From the Bay of Plenty to Auckland

And…obviously we did not pray hard enough. The rain has not really stopped for one day one night now. It was pretty difficult to do anything in the rain with the strong wind (imagine going to toilet in the rain?). The sky was grey, weather unpredictable. We were happy when the rain stopped, but it might only last for few minutes until the next rain resized_IMG_9424starts again. That, however, did not stop the New Zealanders from surfing. After admiring the surfers (in our car of course) we went to the local legendary fresh fish market which serves reputedly best Fish n Chips. And yes, they were indeed the best fish n chips we had (mind you, we have been having quite some fish n chips across Australia and New Zealand. Though we would not call ourselves fish n chips professionals, but well, we have had quite some experience u know. Hehe!

The weather for the next few days can be summarize into either one of the following words: fast-changing, depressing-for-tourists, rainy, sh*tty, rainy-for-ten-minutes-sunny-foresized_IMG_9447r-two, etc etc. We could just summarize the next few days activities into one paragraph simply because we could not do much for the following few days due to the weather. Apart from driving from Mt Maunganui to Auckland suburb via Karangahake Gorge, we managed to visit the Victoria Battery, Owharoa Falls, Kaiaua in 2/3 days. The Victoria Battery was once the biggest battery producing gold in Australasia until it was closed down in the 50s. We were lucky for visiting there on a Wednesday! Some volunteers manage the place now and show people around that place on Wednesday and Saturdays for few hours. We paid 10nzd per person and had a tour in the tunnel. What seems to be an abandoned place now used to engage some 6/700 workers daily when it was still functionresized_IMG_9481ing. After visiting the battery we had a short drive to have a look at the Owharoa Falls. The lady at the Visitor Center told us the Victoria Battery and the Owharoa Falls are near to each other so we thought, well, why not? We did not have high expectation but the Owharoa Falls turned out to be pretty stunning. The Karangahake Gorge was beautiful despite the grey sky. We had a hike around with a torch as some parts of the hike was in completely dark tunnels. After spending a night at Kaiaua, we continued our journey resized_IMG_9441in Auckland direction. As we approach Auckland suburbs, the weather began to clear up! Clear blue sky, how have we missed you! There was only two days left until we part with our campervan which has served us pretty well (apart from the jump starting incidents and it being quite old and used).

Friendly and helpful in daily life, New Zealanders are not quite friendly and helpful on the roads. We concluded that New Zealanders to be one of the most aggressive drivers we have encountered. That being said, driving around with a campervan is no fun in a big city like Auckland, which was why we decided to spend the last two days driving around in suburbs instead of in the city. We went to One Tree Hill, history of which we don’t quite remember, but you can definitely find it on google. We hiked to its summit and had a good view of the city. After resized_IMG_9554having lunch at Barilla Dumplings (not Italian but Asian actually) we drove to Mt Eden, the top of Auckland’s highest volcanic cone and highest natural point in Auckland. Auckland is built on some 50 volcanoes which makes it a very hot place. Ok just a joke. Though not all of them are extinct, the last eruption was 600years ago so we were not so afraid to spend time in this beautiful city. We spent the last two nights in our campervan at Ambury Campground (it had hot showers!). Cleaning up all our stuff, we had some items that we did not need anymore and were just thinking to give away instead of throwing them. A lucky German who just arrived after 28hour flight “inherited” all our goods. It was a win-win situation for both parties, he saved at least 3/40bucks and we did not have to throw things away. The Wendekreisen Campervan somehow looked sad in the sunset, as if it was saying goodbye to us.

