Thursday 8 January 2015

Honeymoon in Middle Earth

12 December 2014 - 7 January 2015

In July 2014 we got married. It was a brilliant low key affair, but greedily we'd decided on a summer wedding and a summer honeymoon, in New Zealand. 
Having a break between the wedding and the honeymoon worked well. It meant we had time to organise both separately rather than at the same time, and it gave us something to look forward to after all the excitement of the wedding.
Auckland - The Sky Tower
This is the most expensive trip either of us has ever been on, and we thank all our family and friends for all their generous gifts which made it possible.

The Plan
The idea was to fly to Auckland, stay a couple of nights in a hotel, then drive round both islands in a camper van, with a last night in a hotel in Auckland before flying back home. We had about 4 weeks.
Going in December/January would mean being there at the equivalent of the UK's June/July, and hopefully having some of the best weather.

The Van
We did a lot of research before settling on a van. In the end we went with a Nugget 2 from Wilderness. This little truck (Ford Transit) was small enough to make driving and parking her easy, while big enough that when it rained we didn't have to go outside for anything. 
We shared the driving which was good seeing as we ended up driving about 5000km.

She was also self contained so we could camp pretty much anywhere, within reason, and didn't have to pay for a campsite every night. 
She was brilliant. Started every time and happy to give anything a go including some very steep mountains in the Southern Alps; which is more than I can say for some of the other vans we heard comments about.

The camping
We had downloaded the Wilderness Rankers app before we left home and this became invaluable. Not only as it gave us a good indication of the campsites around where we were, but we also used it along with the road atlas provided by Wilderness to find our way. 
So every evening after dinner we would decide on what we were aiming to do the next day and where we would aim to stay.  This of course was flexible, but I think there was only one campsite that we got to and decided not to use. 

We only paid for 4 sites across the trip - this is where we picked up more drinking water, topped up the electric and had a shower! The rest of the time we stopped at car parks in the middle of forests or next to rivers, where sometimes we were the only people there. 

The Adventure

You could spend months and months in New Zealand exploring, but we had 4 weeks. We started on the North Island, drove down the right (east) hand side, took the ferry to the South Island, then drove down the east coast and back up the west, before catching the ferry again and making our way back to Auckland. 
On the way we:

Saw a kiwi. We went to Pukaha Mount Bruce and saw some of the rare and endangered birds that live in New Zealand including stitchbird's, kokako's, kaka's and a kiwi in a nocturnal suite. He was much bigger than I thought he'd be.

Kaka's waiting to be fed

Found Rivendell. Everyone knows The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films were filmed in New Zealand, and so you can go and see where parts of them were filmed. Be ready for disappointment. A lot of CGI was used in the films, and so what you see in the film and in reality can be quite different. 
Rivendell was not the magic valley I was hoping for, but we did have a nice walk through the rainforest.

One of many swing bridges

Went whale watching. This was amazing, but we both ended up feeling very ill. Still we had 4 whale (sperm) sightings which shouldn't be sniffed at. 

Met blue penguins. These are the smallest penguins in New Zealand, coming in at about the size of a bag of sugar. We visited the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony to see them come home one evening. This was pretty cool, but even better was seeing them as we walked back to our van.

Blue penguin in a nest box

Found the best fudge in the world. If you want to try it too visit Lazy Cats - Real Good Fudge in Oamaru.  You get nice big chunks in a huge variety of flavours.

Ginger, Coffee and Caramel fudge

Walked amongst the Moeraki Boulders. These boulders came out of the cliff nearly totally spherical and the ones left can be up to 4 feet round (there were smaller ones but these have all been 'removed').  At low tide you can get right up to them.

Spied on yellow eyed penguins. These guys don't have quite the same timetable as the blues, so we went to seem them during the day. So as not to disturb them we walked in camouflaged trenches. We only saw a few but the talk at Penguin Place Lodge before hand was very interesting.

A Yellow Eyed penguin guards its nest

Watched Royal Albatrosses fly. These guys have a wingspan of 3 metres. You can see them for free, but we paid for a talk all about them, then went up to the observatory to watch the teenagers practice flying. Go late in the day when the wind has picked up to see them in the air. 

Saw some pretty amazing waterfalls. New Zealand has lots of lakes, rivers and streams and there are waterfalls all over the place. We made an effort to see the Mclean Falls and Huka Falls, which although very different, were both very impressive.

Mclean Falls

Huka Falls

Visited two glaciers. The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are probably the best known glaciers in New Zealand, although there are others. You can get quite close to both of them, but it does involve a hilly walk over stony ground. The thing that impressed me most was the markers which showed how far down the mountain the glaciers were in the past. 

Fox Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Wondered at a name. We visited the Pancake Rocks, but you'd need a very good imagination to see pancakes here.  Still the rock formations were pretty amazing and worth a visit.

Pancake Rocks

Got inspired. Everywhere we went there were artists selling their work, whether it was pottery, paintings, sculptures or jewellery.   I loved looking round these tiny galleries and seeing all the amazing work on offer.  I would have happily bought all of it if I thought I could have got it on the plane home.  
I did treat myself with a couple of things though including a greenstone necklace and some postcards of Grahame Sydney's paintings.

One of Abstract Design's fantails

One of Dennis Pearson's Beastie's - Nelson

Felt the fire of volcanic activity. The evidence of how New Zealand came into being surrounds you at all times in the mountains and hills, but in Wai-O-Tapu near Rotorua you can actually see steam coming from the ground and see water and mud bubbling away at 100c. (you can smell it too!)

The Champagne Pool

Sat on a sunny beach. We had a right mix of weather from torrential rain to beautiful sunshine, and everything in-between.   We were lucky enough to find some beautiful beaches to sit on in the sun, but we also walked on a couple of cloudy damp ones too.

Walked in a rainforest. New Zealand has some amazing forests.  We went on several walks though the forests on both the North and South Islands and always found the paths to be clear and easy to follow (I was worried about becoming lost in a forest!) with an indication of timings at the start of each.

Viewed lots of mountains. New Zealand is made up of mountains, but we never got bored of seeing them, whether it was a single mountain by itself, a whole range in the distance or driving on them.

Mount Taranaki

As you can see we fitted a lot into our 4 weeks in New Zealand.  It was a fantastic trip, although I'm sure we missed many other amazing things due to time constraints.  The country was beautiful and everyone we talked to was lovely - I can totally understand why so many people emigrate there.
If you get the chance to visit I would totally recommend it, I'll be going back if I can.

Top tips:

  • Be aware that you will be charged a Road User Charge if you hire a diesel camper van.  This is about NZ$6 per 100km.
  • The roads although well maintained are mostly single lane so expect to do about 200km a day if you want to stop and actually see/do things.
  • Make sure you do your research before leaving home.  Things are well sign posted - if you know they are there in the first place.
  • Be aware that the weather will do as it pleases, so you may need sun screen and waterproofs on the same day.  
  • Make use of the iSites.  There is one in every town and city and they can help with many things.  They helped us book tickets, find a laundrette and had the local tides, amongst other things.