Tuesday, 21 October 2008

25th September Auckland and the Environs (part II)

(Yes, I *did* start writing this 3 weeks ago - I'm sorry!!)

On the Thursday, we met up with my great aunt, cousin and his girlfriend for lunch. I'd met Aunt Judy before, when she came over to England a few years ago with her husband (unfortunately, he was working whilst we were in NZ, and we didn't get to see him at all), but I'd never met Morgan nor his girlfriend, Ana at all.

We met up in a suburb of Auckland called Takapuna, fortunately one which had outdoor parking (this became a *big* consideration when we really got on the road - how to park a large wheel-base van had never really crossed my mind before!) I had slight qualms about this meet up, as the car park itself was huge, and we hadn't arranged an exact spot to meet. My memory for faces is also a little bit hazy, so I had visions of not actually being able to find my great aunt. Fortunately, as we turned the engine off on the van, she knocked on the window (reasoning, quite rightly, that we would be the only people in a campervan at that time of day!) It didn't take long before Morgan and Ana caught up with us, and we wandered off looking for somewhere to have lunch. After a stroll round the suburb, we ended up at a glorious cafe which had outdoor (though in an arcade, so still protected from the elements) seating. We had a fantastic meal and a lovely chat - even though we were pretty much strangers when we met, it felt like we had known each other for years, and that we were just picking up a conversation that had been left off a couple of days before.

After lunch, Judy headed back home, and Morgan and Ana took us into Auckland for a spot of sightseeing. After a walk round the SkyTower, which charged quite a bit for admission, and as we weren't all that fussed about going up, we satisfied ourselves with taking photos from underneath:

and then going down to the harbour.

Auckland is known as the City of Sails, due to the number of (very rich) people who own yachts / gin palaces etc; unfortunately, most of them were not in the harbour when we visited, and we were instead treated to the sight of some rather less picturesque fishing boats and dredgers!

Once we'd wandered around for a little bit, taking in most of the central area, Morgan and Ana hit on a very good idea of how to see the best bits of a city when you don't have much time or a huge amount of money - Auckland has a circular line bus which goes through most of the areas. This was a brilliant way of spending an hour or so - we got all of the landmarks pointed out, though, as we were in one of those buses which has an advert on the side, I couldn't get any more photos.

After the ride, we stopped for a coffee, and then walked back to the bus stop, rather sadly passing by the ambulances and the crowds as they worked to try to save this man. It does say something, though, about the levels of serious crime in New Zealand that this stabbing, something which would make a minor line in a UK bulletin, was on the front page of all the papers for a week afterwards.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

23rd-24th September - Auckland and the environs (part I)

NB All Maps displayed are from Google Maps, and remain their copyright. I am using them purely to illustrate where we have travelled for those who are unfamiliar with the geography of New Zealand

After visiting the local airport supermarket, and discovering their very cheap sushi, we got on the road to try to find the campsite. Here, I discovered a small flaw in the road map which I had bought - even though it gave a reasonably good impression of the Auckland area, until we got into the Central Business District (CBD), it did not name, or even show all of the roads. Nor did it distinguish between roads which actually joined and those which went over the top on a bridge. This led to an interesting ten minutes or so when we sailed over the main road we were trying to get on, and ended up in a slightly unsavoury area of the city (though, interestingly, although I wouldn't have liked to get out and walk around for any length of time in the area, I didn't feel overly intimidated at any point, unlike if I'd ended up in the wrong area of Bristol, for example). Fortunately, we managed to find our way onto the main road, which was to take us most of the way up to the campervan park, the one which our Lonely Planet book said was "the best in Auckland".

After a surprisingly quick journey through the Auckland's CBD, we went over the bridge to the North Shore area. There was just one snag. We couldn't find the North Shore Campervan Park. We knew where it should be, but, without a street address, couldn't find it easily, and, as John was still unfamiliar with driving the campervan, we did not fancy driving up and down suburban streets (most of which had traffic lights which necessitated hill starts). Also, the area was very built up, which wasn't our idea of where a campervan park should be. So, I took a look at the map, and found the next campervan park symbol, up in a town called Orewa.