We dropped off and bid goodbye to our campervan on 2 May 2015. We have had 5 weeks of good times with it and it is time to move on! Roman is happy that he does not have to drive at least for the next two weeks. We drove 4000km across New Zealand in 5 weeks (poor Roman drove 3800 and Yinru 200km). We entered our last spot for NZ, Auckland, with all our luggage and checked into Jucy Hotel. This is a hotel owned by a car rental company. It has the ugliest company color ever. Bright green and purple combination, you can see it from faaaar if someone is driving on their rental cars. Well, at least it is easy for them to find their car in a carpark! The next two days is filled with multicultural menu: Japanese, Dim Sum, Thai, etc. We decided to pamper ourselves after having Yinru’s delicious-resized_IMG_9761yet-boring-after-five-weeks-camping-food. We sent some time wandering around in the city, admiring the Sky Tower (Southern Hemisphere tallest building), visiting Viaduct Harbour and Auckaland Fish Market, soaking up some sun at the Wynyard Quarter etc.

Auckland was a nice place to wrap up our 5 week journey in New Zealand. All in all, New Zealand is a lovely country with landscapes so beautiful and spectacular that words can’t really describe (we can’t really, at least). Where else on earth can you have volcanoes, glaciers, rainforests and the ocean all within 1 or 2 hours’ drive? The scenery is very versatile, contrasting and full of surprises. We will for sure remember the beauty of New Zealand for a long long time. It is pretty far from home, so the chances that we will visiting it’s islands again in the near future are pretty slim. And well, it is a relatively expensive place to visit too. Even though we have been cutting down our costs by doing a lot of self-cooking (a meal with some meat, veggies and side would cost in average max. 10 NZD) or freedom camping (free camping on designated areas) we still got a shock when we calculated our spending during our stay. We calculated an average cost of around 150 USD for the two of us per day (flights excluded) and spent more than 1’000 USD on petrol on our 3’950km self-drive journey only. So maybe we will need some years anyway to save up some money before we can visit NZ again.

The last day of NZ trip marks the 93rd day of our Round the World Trip and we have had slightly more than half of our trip already. Thank God for the 6 safe flights we have had, 7th coming up and few more to go. We enjoy ourselves a lot and are grateful each day knowing how blessed we are to be given this opportunity to see the world a bit. We are now looking forward to some warm weather, stunning beaches and the unique charm of the pacific islands. Next stop: Fiji!

The Central Plateau: NZs’ Volcanic Zone

We normally sleep like 8hours back in Switzerland (healthy babies) and here in NZ while we camp, we sleep 9-10hours on average (healthy/lazy/holiday babies). How can you blame it on us if there is just not a lot to do in the evening? Reading – Who does that on holidays? TV – Sorry we have not seen a TV for some time. Sometimes you don’t even get phone coverage for two days. At times the morning weather is just so shi*ty that you wanna stay in bed whole day. Who wants to leave the warm blanket when everything around you is cold and wet…like today? We had some rain in the night which created magical mist/fog in the morning that everything looked grey so we stayed in bed until 8:30am J. Later we drove the rest of this abandoned road through scenic and untouched rainforest and did not see a single car for more than 45min! We had impressive views of Mt. Ruapehu, the highest peak of three volcano mountains in Tongariro National Park with over 2’700m, as soon as the river valley road ended. Unfortunately the weather was not that good. The peak was covered all day with fog and it got worse in the afternoon. We had a stop at the Carrot town of Ohakune. The lady at the information site gave a few recommendations of activities we could do around the area and you could tell that she really loved her country. A drive to the end resized_IMG_8470of the Mountain Road at 1’600 above sea level and a lunch overlooking some snow patches around us was next on our agenda. We also passed by ski-resort places that looked abandoned but would probably come to life again in winter. We planned to do some hikes today but as sky got darker and darker we cancelled our plan. It was betterresized_IMG_8475 weather to drive instead of hike so we continued further and went to a DOC site at Mangahuia in evening. We were still unlucky as the other two volcano mountains were also covered by furious dark clouds so we couldn’t spot them. Maybe tomorrow we will be lucky enough to see Mt Ngauruhoe, the volcano which starred as Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings movie. Fingers crossed!

