A Travellerspoint blog

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Days 33, 34, 35 & 36: Matata – Mt Maunganui – Coromandel

sunny

The last 4 days have been amazing and relaxing in glorious sunny and almost warm weather. We left Matata and headed to a lovely beach town called Papamoa for a lazy morning reading on the beach. We drove on to a town called Mount Maunganui for lunch. We loved Maunganui – a large hill lies at the end of long expanse of white sand beaches.
Mt Maunganui (3)

Mt Maunganui (3)


We had lunch beachside before climbing the hill (Maunganui) to get amazing views of the surrounding beaches, sea and islands before treating ourselves to a very tasty waffle cone ice cream.
Mt Maunganui (9)

Mt Maunganui (9)


One of the most exciting moment in Manganui was meeting the most lovely and sweet elderly couple! They were very keen to hear about our travels, sharing theirs with us, and were glad had walked the mount as they are unable to. Had we not got the bikes with us, Sarah would have offered for them to join us for the rest of our trip! We could have stayed longer but drove on towards the Coromandel region as the area is famous for great beaches and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

We camped just south of the Coromandel region at a campsite in the middle of nowhere called Dickey’s Flat. We had to negotiate some very dark backcountry roads and some of New Zealands exciting nocturnal wildlife to reach the site. First up was a limping black goat in the middle of the road, closely followed by a newly discovered species of rat-hog (it looked like both rat and hedgehog), and culminating in the obligatory possum waiting for us at the campsite. The campsite itself was a little spooky as we were the only people there and had no idea of our surrounds because it was so dark! Sarah was once more grateful for Joe’s unrivalled bravery in scary situations – shining torches to scare off animals and accompanying all trips to the toilet. What a hero!

After surviving the night, we drove up into the Coromandel region in glorious sunshine, stopping at Whangamata for our breakfast porridge – a great looking beach but a little touristy for our liking! We drove on to an isolated beach town called Oputere. After a short walk through some trees we came out upon an amazing white sand beach with no one in sight!
Oputere

Oputere


After braving the water for a quick swim (chilly!) we made friends with a golden retriever named Marley. Marley was a lone ranger of a local dog being taken for a walk by a friendly young lady called Kate, and her 2 young daughters Ella (4) and Mollie (7 months). Kate’s parents have a beach house in Oputere and she kindly offered us a place to sleep, do our laundry and take a hot shower!! We had plans to camp much further north that night but we were destined to return tomorrow...

Next up was a trip to Hot Water beach, an amazing place where a small section of the beach is directly above some incredibly hot rocks way below the ground - heating the water above to around 60 degrees celsius.
Hot Water Beach (1)

Hot Water Beach (1)


Hot Water Beach (2)

Hot Water Beach (2)


After hiring a spade and digging a little hole, we spent a couple of hours alternating between our incredibly hot pool and the chilly sea. An amazing experience! We camped for the night at Otama Beach Camp further north – we were the only guests in the farmers field and he seemed surprised to see us!

The next day we drove a little further on from Otama Beach to a small settlement called Opito. Opito was stunning – around 200 expensive looking holiday homes overlooking a picture perfect beach... only no one was here as it is winter!!
Opito (6)

Opito (6)


Opito (2)

Opito (2)


We spent the whole morning and early afternoon on the beach and encountered about 5 people - 2 of which (and their dog) arrived by helicopter, landing in their driveway (seriously!). We also met a recently retired English couple who were travelling by campervan but had been given a set of keys to one of these amazing houses by a lady who they met randomly when out cycling in England. The generosity of Kiwis is truly amazing!
Speaking of generosity we returned to Oputere for the evening to take Kate up on her offer of a place to stay. Kate, Ella & Mollie were joined by Ross and we joined them all for an amazing roast chicken dinner and some beverages, followed by our first sleep in a proper bed since Doubtful Sound!

