With camper van in New Zealand's North Island
In July this year, I had the much longed for opportunity to travel to New Zealand, a country I last visited when I moved from Brisbane, Australia to join my family in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep. I spent 12 years in the Dominican and when I left that country it was to marry Gernot, with whom I have already been married for many years and we have two children: Gisela and Christopher. After visiting my sister Sonia, mother and nephew for a week in Brisbane, the four of us flew to Auckland, just like I did 35 years ago. I did not stay in a Youth Hostel, like I did last time and I did not do any hitchhiking either, as the family rented a camper van instead.
Life in the camper van reminded us in a way of our boat cruises in the Midi and Burgundy in France, except that this time we had to drive instead of going on a boat. The idea to go to New Zealand first started when Gisela turned 18 and she graduated from high school in Austria and we gave her a ticket to travel to New Zealand, except that she preferred to go to New York City instead.
She spent two weeks in NYC with her uncle Will and learned to move around in a big city, experience which served her when she moved to Melbourne to study Graphic Design. Gernot was to do a two month sabbatical in Newcastle, so the trip to New Zealand provided us the opportunity not only to see Gisela again, but also to go to Brisbane to visit the rest of the family before we flew to New Zealand.
Driving north from Auckland I could at least confirm that New Zealand continued being as green and beautiful as I could remember it! In the days that followed i saw many different trees, forests, lakes, sand dunes, rainbows, rivers, fences and bridges and I noticed that highways were well signaled and a pleasure to drive on. As far as animals, I saw many cows and sheep and I could only dream of having some barbecued lamb chops on a plate in front of me!
The first night in the camper van was spent on a beach in the North Island, but unfortunately we could not enjoy the view or the sea, as it was raining and very windy. If we had done our research properly, we should not have been surprised by the rainy weather, as that was supposed to be typical for July!
The next day found us on our way to the Bay of Islands, which I noticed had changed much since i went through the hole in the rock on one of their boats many years ago. As we lacked time we were also unable to drive via Ninety Mile Beach to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand, to be rewarded with magnificent views of the Tasman Sea joining with the Pacific Ocean. My daughter Gisela, who acted as our navigator, was able to find interesting camp sites and attractions in the area nevertheless.
We first went to the Waipoua Forest to see the giant Kauri trees and we were fascinated by them, as they were so majestic! We then visited Matakohe and the Kauri Museum and both Christopher and Gisela spent a lot of time viewing their exhibits. There we learned that the largest kauri in existence is Tane Mahuta (Maori for 'Lord of the Forest') and it is 4.4 metres in diameter and 17.7 metres to the first branch. The oldest tree is estimated to be 2,000 years old and it is Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest). For more information about the museum and the Kauri trees, please visit their interesting website:
When we rented the camper van it came with a GPS system, so we could find addresses, but it was more that, as we could also listen to New Zealand's Tourism Radio. They not only had good music, but as we went along it would know exactly where we were, so it could point out attractions, museums and things that might be of interest to us. It would give us background about a village we were going through, like pointing to a historical building in a corner, for example. That Tourism Radio turned out to be like traveling with a travel guide with us and they had a great number of points of interest! This is their Internet link: http://www.tourismradio.co.nz/
Video about Kauri Museum, Matakohe
Each camp site we stayed in was different, but most had access to Internet, rooms with books and puzzles, fully equipped kitchens, as well as toilets and bathrooms with hot water. One was near the beach, another close to a lake or village, while another was close to nice restaurants.
We stopped in a few coffee shops along the way and it was nice to find that their hot chocolates always tasted very nice and were usually served in big cups, with two little marshmallows on the side! How nice!
We then slowly went back to Auckland, disappointed that our navigator system had found the way back to the place where we had rented our van, as the time had come to return it! We then went to the airport to take our flights back to Melbourne in Gisela's case and Sydney for the rest of us. From Sydney Airpot we then went to the train station to take the slow train back to Newcastle, arriving some 3 hours later.
It had been a short but beautiful holiday, when the family had been together, away from the television and computers, work and university life!