Monthly Archives: September 2015

From big trees to little hobbits to a very big lake


Photo of the Day: BIG Maori Carvings

Geothermal spas, lakes, Hobbits and yippee, some cycling!

NZ, you may well have taken the spot for our most favourite country….big statement but I feel it’s worth it.  The longer we spend here, the more we seem to love it (don’t worry Mum, we WILL NOT be moving here. There’s too many sheep and the flight was horrible.) And we haven’t even gotten to the south island yet…..

We’ve travelled from the Bay of Islands (highly recommend) over to the Kauri Forests, which were amazing- there was practically noone there (tourists or locals) and loads of awesome windy roads for me to drive round (and for Sam to hold on tight- he seems to hate my driving for some reason. It could very well be something to do with the fact that I reversed straight into a picnic bench this week. Oops.) From there we travelled down past Auckland to Hamilton for lunch with one of Sam’s friends. The onwards to Rotarua, which is a geothermal hub.  Apparently, they’re a big deal and we didn’t really realise until we got here. The rotten egg smell is everywhere but you get used to it after a while. We went to some hot springs and DID NOT want to leave (mainly due to the freezing temperatures outside) but they also had amazing showers.

There’s loads of geothermal ‘parks,’ we visited ‘Wai-O-Tapu’ which was fantastic. Check out this geyser, which spontaeously explodes with boiling hot water. AMAZING!

Also, there’s a really cool winery (Volcanic Hills.) Highly recommend for a boozy afternoon.

Showers are something I’m really struggling with, or more specifically, the cleanliness of showers. I have no problem with cold showers (unlike Sam) but I really really hate dirty showers. Every shower I go in, I feel like I need to wash it down first. Maybe I just need to lower my standards. Maybe. Maybe I’ll just continue washing them down,

This week we’ve fulfilled Sam’s one requirement for coming to NZ- visiting Hobbtion. Now, I’m not a LOTR geek at all (I didn’t even make it through most of the films) but it was pretty cool to see the set. Sam was in his element. There’s so many photos on our camera of him grinning insanely next to a hobbit hole. See below for one of many:

Apparently the tour record for photos is 3440. I think the American tourists with us might have taken more. I kept huffing and puffing and sighing to get past them, “ooh it’s a small bench, let’s take a photo,” “wow, a field. Selfie time,” “ The house where Peter Jackson stayed! Wow! Gotta get a snap.” MOVE ALONG, PEOPLE. The only issue I had is that we were herded around like sheep, which I get because it’s a huge tourist attraction, but it was still annoying. Kept wanting to punch anyone who got out their selfie stick and stopped right in front of me. There’s probably hundreds of selfie photos with me scowling in the background. Apologies to anyone who has a stick but seriously, WHY?? Sam bought me one once. I promptly gave it away.

Every day is busy busy, I think all Sam wants to do is chill outside with his kindle but I keep finding stuff for us to do. Take our time at Lake Taupo as an example. This is an extraordinarily beautiful spot, with the lake being the size of Singapore.

In the past 3 days we’ve been hiking, cycling (me excitedly, Sam reluctantly) and kayaking. It’s just that there’s so much to see and so many things to do, I think I have FOMO. We met a girl in the hot springs, who put it well: “You have 3 months. Slow down.”

Duly noted.Today we’re off to Hawkes Bay aka the start of wine country, YIPPEE!

Photo of the day: Little Hobbits

Photo of the Day: Hokianga Harbour

On Vanatar and Campervanning

So Laura’s been nagging me for a while now to write a blog post dedicated to Vanatar, our campervan, and just generally driving around NZ.

The mighty Vanatar, fear all ye in his wake.

