We arrived, somewhat jet lagged, at the amazing bed and breakfast that Leah and Jesse gifted us. And thank god this was our first stop - we left on Monday and arrived at 4 am on Wednesday (buh-bye, Tuesday). Even though our taxi pulled up before dawn, our amazing owners/surrogate parents at the B&B said 'No problem, we'll leave the light on for you'. Once we saw our amazing, fluffy bed, we passed out on sight.
Lovely days in Auckland
We spent a few days around Auckland recharging, satisfying our 3-month craving for Asian food, and planning how we'd divide up our time in the campervan over the next month. At the same time, Nick began to scheme about ways he could make our itinerary intersect with the FIFA U-20 World Cup as possible.
This is Bertha. She's a beaut.
I should mention that Nick has a full-blown obsession with keeping electronics fully charged. Thus, his alarm was clear upon learning our entire home would need to remain above a certain charge level over the next month. I don't think our van's battery indicator has ever been checked more dutifully.
Fortunately, after the first couple days we've found that our cooking gas and electricity gets us 3-4 days of freedom camping before we need to search for a plug, which means we'll be able to get out to some fairly remote areas while staying comfy.
Off to the Northland
After picking up Bertha, we raced off in the fading afternoon light to get as close to the Bay of Islands as we could. This beautiful harbor was home to New Zealand's first capital, where Maori leaders established a relationship with Britain in signing the Treaty of Waitangi.
Later, Nick got his wish in the town of Whangarei as we stopped to watch Team USA take on Myanmar in the Group round of the Under 20 World Cup. It's a little more laid back of a crowd than the regular one draws, but the Myanmar fans unexpectedly came out in droves, making for an exciting match full of cheers and songs.
Coromandel & Rotorua
Next we sped off to the Coromandel Peninsula, a beachy, windy section of the North Island that houses some impressively giant Kauri trees and stunning shoreline.
We camped at the carpark for Cathedral Cove in the pouring rain, but we awoke to a dramatic sunrise and an hour or two of sunshine. We took advantage of the break and hiked down to the beach, then made it back to Bertha just as the downpour began again.
Southward bound, we stopped in Rotorua for a look at some beautiful, albeit smelly, geothermal pools. Again, the worst of the rain subsided while we walked around the park, building up our meteorological hubris even more.
We packed up and pressed on down the road, feeling pretty cavalier about our ability to camp in nasty weather. We'd soon see we had a lot to learn.
Our night in Mordor
The next stop on our North Island road trip was Tongariro National Park, home to one of New Zealand's most beautiful alpine tracks and three towering peaks including Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom, in Mordor, for Lord of the Rings fans).
When we arrived, the sky opened up deceptively. We thought (foolishly) that if we made it up to a lonely campsite on the side of Mount Ruapehu, we'd have an amazing view of the other peaks when we awoke, and then we could set off on a rainy but fun hike.
What followed instead was an all-night stressfest as 80km winds, rain, and hail buffeted Bertha from all directions. It was impossibly loud - we didn't sleep a wink, even with earplugs in - and the van was rocking around enough that we almost felt seasick. Unsure if we would be blown off the serpentine mountain roads, we waited out the dawn, then slowly inched our way down and celebrated surviving the night with some tea and yogurt.
- Don't try to camp on top of a mountain
- Don't camp someplace just for the view during winter in New Zealand
- And finally:
Running on English Breakfast and adrenaline, we quickly abandoned our hiking plans and raced on to Wellington, looking for a place to set up camp and pass out. What awaited us couldn't have been better - a quiet, sunny carpark on the sea, perfect for taking a 16hr nap. And that's just what we did.
We're taking the ferry to the South Island, where we hear it does in fact get colder than the balmy conditions we've been campervan-ing around in so far. Stay tuned.