In the morning we breakfasted with our hosts before going for a lovely stroll all the way along Oputere Beach. At the far end of the beach we found a small island which we could only reach by paddling through shallow water (or if your name is Sarah, being carried across shallow water on Joe’s back). On the island was a tiny little sandy cove which looked almost untouched. The sort of place you wish you could return to in boiling hot weather with a good book!!
Oputere Island cove

Oputere Island cove

Lunch was back up the coast at Cathedral Cove – an amazing selection of tiny coves, cliffs and arches.
Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove


Cathedral Cove (3)

Cathedral Cove (3)


Cathedral Cove (5)

Cathedral Cove (5)


It was stunning scenery but the weather had turned a little to custard and so we didn’t stay as long we would have liked. We drove back down to Oputere to collect our drying laundry and say goodbye to Kate, Ross, Ella & Mollie. They had other ideas however and in a show of amazing kindness offered us another night at their place. In the end we couldn’t refuse and after Sarah had taken Ella for an energy burning walk down to the beach we enjoyed another lovely meal (the avocado & blue cheese salad was just magnificent!). Before bed was an absolute belter of a treat for Joe... live sport on the TV accompanied with beer!!! We watched the Waikato Chiefs (Ross’ team) beat the Bulls (South African) in a close game, serving as a good build up for our trip to Eden Park to see the Auckland Blues vs the Highlanders tomorrow.

Posted by Joe and Sarah 23:22 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Days 37 & 38: Coromandel – Auckland – Waipu

overcast

After a second warm sleep in an actual bed we got up early to get on our way and leave our lovely hosts in peace. After a wonderful big mug of hot tea we said our goodbyes and set off feeling clean, warm, well slept, well fed and totally overwhelmed by the kindness of Kate and Ross. We have promised to return the favour when Ella goes travelling in approximately 16 years time! From the East Coast we headed west through the Coromandel Forest and stopped for breakfast on the west coast of the Coromandel after travelling a little way up the road towards Coromandel Town – a route with apparent amazing views of all of the islands. It was so misty we could just see whiteness but we do believe it is beautiful!

The drive into Auckland was mildly traumatic. The thick mist continued, and then the motorway expanded from one lane to three, which meant three lanes of terrifying Kiwi drivers! This is a good point to mention the Kiwi driving. Obviously this is a generalisation; we are sure there are plenty of Kiwi’s who are excellent drivers, (we just haven’t met any of them) but many of them have a tendency to drive right in your boot (to the point you can barely see them in your wing mirrors), pull out right in front of you with no warning whatsoever and drive at crazy speeds! On the lovely empty roads of the South Island this had barely been an issue but the roads have steadily been getting busier and the motorway into Auckland was no exception! To add to the excitement Queenie almost ran out of petrol trying to climb up a motorway hill! Anyway, we made it into Auckland in one piece and headed up Mount Eden (a volcanic crater) in one of the southern suburbs to take in the views of the sprawling city. After locating our city campsite we ventured out for a small run to take in the area – not overly exciting or picturesque to be honest, but the run helped ease the tension of traffic congestion!

Saturday evening we ventured into the city to Eden Park Stadium to watch a Super 15 Rugby Game between the Blues (Auckland) and the Highlanders (Dunedin).
Excited Joe at Eden Park

Excited Joe at Eden Park


It was so strange walking along a street full of bars, restaurant and people. So many people! We appear to have become rather detached from the real world whilst living in a campervan! The stadium, recently refurbished for the Rugby World Cup, was really impressive, but strangely empty for a Saturday night game – potentially because the Blues are not doing so well! We really enjoyed watching the live rugby, especially cameo performances from Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu (he is a beast of a man!), members of the World Cup winning All Blacks Team, however the atmosphere at the stadium was a little strange in that many people around us were sitting chatting and not really watching the game – again maybe because the Blues were losing.

Next morning we got up super early so we could drive into Auckland before anyone else was on the road and then enjoyed a quiet walk around the city before making use of free internet to do our admin! On the way out of Auckland (another mildly traumatic experience for the lack of road signage!) we stopped at the Harbour in Devonport (a quaint northern suburb with a very continental feel) for some lunch. Having only spent a couple of days in Auckland we may not be in the best position to make judgement, but absolutely not fans of the city! Too big, sprawling and lacking in character and charm in comparison to other New Zealand cities - or maybe it was just the trauma of being around so many people and vehicles after five weeks of quite the opposite.

