known for its labyrinth of underground caves and glow worms. We booked a day tour with Kiwi Cave Raft which included a 100 ft abseil into the caves, caving, black water rafting, glow worm viewing and a rock climb out of the cave. We drove into the hilly countryside and suited up in a 5mm wetsuit, boots, climbing gear and helmets before starting our abseil. Don’t you just love the color(s) of Chris’ pants? Ha! Photos are courtesy of Kiwi Cave Raft. Once inside the cave, we walked to a section with no natural light and let our eyes adjust to the darkness. One by one, thousands of glow worms appeared on the cave walls and ceiling. They looked like shining stars in the night sky. So pretty! With an inflatable inner tube, we admired the glow worms as we drifted further into the cave down icy waterways. Black water rafting (as they call it) is much more relaxing than white water rafting. Imagine floating down a lazy river through underground caves in complete darkness! To further explore the cave, we set out on foot to see the limestone rock formations. We waded through the water and climbed over rocks for nearly three hours before heading back towards our 100 ft climb out of the cave. Tired from our underground adventure, we left Waitomo and drove to our campsite for the night. Drives have been incredibly scenic and beautiful. On the North Island, the landscape is green and lush. Rolling hills are spotted with clumps of forest, sheep and thousands of colorful wildflowers. Campsites in New Zealand range from free to $25 per person per night. Since we’ve already invested in our camper, we shoot for the free sites managed by the NZ Department of Conservation which are scattered throughout the country. So far, these campsites have been in some really beautiful locations. Although our itinerary is flexible, we have a four-day trek booked on the South Island for the third week in January. We are headed south to be sure we make it on time and will slow down our pace once our trek is complete. To cross between the North Island and South Island, you can fly or take a ferry. Since we have our camper, we thought it would make the most sense to cross by ferry from Wellington in the North Island to Picton in the South Island. The views are gorgeous, especially if you catch a sunny day, but the ferry is grossly overpriced. From Picton, we camped for the night and continued on to the west coast of the South Island. According to Lonely Planet, the drive between Westport and Greymouth along the coast of New Zealand’s South Island is one of the “10 Best Road Trips” in the world. Unfortunately, the day we planned to make the drive was a torrential downpour so we postponed the drive and settled for a shower and a beer at a local bar. We ended up parking our camper in the driveway at a homestay (bless your heart, Don!) while we waited for the weather to clear.
The next day was overcast, but it wasn’t rainy (hooray!). We set out on our drive south down the windy and rugged coastline.Although it was a very pretty drive, it doesn’t hold a flame to the Pacific Coast Highway in California or Great Ocean Road in Australia. Sorry, New Zealand, that’s just our opinion but we’ll chalk most of it up to the gloomy weather. What the coast does have going for it are the many gorgeous hikes that start right off the roadway. We stopped at the Truman Track to get some beautiful views of the sea and sand. One of the more popular attractions along the coast is the Punakaiki pancake rocks. Coastal limestone rocks have been eroded by the ocean to create formations resembling stacks of pancakes. The photo above was taken the day after NC State beat #1 ranked Duke. Go Pack!
So far, our small taste of New Zealand has left us wanting more. We like what we’ve seen, but are pretty sure the best parts are yet to come!