To catch everyone up; we had intended to buy a campervan but decided not to because:

a) We couldn’t find one online or in the car market

b) We know nothing about vans, and would likely buy a lemon

c) We liked the idea of having 24/7 roadside assistance, and someone we could call/email if something went wrong, on a van we knew had been roadchecked and used for similar purposes

As a result we decided to hire and ended up with Vanatar, our Avatar themed van (no, we didn’t get to choose the design although Laura loved it from the start and it’s grown on me.)  Just to caveat, we didn’t come up with the name either: all the vans from escape have names (see here for other designs/names.) We also decided to get an automatic, because Laura has no clutch control, I can’t find 5th gear, and neither of us have driven a van before and we thought it would be easier this way.

Driving wise, Vanatar is exceptionally simple to drive. You just put your foot down! Sometimes he’s a bit slow to kick up through the gears, and he’s a bit of a fuel monster (particularly on hilly, winding roads.. which is almost all of NZ). The roads have really taken some getting used to. With the exception of a little bit coming out of Auckland, there’s been nothing close to resembling motorways like in the UK. Everything is 1 lane in each direction, with passing lanes every 5-10km. All of the roads seem to be winding, which would be great in a sports car, but less fun in a van.  It’s been quite windy too which has been a challenge as it really shifts the van about on the road.  And there are so many hills! Steep ups and steep downs.  However, the routes are almost universally beautiful; forest and coast and fields as far as the eye can see.  It’s some really great driving.

As a home, we currently have a bit of  love/hate set up- we love him when it’s warm, and hate him when it’s wet.  The above photo is Vanatar in his prime; table and chairs out with music from the jambox, clothes drying on the line and boot up for the view.  When the weather is like this living in a van is awesome. After giving us 2 days grace, the weather has now caved in and has set into a regular rhythm of sunny mornings then torrential rains in the afternoon and evenings.  This is not fun to live in.  The van can feel quite cramped, particularly if it gets messy (which it does, because there’s so little space to put stuff).  There’s nowhere inside/warm to put coats and clothes to dry so everything just feels damp. Then to top it off, Vanatar has almost no insulation it seems, so every morning the roof and sides are covered in condensation; this burns off quickly if there’s sun, and we’re wiping it down too, and we’ve now got a dehumidifier set up, but if it’s raining it can be pretty grim in here.

Griping aside, the weather will gradually shift to warmer times as we’re heading into summer and we should reap the awesome benefits of campervanning.  We can go anywhere, which is both awesome and difficult.  There is so much of NZ, and we’re now realising that despite having 3 months here we’re going to miss out huge chunks of it (we’ve already decided to miss out on 90 mile beach and Cape Reinga).

We were also hoping to mostly stay in the DOC (department of conservation) campsites, as they’re much cheaper than private, but we’ve found that there aren’t that many and we’ve ended up staying in private places like Top 10, which I’d roughly equate to something like Haven holidays in the UK (but with space to bring your own campervan.)  I’m really pleased with this, as they have hot showers (and it’s far too cold to for a DOC cold shower!) but they’re about double the price which means we’re spending a bit more than we’d like; conversely, with only a (pretty crap) chill bin to use we’ve been eating vegetarian meals each night which has saved a bunch of money.

In summary, it’s taking some getting used to, but I think as the weather improves we’re going to love campervanning more and more.

Auckland to Bay of Islands


Auckland- Bay of Islands

First things first. NZ really needs to up its game with wifi- we’ve been trying for about 3 days to upload ANY photos. It’s not going well..

Also, what’s up with the weather NZ? It’s really not on. Didn’t you get the memo? Rain is not part of the plan.

Our first week here has been spectacular though, despite some mini tantrums thrown by yours truly over the coldness of the van (Mum, Dad, I’m sure you’re utterly shocked by this.) Sam wants to talk in more detail about the force of nature that is Vanatar, but I have a summary right here:

1- He’s both cosy and spacious at the same time- depending on the time of day.

2- He is COLD.

3- Vanatar has zero insulation. None at all. See above.

4- If he was a person, Vanatar would be a hard ass. He takes no crap from anyone, including us. Condensation? No problem. Sandflies? He doesn’t care. 50% incline? He just powers on. We saw another Escape van earlier in the week and it looked like a pansy compared to Vanatar.