We headed north from Auckland, camping a couple of hours from the city on the coast, a little disappointed to find the site quite busy – three other campervans present! (We may need to work on being a little more sociable again at some point....). We are in an excellent spot to begin exploring Northland and the Far North tomorrow!

Posted by Joe and Sarah 23:30 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Days 39 & 40: Waipu – Cape Reinga – Karikari Peninsula

rain

After a rainy night we awoke to a very wet Monday morning. After the camp manager advised us the weather forecast was poor for the day but improving tomorrow we made the calculated decision to spend the whole day driving (some 300 to 350 kilometres) all the way up to Cape Reinga, the far north of New Zealand. Before leaving, Saleslady Sarah negotiated a very fair price with the camp manager for our two camping chairs (sold for the same value as purchased at the beginning of the trip) which was exciting in the form of extra money but a little sad as it made us realise how little time we had left in NZ!

2 chairs lighter we headed up the coast, stopping some 30kms up the road in Whangerei (the largest city in Northland) to view the Whangerei Falls, reputedly the most photographed waterfall in New Zealand. The falls are quite impressive but lose some of their value by being adjacent to a city housing estate.
Whangerei Falls 3, Whangerei

Whangerei Falls 3, Whangerei


In comparison to Huka Falls near Taupo we were a little disappointed! We continued driving north as the rain got heavier, stopping in the Bay of Islands. The area is a huge tourist hotspot but mainly for yachting types with a bit of New Zealand dollar to splash on ocean dwelling activities. We, being budget travellers, spent our time there huddled in the back of our campervan, peering out at the rain whilst munching on biscuits & coffee – happy and content nonetheless!

We left Bay of Islands behind and drove through several mountains to reach the bottom of the Far North. We lunched at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach - a stretch of sand which is coincidentally roughly 90 miles in length.
Entry to Ninety Mile Beach

Entry to Ninety Mile Beach


Many tourist buses and travellers drive the entire length of the beach as an alternative to the more conventional highway. Unfortunately our hire car agreement is very clear about not covering us to drive on any stretch of the beach and so, model citizens as we are, we parked a little short of the beach and went to stand on it instead – without a comparison we can only assume it is a similar experience...

We finished lunch and drove up the aforementioned highway which we have to say is one of the more boring stretches of road we have encountered and lasts an eternity!!! By the time we reached Cape Reinga at the top we were delighted for the opportunity to walk down to the lighthouse on the cliff edge – after stopping several times during the day it had turned into an 8 hour drive!
Lighthouse, Cape Reinga

Lighthouse, Cape Reinga


Cape Reinga is not quite the northernmost point of the country but is the most accessible northern point. It also overlooks the colliding currents of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean. Being a rough day weather-wise, this was an awesome sight with large waves crashing into each other a little way off shore.
Joining Oceans, Capr Reinga

Joining Oceans, Capr Reinga


After taking in the fresh air for some lengthy minutes we headed to our campsite – a stunning beach and the novelty of being the northernmost campsite in New Zealand.

We awoke feeling extremely tired as it was blowing an absolute hoolie last night!!! Queenie was shaking all night and such was the force of the wind, there were mild midnight concerns about our proximity to the small cliff. Having survived the night Queenie got us back up and running, making short work of the drive back down 100km to the Karikari Peninsula. We decided to head straight to our campsite to have a break from driving and enjoy the sunshine that had reappeared. We are camping in a beautiful cove called Matai Bay and have spent the afternoon relaxing in the area.
Maitai Bay 2, Kerikeri Peninsula

Maitai Bay 2, Kerikeri Peninsula


A read on the beach, followed by a spot of lunch, followed by an energetic run from one end of the beach to the other and back again, followed by a very cold but amazingly refreshing shower, followed by hot drinks, cards and more reading. These are all things we have done a lot of over the past 6 weeks so there is something very pleasing about bringing them all together in one long relaxing afternoon in our last week!