Waking up to partly blue sky, it was starting to feel warm as soon as the sun shined on our campervan. Night and day temperature can vary quite a lot here, warm sunny day and cold windy night. Like last night! But well ya, as we camped at 1000m above sea level it was not of much surprise that it felt cold during the night. After our breakfast we drove to Whakapapa Village. Whakapapa (pronounced as fa-ka-papa) Village is a cute little town, almost as cute as its name, which draws attention on tourists due to its numerous hikes around the resized_IMG_8747volcanoes. One could even hike 7hours on an unmarked trail to the top of active volcanoes. Not wanting to risk our lives, we had a 2.5hrs return hike to Taranaki Falls and enjoyed the scenery. During our hike we talked to two Asians ladies who walked for 5-6hrs with sneakers, handbags and cotton/jeans clothes (It could actually be quite a silly thing to do on such a fast changing weather as if it rains these ladies would have to freeze with wet clothes in cold winds for hours). After the hike we had a short drive on Bruce Road to the highest point on the mountain reachable by car. The weather and cloud changed every few minutes during the entire day. We then continued our journey northwards via Turangi to Taupo. Taupo is on the northeastern shores of the Lake resized_IMG_9022Taupo, NZ’s largest lake. We camped at a free campsite of 5 miles bay at Great Lake Taupo with beautiful sunset. There are only 1.5 weeks left and yet still so many things to see! On a side note, we are proud that our camping routine is now well established and as economical as possible: grocery/food shopping every 2-3 days; refilling water supplies and dump grey water every second day to allow shower and cook/cleaning in the meantime (and now in less than 5min done – in the beginning we took, well, maybe 20mins?) etc.. We estimate we save up to 200 NZD a week by only visiting commercial campsites once a week to charge electronically devices and camping the rest of the time a free spots. That being said, we still withdraw few hundred NZD every few days and are sometimes puzzled where the money is going to…Well, that’s not South East Asia anymore…

New Zealand can be so pretty on a good weather day that you can’t stop yourself to stop every few minutes to take photos. You sometimes feel like a movie star starring in a movie because it is just so beautiful: just hopefully you are not Gollum in the Lord of the Rings! 😉 We got up at the lake side with perfectly clear weather. Thanks to the clear resized_IMG_9042blue sky at Lake Taupo, we were able to see the three mountain peaks CLEARLY in the background! The summit of Ngauruhoe which had been shy for the past two days was even visible today. After having a breakfast at picnic area overlooking the lake and mountains we had our routine with food shopping and some household. After getting our “house” ready for another few days we went to visit the Huka Falls. These waterfalls are located at NZ’s longest river, the Waikato, where 15% of NZs’ electrical energy is produced. We then continued to discover The resized_IMG_9062Craters of the Moon where we saw multiple hot steams making their way to the earths’ surface. The friendly retired volunteers running this place introduced us in the secrets of this place and we had some good chatters with them. You could somehow tell that they are proud of their country and love showing off what it has to offer. At the craters we had our first practice to get used to the “rotten eggy” smell due to Sulphur in preparation of our next stop, Rotorua (the Mecca of geysers and volcanic activities). Although it was not exactly the best weather to bathe, we weresized_IMG_9095nt bathing at the river at a special area where a hot spring flows into the Waikato. It felt very good. It required some getting used to it as we entered the water because it was a special sensation to feel layers of cold and hot water mixing together (Freezing on the legs while our upper body gets red from the hot water on the surface feels quite odd). Our next overnight stay was at a crowded hippie place called Reid’s Farm Reserve. It was definitely one of the most crowded campsites we have visited! It was a cold night again: Night temperatures were down to 3 degrees again.