So, Auckland. We stayed with my lovely friend from school, Nicola. We had such a lovely time catching up with her and some friends from Vietnam, Avi and Rochelle. Auckland itself was lovely, so many open spaces and parks- we wished we could’ve stayed longer to see the surrounding islands (and hopefully we can when we return in December) but time was ticking on.

From Auckland we travelled north, heading for the Bay of Islands via a couple of places- Waipu (excellent caves with glowworms in them) and Uretitti Beach (beautiful but so many sandflies.)  We stayed in Paihia for a couple of nights and did a fab walk to Haruru falls, as well as the Waitingi Treaty Grounds (where the original treaty was written and signed.) From there we’ve travelled to Kerikeri (saw a dog show, not a lot else) and then Russell.

To reach Russell we needed to take a vehicle ferry so that it actually feels like an island, even though it’s part of the mainland. Super cute little town with nice pubs and a gorgeous harbour. Tomorrow we’re going out on the water, hopefully to see dolphins and orcas in their natural habitat. I think Sam secretly hopes we’ll see some whales but it’s not looking promising.

Now it’s time to get back to doing what we seem to do best. Sitting and doing nothing- with this view, would you do anything else?

Back on the road

Hello again!

We’ve been a bit quiet as we’ve been back in the UK for four weeks to attend a lovely wedding and to say hi and bye before the bulk of our trip. A huge thank you to everyone we saw and that put us up (particularly Mum and Dad and Julie and Dave!) We’ve now zipped over on a short 23 hour double flight to Auckland, New Zealand to begin the next leg of our journey: 3 months of campervanning around NZ.

It really is a mammoth flight.  We stopped over for an hour in Kuala Lumpur which made the whole journey pretty hard work and we’re still very jetlagged a couple of days later.  Definitely wouldn’t recommend Malaysian airlines; they only have powdered creamer for their tea. No milk! Outrageous. Service was crap too.

Auckland is wonderful.  It reminds me a lot of the US, but much more relaxed.  The city feels very quiet, limited traffic and nice wide roads.  There’s a lot of parks and open spaces too.  It seems a world away from somewhere like London, but there is still a lot here to see and do.  The city is spread out over a huge area and we’ve only scratched the surface, but we’re flying out of here in a few months so we’re going to leave the bulk of our exploration until then as we’re keen to hit the road.

We had originally intended to buy a campervan when we got here, but having been scouring the forums for vans that meet our demands (automatic, has a table and kitchenette) we were found wanting.  Dearlerships were really pricey, and we visited the backpacker market and again found nothing.  Remembering we’d gotten a quote about 6 months ago I dug out the email and found it actually wasn’t as expensive as we’d thought. After a flurry of emails with various firms negotiating deals we eventually managed to settle with the company Laura had found and wanted to go with from the start, escape rentals.   As well as being reasonably priced compared to buying, we’ve got full insurance AND 24/7 roadside coverage, which hopefully means we’ll be ok if something goes wrong- although apparently we have to change flat tyres on our own. That’s going to be fun.

Escape’s USP is that all the vans are custom decorated by their spray artists.  The van you get is luck of the draw, but Laura is pleased with ours; introducing, Vanatar!

I’m not a big fan of the giant blue guy, but the other side has spaceships firing at each other and stuff. It’s pretty cool.  We’re in the middle of pimping it out at the moment (throw rugs and cushions!) but we’ll upload some proper photos soon.  Having never driven a van or an automatic it’s taking some getting used to, but so far so good (read: no crashes yet).

We’ve one more night in Auckland before we’re heading onwards to our next destination, Orewa, where we’ve booked into a “luxury” site to help us ease into the whole camping thing.  More news soon!

Photo of the day: “On loan from Middle Earth”

This monster greeted us on our arrival at Auckland airport. Great job New Zealand!