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 got 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 proper 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 had 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 somehow 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 as 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 their 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 drove 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 our 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 Wanganui 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).