As we woke up there was again a lot of fog due to the proximity of the site to the river. resized_IMG_9140Tempted of getting some good shots our photographer left the van at 7:30am in the morning leaving her asleep behind. Returning to the campervan there were some nice shots on the SD card and, less proudly telling, a lot of mud on the pants from almost falling into the river because the ground was so slippery (Yes, men should really not leave the house without their women. Stuff like that would never ever happen with them on our sides, really ;)). As it was ANZAC day (a day in remembrance of war in Australia and NZ) a lot of shops and attractions were closed. We drove further north to Rotorua, one of NZ most touristy areas. While entering the town we drove on the main road for about 3km only being able to see the sides dotted with motels and hotels. We were wondering how many thousands of tourist beds they have to offer here. The eggy smell in the air got worse and worse and was somehow penetrating (imagine the smell of fireworks if you cannot get the “picture” of how it feels). After studying our travel guide, online recommendations and a short consultation (and rather unprofessional) consultation at the i-Site we were confused about what to visit in this town. There are just too many choices of similarly marketed sights and attractions all not quite getting to the point of what they offer. And commercial they are: in this region one cannot visit any sight unless paying at least 30-40 NZD per person (on the South Island we didn’t not pay for any site just to visit it). In the end we booked a ticket to visitresized_IMG_9174 the Wai-O-Tapu volcanic area (not the most famous attraction but rather focusing on spectacular nature then culture) for next day. We had a short stroll around town and lakeside area where mud pools and steam dominated the scene. Early afternoon we drove some 30km back south to the Waitike valley for our intended overnight stay (a thermal bath area with a small campsite next to it offering a good value combo of campsite and bathing for 40 NZD). We saw plenty of steam in the air already a kilometer or so before being there. Although we were early (2pm) there was resized_IMG_9210this shocking sign “no vacancy” in front of the camping. Lucky as we are we got the last powered site again (Later we found out that a family having their annual reunion made reservation for half of the campsites). Had some laundry done and went for bathing in the hot pools. Soaking in the 34-40 degrees hot pools (the water actually springs naturally about 100m away from where you bath and is about 98degrees hot) felt wonderful. The bath was indeed that good that we went for another session after dinner in the dark. Sleep was exceptionally good, and warm, that night.resized_IMG_9254

The first half of the next day was dedicated to our visit to the Wai-O-Tapu volcanic area whom we bought the tickets for. The attraction was split into three different areas, all     located at a different places: a mud pool, a huge volcanic area with lakes and craters and a 20m geyser. The latter we visited first as it erupts daily at 10am. It was a very odd scene for us as we saw the huge car park and cars queuing up there. 5min later we found ourselves in a soccer stadium like audience rank watching a water fountain…and…after 2mins everything was over and the Chinese pushed to run to the cars to get to the next spot. We took our time letting the crowd escape (we definiresized_IMG_9275tely didn’t want to visit the lakes with all of them). So we went to the mud pools first and then headed well after the crowd to the main park. The walk in this surreal volcanic area was magical and impressive. We decided to go for the longest walk combining all tracks together and wandered through dozens of smoky, smelly craters, caves and lakes in all forms and colors for about two hours+. The place felt so surreal that only two things kept us away from dreaming: the bad eggy smell and the eventual drizzle and rain from time to time. Walking arounresized_IMG_9355d in the park with so many other visitors also pointed out how important marked pathways are and to protect these places. Unfortunately there are so many people who think they are more special and have to take their selfies from behind the fences what upset us quite a bit. After discovering the Wai-O-Tapu we drove back to Rotorua and stopped at Redwoods forest for another 1.5hrs hike in beautiful forests ending up at a panoramic lookout offering great views over the town of Rotorua (…and the Te Puia, the main attraction with a huge geyser. Hah! So we saw that one too without spending another 50 NZD per personJ). After an eventful day we camped for free at hidden spot between Rotorua and Taurunga.

The weather was long forecasted to be bad for the start into the new week but we didn’t expect it to be that bad. Heavy rain and wind increased during the night not easing until the next evening. It was pouring down endlessly the entire day. We drove to Tauranga at the Bay of Plenty and spent the day mainly indoors. Some coffee and internet, food shopping and refilling was on the agenda. The weather was so bad we didn’t dare to do a lot outdoors. In the evening at least the rain almost stopped. Hopefully the next day will be more hiking friendly as we wanted to get to the lookout of Mt Maunganui.resized_IMG_9369

Last hours on the South Island, windy Wellington and the not as wet West Coast of the North

