We were keen to get on the road and rose early on our last morning in Auckland to finish our packing and head out. We really do have too much stuff and the prospect of the walk up to the bus was not appealing.We made it and were soon back at Auckland airport where the transfer bus to Hitch car rental promptly picked us up and delivered us, rather circuitously, to the office. Jimbo, the chauffeur of the transfer bus, was a splendid old English chap who chatted spiritedly to us about the terrible traffic and abundance of snapper this year. We were in the office for all of 5 minutes before being shown to our vehicle, a Nissan Tiida. The lady helping us told us that she thought it took unleaded 91 and left us to our own devices. We promptly thrust all of our belongings on to the back seat and jumped in to start our journey. We met our first obstacle immediately as we couldn’t find the handbrake. A thorough search of the environs of the driver’s seat revealed it to be next to the brake pedal… a footbrake then. Okey dokey, no worries, we reversed out on to the road, noting that the car has a delightful reversing alarm which is in no way irritating. We made it about 20 metres down the road before discovering our next problem; the car has a sat nav/media system but it was entirely in Japanese. We tried to change the settings for about 10 seconds before doing a 180 at the next roundabout and heading back to the office to ask how to do it. You can’t change the language as the car is a Japanese import. Hey ho, never mind, we’ll just turn it off. Oh no we won’t, if there is an off button it’s hidden somewhere in the settings…. all of which are in Japanese. We did manage to find the mute button by accident so at least it doesn’t make any noise. One last thing about our sat nav; it sits out from the dashboard on a most extraordinary angle like so:This means that if you intend to drive during the day you will be blinded by the glare reflecting from the sat nav screen:We have taken to sticking bits of paper over it during the hours of daylight. You might have noticed that we do not feel as much love for this car as we did for dear Heidi. We did spend some time trying to come up with a name for it. We went through some Lord of the Rings options in honour of our location but nothing stuck. Working on the “questionable Japanese import” theme we toyed briefly with Mr Myagi and Pikachu but again, no dice. You see, naming a car requires a level of affection that we just do not feel and so we have resorted to simply calling it Shit Car. It gets us from A to B and our first destination was a shop, to buy our home for the next 7 weeks.
We have been writing a list of camping equipment for several weeks now, building on our experience with Heidi to determine what were necessities and what were nice to haves. We survived the joy of shopping during the Christmas period and were growing increasingly excited about our first night in the tent, James in particular was reaching a childish level of giddiness. We restricted ourselves to the essentials (which includes fairly lights by the way) and the car was still absolutely rammed full of stuff.Our first campsite was about 40 minutes from Auckland on the edge of Whatipu beach and is accessed by a winding gravel track that we are not too sure is ideally suited to our particular vehicle. We ploughed on and arrived at an idyllic spot.It also only cost NZD7.50 each which was an absolute bargain. We unloaded everything from the car in to a big pile and went from thisto this, our new home.
Thus arranged, we went for a walk and saw a black sand beach for the very first time. It actually takes a bit of getting used to but, at Whatipu at least, it is truly beautiful and James had a great spot to practice some more with the camera.We went back to our camp as the sun was setting to enjoy our cold showers and achieve dinner on our brand new one burner stove.The lady who took our money had warned us in a casual, throw away sort of way to be wary of the mosquitoes as there were a few around. There were about a million and we were glad that mosquito coils and bug spray had both made the essentials list. Our entire evening had run smoothly and, after a mild debate about whether or not the coolbox was in fact cool enough, we retired to the tent to tell ghost stories by torchlight.
We awoke at 5:30 the following morning, pretty much with the sunrise which was what we had been expecting. It was absolutely beautiful watching the sun rise behind the mountain, particularly as Caro had convinced James that travel mugs were essential so could enjoy the spectacle from our sleeping bags with a cup of tea. We took our time breaking camp and then took the short 15 minute walk to some caves just beyond the campsite. The walk wasn’t the prettiest and the caves not particularly striking but it gave us an opportunity for a leg stretch before our drive North.
Our first stop was Karekare, which we reached by a long winding road through more beautiful scenery. New Zealand is such a picturesque country that we are certain to become complacent about stunning views soon. Having parked up, we went first to Karekare falls, which are about a 10-minute walk away steeply up and then steeply down.The falls were very pretty. Unfortunately, we were there at the same time as a group of tourists of the brand that insist on walking around with music blaring from their backpacks. We haven’t been able to quite grasp this habit which we have come across several times already, it just seems incredibly anti-social to impinge on everyone else’s experience. We didn’t linger for much longer and clambered back to the carpark and made for the beach.
As the wood gave way to sand the temptation was to take our flip flops off and walk barefoot. We soon learned to control this impulse as the black sand was roasting hot and near impossible to walk on. Caro didn’t let the hot sand hold her back from climbing up and then running down the sand dunes.We drove on to the next town of Piha, where the Lonley Planet mentions that penguins nest. In full excitement, we set off on a penguin hunt in which we were ultimately to be disappointed but we did see the sites of Piha and Lion Rock, a massive mound standing in the middle of the beach.
We had decided that we needed some extra cushioning in the tent so we did another trip to The Warehouse to pick up roll mats before continuing North. The Warehouse is fast becoming Caro’s favourite, and James’s least favourite, shop. Fun fact; Kiwis call shopping trolleys “trundlers”, which is very happy making. We also achieved our first NZ ice creams, Menphis Meltdowns, which were good but not quite on a par with a Connoisseur. The scenery as we drove was a very beautiful mixture of managed farmland, mountains and wilderness. New Zealand is stunning.
We stayed the night at a Department of Conservation (DoC) site at the Trounson Kauri Park which had a few more services than the previous night, but was still pretty basic. The following morning we headed out on a 30 minute walk through the adjacent Kauri forest and got our first taste of these enormous trees. This was nothing compared to what we would see later, however. As we returned for breakfast we were greeted by the dulcet tones of another camper singing at the top of his lungs in the shower with a voice which carried across the whole campsite.
We packed up and continued north to Waipoua Forest. Our first stop was a 30 minute tramp to see the Four Sisters and the 2nd tallest and largest girthed Kauri tree in New Zealand. It was absolutely enormous, like a wall of tree.Sadly, there is a big problem with the spread of Kauri die back disease and so the parks are extremely vigilant about getting visitors to clean and disinfect their footwear. You certainly couldn’t forget to with these industrial size cleaning stations and the start of the trails.After how impressive the first stop had been we had to stop and see the tallest Kauri, just 10 minutes down the road. We weren’t quite sure when we pulled up, as it was so much busier and there was a coffee van, but we proceeded to see the tree which is minutes from the road. It was very impressive, but we definitely preferred the setting and general quietness of our first stop.