Posted by Joe and Sarah 23:32 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 41: Karikari Peninsula – Puketi Forest

semi-overcast

Today has been a day of real mixed fortune!

First up Sarah wanted to investigate a scratching noise heard in the night (Being very brave Sarah managed to ignore scratching noise alone and did not feel the need to wake Joe...) coming again from the front part of Queenie. On opening the passenger door Sarah noted the jumper on the front seat move! Feeling less brave Sarah summoned Joe to investigate further...Joe skilfully flung the jumper from the seat and suddenly out-leapt a small mouse!! Another mouse! Queenie clearly makes a very comfortable bed! The mouse was as scared as a mouse and ran into Queenie’s car tyre head first in an attempt to escape before disappearing into the long grass.

Mouse safely out of sight we drove down to the beach car park with a view to tackling a 3 hour hike over a section of the Karikari Peninsula coastline. We consulted the helpful map and began our trek which starts with a walk along the length of a very nice beach.
Western Bay, Kerikeri Peninsula

Western Bay, Kerikeri Peninsula


We reached the end of the beach after 10 minutes or so and started up a fairly clear track... only to be confronted with a gate and a rather sinister looking makeshift signing warning us to keep out. We searched high and low for an alternative route but none could be found. A Maori chap and his dogs then showed up on a quad bike and told us that the track exists further along the coast but is very overgrown and we would get lost if tried to tackle it. Slightly perturbed we strolled back across the beach and drove up the coast to a different area for a potential walk. Once again there were signs everywhere warning us to keep out and that trespassers will be prosecuted etc etc. We drove to a lookout spot instead and decided we didn’t like the area too much anyway so drove off with our tails between our legs a little.

Not to be beaten we stopped at the first beach beyond the Peninsula – a nice looking place called Cable Bay. Whilst Sarah made coffee, Joe went to explore. Strolling back for coffee, a dog walker with 2 exceptionally large dogs was approaching. One dog was approaching with particular enthusiasm as decided that this particular coffee-craving Englishman was a serious threat. The dog growled before jumping up and tried to take a chunk out of Joe’s arm!! It managed to rip my jumper with its large teeth before being half-heartedly ticked off by its owner. Not a nice looking owner at that!

Continuing on we found much better fortune in the form of Whangaroa Harbour, a really picturesque little place with a lots of nice houses and boats. We took a hike up to a big rock on top of a hill called St Paul’s rock.
St Pauls Rock, Whangaroa

St Pauls Rock, Whangaroa


Not a long hike, but by crikey a steep one – a chain rope is provided to assist with the last few steps to the top over slippery rocks. The views at the top were amazing and it was a great experience!
Sarah, St Pauls Rock

Sarah, St Pauls Rock


Climbing St Pauls Rock

Climbing St Pauls Rock


We continued down the coast stopping at two bays, Tauranga Bay and Matauri Bay. Tauranga Bay was very nice, with peachy coloured sand and few people apart from a campsite.
Joe Tauronga Bay

Joe Tauronga Bay


Matauri Bay was a little weird – a large flat valley filled with brand new roads but very few houses. It looked a place which is planning to open it’s doors to many tourists in the near future. Both beaches featured numerous warnings about theft from cars which is a bit unusual compared to so many nice places we have been to.