Starting the day after camping at Alfreds’ Stream (That’s really not a place to remember, just a free campsite next to a river) was accompanied by typical autumn magic. As we resized_IMG_8240got up and had our breakfast the area was covered with thick grey fog. Around 9 o’clock the grey mass started to dissolve in patches as the sun got stronger and stronger resulting in mystical patterns of mountains, forests, blue sky and eventually some fog. We drove all the way to Picton through the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive and stopped every now and then (sometimes intentionally at lookout points, sometimes involuntarily because of cyclists from a race blocking the narrow and windy road along the shore). Having arrived in Picton we directly headed to the ferry terminals. Since we were about half an hour before noon we were somehow pretty sure we would get a ferry the same afternoon and be camping on the North Island by the evening. To our surprise all the ferries were booked until the next day at noon time due to a cancellation in the morning which caused a big backlog to transport everyone. We got a ticket for a ferry the next day at 1:15pm for 265 NZD. The afternoon we lingered around in the small yet lively township enjoying a good lunch, for once not self-cooked but in a restaurant. As we were in desperate need of a resized_IMG_8249proper camping to wash clothes and charge all our electronic devices we went to a commercial campsite for the evening. After a friendly conversation with Walter from the North Island who was travelling with his dog for five months in his own country, we realized that we had a small ceramic heather in the back of our car that we never used (it only came to our minds since the man mentioned that he’s usually heating his tent up to 22 degrees when it gets very cold in the night). We were pretty excited about using our heather for the first time. Wow, that was cozy. Too bad we can only use it when camping at powered sites…

YinRu started her last day on the South Island with some symptoms of a cold: badly blocked nose, dizziness from ear pressure and not a lot of energy. We therefore just resized_IMG_8274had a short stroll around the esplanade and waited for our ferry to depart. About an hour before departure we checked in at the dock (we definitely had to queue up at the tourist’s’ lane). We were surprised by all the goods and vehicles using the ferry as a means of transport: Huge trucks with double combinations of refrigerated food trailers, tour buses full with passengers, truck loaded with cattle and horses etc. etc. The ferry experience was a memorable one for YinRu, who wouldn’t forget the ride so short yet so “painful” after all. The Cook Strait is known to be one of the roughest straits in the world and well, it did live up to its reputation. As soon as the boat cruised on the open ocean outside of the shelter of the sounds the yet calm ride came to an end. Suddenly people started to walk zic zag to get from A to B and the moved hard up and down. Some started to walk around looking like ghosts and soon we knew what happened to them. Already feeling unwell, YinRu began to look pale instead of yellow after some 30minutes or so. She visited the toilet multiple times during the 3hour ride and had to throw up 6times. Felt like dying towards the end, her only “console” was hearing that she was not the only one doing this sort of business in the toilet… She was never happier to be able to get back to the camper and drive out of the ferry then this time. We heard later our ferry cruise was considered “of moderate bumpiness”, we wondered how it would be like if it was “very bumpy”. Anyway, Wellington welcomed us with grey sky and heavy winds upon arrival. We were resized_IMG_8286somehow prepared for it as we read in Lonely Planet “cold, grey Wellington breaks at least a few days a year out in t-shirt weather with some sun”. Since Wellington is NZ capital and a proper city with all the trimmings our campervan didn’t come in that handy for an overnight stay (Who’s going on a city trip with a campervan?!). We were able to find a yet matching spot: A carpark at the citys’ very centre for 20 NZD for 24hrs. Well of course it was not a campsite but at least we would have all the attractions within walking distance. After parking the van we had a short walk up and down hipster Cuba St. and enjoyed a Malaysian dinner (someone she had to force her appetite a bit, how surprising…).