As the campervan park symbol was directly on the main road, I thought that it might be a bit easier to find. And that was how we ended up at Orewa Beach Holiday Park.

The campsite was exactly how I imagined it should be - plenty of trees and grass, picnic benches to eat out on, and a barbeque area. Plus, it had this view from the campervan:

This is the view at 6.30 in the morning:

The beach whilst we were on it:

The campsite from the beach (our van is the one directly in the centre, facing away from the camera):

The receptionist at the campsite was lovely - she explained that the campsite we had been aiming for was no longer part of the Top10 franchise: all campsites affiliated to the chain have to reach a certain standard, and it had failed to meet that standard. So, we were very lucky to have missed it! I had been recommended to look at Top10 from a forum - if you paid $40 (approximately £16) for their membership card, you not only got 10% discount for every night you stayed, but each site (and there are 49 through NZ) has negotiated local discounts at restaurants, cafes and leisure sites. Plus, there was a 10% discount on the ferry between North and South Island, which nearly saved us the cost of the card straight away!

We took the rest of the day very easily, barbequeing the sausages we had bought at the supermarket, and then turning in for an early night.

The next day, we had a leisurely start, and set out to look for the local art centre, which had a Top10 dicount on coffee (we were both feeling the need for something a bit stronger than instant!) Unfortunately, we turned the wrong way out of the park, and ended up taking a stroll right into Orewa town (about 15 minutes walk). Whilst this meant that we had to walk a little further for our coffee than we had anticipated, it did give us a chance to explore the town and scout out possible places for eating out. The art centre itself was lovely; the coffee was very good, as were the brunch options (even if there wasn't a fry up on the menu!), and they had a couple of very interesting exhibitions on display. We also took the opportunity to pop into the local tourist centre, where we were able to buy more detailed street maps of Auckland. After calling my great aunt and cousin (who both live in Auckland) and arranging to meet the next day, we set out on a cliff top walk. Unfortunately, we hadn't got into the scale of New Zealand maps, and what looked like it would be a pleasant stroll to the end of the peninsula (even from looking at it from the beach) was a little bit further than we anticipated! The round trip took over two hours, with a mixture of walking along the cliff, and through housing estates. We even got to see our first native New Zealand wildlife, the Pukeko:

This is not my picture, but from http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/photos/new_zealand/pages/pukeko.htm - we were unable to get a good picture of a pukeko, despite the numerous ones we saw throughout the islands.

Dinner that evening was at the Ship and Anchor, a fantastic pub, with an amazing seafood chowder. It was here that I was introduced to the practicalities of the "doggy bag." Whilst I was aware of the practice, it wasn't something that I'd really come across in UK pubs and restaurants - whenever I'd said that I was too full to finish my plate, the attitude was one of "never mind, we'll throw it away." Whereas, here, when I explained to the waitress that the food had been delicious, but I just didn't have room for another drop, she brought it back in a takeaway tub! It made a great starter for supper the next evening...

Monday, 13 October 2008

21st - 23rd Sept - Travelling

I'm going to split these entries out into manageable chunks, as otherwise it will take me forever to write, and you will have a very long essay to read at the end! I will post them in time order, so you will need to read from the bottom up...

The journey out to New Zealand was a long one; we got a taxi from our flat which only cost us half what it should, as we diverted to pick up another passenger whose taxi had broken down (it rather amused me that the driver asked us a number of times whether we minded, and thanked us for helping out, as though we would turn down the chance of halving a rather large fare!), then a coach from Bristol to Heathrow. Two hours on a coach shouldn't be that long, but it drags when you know that you are going to be spending a good chunk of the next day or so sitting down! We arrived at Heathrow, found our terminal and check in desk, and were then told that our plane was delayed by two hours. Now, another two hours wasn't that much in the grand scheme of things; Air New Zealand gave us £7 each to spend in the airport restaurants/bars by way of an apology (though £7 doesn't actually go that far at airport prices!), and as the reason for the delay was a severe technical fault in Hong Kong which had had our original plane grounded, I was rather pleased that they hadn't decided to go ahead, and end up with us making an emergency landing somewhere over Siberia.