We drove on towards Puketi Forest where we planned to camp for the evening. En route we stopped to top up with petrol and left with some petrol and without a bike after completing a very quick sale of Joe’s bike to the petrol salesman! We drove off quickly before he realised that the seat is a little unstable and has a tendency to try and tip you off! In Puketi forest we stopped at a different campsite for a quick spot of lunch. Indecisive as we are, we drove past a nice lookout spot and into the campsite car park (consisting of a few cars but no people in sight). A textbook 3 point turn was performed and we were back pointing up the hill. We spotted a nice looking spot for a picnic just off the road on the grassy verge. As soon as Queenie’s wheels hit the verge Sarah exclaimed that it looked a bit ‘mushy’, at the same time that Joe realised this... but unfortunately fractionally after Queenie’s wheels had stopped. Reapplying the foot to accelerator in panic as you do in these situations, Queenie decided it was time her back left wheel went for a swim in some New Zealand mud, only she weighs a tonne and so can’t swim. We were stuck in the mud. After trying to wedge sticks and dried bits of grass under the wheel for some traction and gently trying to ease out we realised it was a bit futile and so did the most sensible thing and made some sandwiches. After a short wait for the car owners to return from their walk, we recruited the help of all of them to push Queenie free with Sarah at the wheel. All 5 helpers were ladies and Joe felt a little less masculine after this episode as we was unable to push Queenie out on his own. We are of course hugely grateful for the assistance.

One of the helpers was a local DOC (Dept of Conservation) ranger. We are staying down the road in a free campsite run by DOC this evening and we were sent on our way with great encouragement after being told it is very isolated. We asked whether it was safe, to which she replied... ‘errr, kind of – just treat people as you find them’. We smiled and said of course but have absolutely no idea what on earth she meant by that. To add to our confidence the site is the only one in the DOC brochure which carries a warning of car theft!!! Exciting! We are sat here in the dark right now and it is actually quite close to the main road and feels very safe as the area seems to be patrolled by chickens. That said, there is a pile of smashed glass outside on the floor which is just lovely. Early night and early rise out of here is planned!! On a lighter note, pancakes are on the menu!
Pancakes in Queenie 2

Pancakes in Queenie 2

Posted by Joe and Sarah 23:36 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Days 42 & 43: Puketi Forest –Dargaville – Uretiti – Auckland

The Final Countdown....

We survived the night! Phew! After a delicious dinner of curry followed by pancakes we had a good nights sleep at the very silent campsite and were awake super early, breakfasting by 6:30am and on our way by 7! We have perfected the quick morning getaway! We headed west towards the coast and stopped for our obligatory morning coffee on the coast at Omapere which is at the head of the big Hokianga Harbour. A stunning Harbour with great views both inland and out to sea; although it was blowing an absolute hoolie!
Hokianga Harbour

Hokianga Harbour

Next stop was the Waipoua Forest which is home to the largest known Kauri Tree, Tane Mahuta.
Sarah, Tane Mahuta

Sarah, Tane Mahuta


At 51 metres tall and with a trunk girth of 13.8 metres it is breathtakingly huge and really amazing to stand next to! It was seriously impressive! Just further down the road is the second biggest Kauri, which also happens to be the widest.
Joe, Wide Kauri Tree

Joe, Wide Kauri Tree


The sheer size and width of the trunk is just unbelievable and really hard to take in – we just stood staring for quite some time! It is hard to put into words and hard to capture on photo the amazingness of these trees! We continued south and stopped at Kai Iwi Lakes just off the coast. The lakes were beautiful but the weather not so much, however we enjoyed a lunch stop here. This land remains Mauri owned and it is really notable how differently the land is maintained compared to the DOC (Dept of Conservation) land – not quite as tidy!

From Kai Iwi we continued to Dargaville, the home of Kumara, a delicious Kiwi Sweet Potato. Dargaville impressively produces two-thirds of the nations Kumara. It is very tasty. Other than this claim to fame Dargaville is relatively uninteresting although an excellent spot to have ones haircut and do washing! We spent the afternoon sitting at a hostel completing one zillions loads of washing and drying and then wandered into Dargaville itself to find a barbers and hairdressers! Joe had his haircut by a cockney-like Mauri who gave him the tip to always wear “shades” in Central America so he can check out the ladies “big booty” without his “woman” knowing. Joe told his “woman” this story who will now be suspicious of her “man” wearing shades in the vicinity of large bottomed ladies!