Wellington aka Windy Welly, proved to us early Sunday morning that it was not as bad resized_IMG_8325as it has advertised itself the evening before: we enjoyed some sunshine (although it was still windy) and a superb breakfast with probably the best hash browns we have ever eaten. After a walk along the esplanade we visited the Sunday market. The kiwis seem to be very certain about what they buy and where. We have probably never seen so merchants informing about resized_IMG_8321their goods being gluten free, organic or spray free than here. The fruits though all looked so fresh, colorful and healthy. Later we threw ourselves into a cultural hotspot: the Te Papa museum, NZs national museum and known for holding the country’s best exhibitions. Some exhibitions were quite interesting and interactive in a fun way but the 6 stories tall building offered still too much to see and we are not that big museum friends. We rather like to eat food and enjoy scenery, exactly what we did next. After a Malaysian lunch (surprising huh) we resized_IMG_8353drove to look out point at Mt Victoria. The exposed view point in the city itself offered stunning views over the city before we left. We drove a good half an hour north to camp at a beautiful free site near Mana directly at the ocean. We were somehow happy to have left the city. It just somehow feels wrong to be in a million-city with a campervan.

Although we could certainly feel that temperatures have slightly increased on the North Island there is one phenomenon about the weather we did not quite like since having arrived: the wind! The strong winds from the very time we got into Wellington have not eased a bit and were probably the strongest were we had camped that night. The lady “next door” (we shall call it next motorhome) meant that the weather is nice and the wind not too bad – anyway, we thought we were going to be blown away. Since our travel guide did not recommended any breathtaking attractions the next 150km to the north along the west coast at all we basically drove our way further. We had a lunch stop a nice picnic area combined with some walking along the shore of Queen Elizabeth Park which was nice but nothing spectacular. As we made resized_IMG_8393our way all the way north to Wanganui we witnessed the most volatile fuel prices we have ever seen. Within 50km they plummeted from 1.95 NZD/L to 1.67 NZD/L (too bad we have just fueled up before starting the journey) and fixed around 2 NZD/L again. Arrived in Wanganui we headed to the free camp spot described in our app called Victoria Park. Having arrived there we tried to find someone to confirm with us whether we could indeed camp there or not: it was certainly a very nice park with a cute little lake, many birds, walkways and facilities BUT, is this really a place where we could camp in the middle of a city? It was literally a carpark where locals park when they go for a jog around the lake! We could only ask some teenagers who meant it’s perfectly fine to camp there. We watched the parks’ beautiful selection of birds (in a cage they were) before settling finally. If you are ever going to buy a bird, go for a yellow (or Sulphur) crested cockatoo. They are very playful dancing in front of you and can say things like “hello” and “how are you”.

Tuesday we woke up with some mixed feelings on the carpark, had a good breakfast and went to play with the birds again. Roman saw them dancing together the evening before so we were hoping that they would entertain us a bit this morning. But well, apparently these birds were not so morning active. We guess instead of them entertaining us, we entertained them by saying “hello” again and again and tried to dance like them. Hope no one saw us doing that! Later we went to Wanganui town which was a bigger city for NZ backcountry standard but nothing much to see. We spent a bit of time in town checking the internet speed 😉 Later we started a detour along old resized_IMG_8403Wanganui River Road. Instead of a normal highway, we chose to travel along the river which was windy, narrow and slow at certain places but hey, we were on holiday and we had time. Who would not want to see beautiful scenery instead of highway? It was indeed a very rural area with rain forests and pasture farmlands in between. It felt abandoned to a certain extend as there were very few people and tourists. We only passed by small villages with few people living, no shops or gas stations along the road. What we did not expect was that it would have so much wildlife and animals. We felt like we were in zoo: we had to share our road (and eventually stop) for cattle which somehow were running free on road, peacocks, goats, sheep and pigs. Apart from the road condition, the animals were also a reason for driving slow as we did not want to hit them. We also worked out our muscles a bit and had a good 2hrs walk to Atere viewpoint. With the frequent hikes we had even YinRu, the Tofu lady, could do a moderate hike like this with 400m of altitude gain without complaining. Later we had our night spent at camping in Pipiriki after having some difficulties locating the DOC shelter that was mentioned in the brochure (apparently there was no campground but next to picnic area camping was tolerated).resized_IMG_8427