We took off at just after 11pm, UK time. Despite all of the planning that I'd put into the holidays, I still had butterflies, very similar to the ones I'd had before setting off to backpack around Australia, and for exactly the same reasons. We were very much stepping into the unknown - apart from "in the campervan", we didn't even know where we were going to be spending the first night, or in what state we would be when we arrived. My big fear was that there would have been some sort of communication error, and I was going to have to, whilst jet lagged, persuade a recalcitrant clerk that we had paid for a campervan for three weeks... In fact, the whole holiday was completely up in the air, which, despite being what we wanted (I'd resisted the travel agent's wishes that I pay for hotels all the way round), still gave me a few jitters.

The flights from London to Hong Kong, and then from HK to Auckland were pretty uneventful - we met probably the only unpleasant Kiwis on the whole trip in the form of two ladies in the seats in front of us (One leant her seat back as soon as she was allowed, and as I had put things in the pockets and was slumped down in my seat, she hit my knees very hard. When I complained, she and her friend grumbled about us all the way to Auckland... Fortunately, we did not see them again once we were out of the airport...). The landing in Hong Kong was interesting - Hong Kong being a sea-based port, the airport was right out in the harbour, meaning that, as we could only see out of side windows, it looked very much like we were coming in to land on the water. It did occur to me on how much trust we put in complete strangers - I had never met the pilot or crew of the plane before that day, and probably never would again, but we all trusted implicitly that they would get us (and our baggage!) to our destination in one piece.

The whole journey, from flat to Auckland airport, took approximately 33 hours, and, though I dozed for about 7 of those, it was very long, and still not over, as we had to get through customs, and find our van...

Going through New Zealand customs was an interesting experience - they have very strict rules on the import of any food, plants or animals, and this is the only airport where we were met by food sniffer dogs rather than drugs ones... The two dogs we saw were incredibly cute; one black labrador which wasn't much older than a puppy, and one basset hound, where we had to put our hand luggage on the floor as he couldn't reach them when we were holding them. Both dogs seemed to love their jobs, particularly the part where they (with their handlers) jumped up on the carousel in order to check the bags coming off the plane. Fortunately, nothing suspicious was found in our bags (I declared the two packets of sweets that we brought with us!), and we got out into the terminal with relative ease.

Next job was to find a SIM card for our phone (far cheaper than activating roaming on our UK based phones), which was not a problem at all, and contact Maui, the campervan company. They directed us to the shuttle bus, which had a very friendly and garrulous Maori driver, and, after quite a long wait in the Maui offices, we were introduced to the van which was to be our home for the next 16 days. This was a 2 person van, not as big as some of the ones which we see driving round the UK (no extra part over the driver's seat), but certainly bigger than any vehicle I'd driven, so I very generously let John take the first turn driving, and off we set to find food and our first planned campsite...

Sunday, 12 October 2008


Well, we are back from a fantastic 3 week holiday in New Zealand. I kept a diary whilst going round, so will gradually be putting up posts with photos (not all 652 of them...) And I have just spent the last 2 hours catching up on all the blogs which I have missed...

Initial impressions have helped to reinforce the desire to up sticks and move out there (I *really* did not want to get on the plane and come back to Bristol!) Almost everyone we met was friendly, helpful and welcoming, the scenery was spectacular, whilst the roads may not be in the best condition (we hit some *amazing* potholes), the lack of traffic away from the city centres more than made up for it. We were very lucky with our exchange rate - I know that when we get out there to live, it will be more costly - making campervanning and self catering a (comparitavely) cheap option. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, given that it was early Spring - very little rain, and only one day where it seemed to rain the whole time.

More detailed blog posts to follow...