We had planned to stay around this area but decided to continue on back to Uretiti on the west coast so that we were a little closer to Auckland. We arrived in the dark and then enjoyed a freezing cold shower by moonlight as it would have been silly to put our clean clothes on our unclean persons! Another reason for returning to this campsite was that Sarah had a potential buyer for her bicycle. An elderly lady who lives in a bus had shown interest and turned up at the campervan to have a look – and bombard Sarah with technical questions about a bike bought from the NZ equivalent of Wilkos for £50!

Lady: Can you ride it in sand?
Sarah: Well yes, although riding on sand can be difficult.
Lady: Why?
Sarah: Erm, riding on sand can just be difficult. It’s nothing to do with the bike.
Lady: It doesn’t have mudguards. Don’t you get muddy?
Sarah: Yes, if you ride in mud. You could always buy mudguards. We’ve also got a helmet if you’d like – it’s a bit embarrassing as it’s pink; just the cheapest we could get.
Lady: But does it work?
Sarah: well, yes, it’s a helmet bough from a shop (thinking I didn’t make it myself!)

There were plenty more silly questions to follow...
After a spot of bartering over text message and a night to consider her purchase, we secured a sale for the following morning. Tough going though - especially after Joe’s sale to the petrol pump attendant yesterday: “You got a bike bro?” Yes. “Can I see it?” Of course. “Yeah bro, I’ll take it”.

We enjoyed a lovely last evening in Queenie after a feast of all our leftovers and woke to a beautiful sunrise over the beach.
Sunrise, Uretiti Beach 4

Sunrise, Uretiti Beach 4


It was stunning and a lovely way to start our last day. From the East Coast we headed west again to enjoy some time on the beaches northwest of Auckland. It was a long drive but really nice scenery and well worth staying off the main Motorway. We arrived at Bethells Beach on the West Coast – a black sand beach with huge waves. It was really impressive.
Bethells Beach, West Coast 3

Bethells Beach, West Coast 3


We then started to head south on a scenic drive stopping for some amazing views over Auckland.
Scenic Drive Lookout, Auckland

Scenic Drive Lookout, Auckland


Our previous visit to Auckland was really overcast so it was great to see the city in sunlight. We stopped at a picturesque spot with views east over Auckland and west over the sea. Here we packed our bags and gave Queenie a final clean before enjoying lunch and our last cup of Queenie Tea. It was sad to see Queenie so empty – she looked much better full of bikes and camping chairs!

From here we began the painful drive into Auckland – all signposts removed we blindly navigated our way to the airport, once again feeling a little nervous of the traffic surrounding us! Both holding our breaths a little we finally arrived at Queenie’s Auckland home, and let out a big sigh of relief! At this point we feel we can mention that we had taken the huge gamble of renting Queenie with no insurance (as we know it). Insurance is not a legal requirement over here and it would have doubled our cost of hire so we decided to take the risk of paying a bond and keeping everything crossed that nothing happened (like an uninsured Kiwi driving into us). This made for a rather exciting / nerve-wracking time especially when the young chap drove into us on the first day! From here on in we were a small bit terrified of the huge logging lorries passing us and all of the crazy Kiwi drivers. Whilst we saved a huge amount of money we would not necessarily recommend this option! But, Queenie was returned in one piece and we were awarded a small refund for all of the mechanical problems we had encountered which was a lovely gesture!

It was really sad to leave Queenie – genuinely sad! It has been an amazing six weeks and we have seen so many amazing things; we feel very lucky. We are now at Auckland airport, hiding in a dark, quiet corner away from all the people, ready to bed down for a night here. Tomorrow we fly to Brisbane, then on to LA where we stay for one night before beginning our Central American Journey....where the blog will continue!

Before we leave NZ we would like to share our Top 5 New Zealand moments with you – in no particular order...
1. Overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound – amazing scenery, food & comfort
2. Breakfast, sunrise and an unexpected dolphin sighting at Okarito Beach, West Coast
3. Driving the stunning Haast Past from Wanaka to the West Coast, South Island
4. Sarah leaping from a plane over Lake Wanaka
5. The freedom of the campervan lifestyle in lovely Queenie for 6 amazing weeks!
Queenie at Home

Queenie at Home

Posted by Joe and Sarah 23:44 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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