We’ve got a few days to catch up on! The big news is that we’re now in the North Island – we’re in Taupo tonight, at a campervan park attached to the Hot Springs here, so we’ve just had a lovely soak in the hot springs for an hour and a half, and now Chris is off doing the laundry and washing-up while I write about our last few days – I think I got the better end of that deal!
From Motueka, we spent most of the next day driving back along the north coast of the South Island, through Nelson and out along a scenic route to the Marlborough Sounds. We stopped a few times for coffee, ice cream (hokey pokey – my new obsession, vanilla ice cream with chunks of honeycomb and caramel in it, SO yummy!), petrol, groceries, lunch – even a day of ‘just’ driving is pretty action-packed, and we’re also just loving driving along, chatting and singing along to the radio and looking at the scenery, and sometimes I browse through the guide book and brochures for the next place we’re going, and read snippets to Chris – we have a lovely time in the car!
The drive out through the Marlborough Sounds was beautiful, a really winding, steep road that went down into different bays and beaches, and then up over the cliffs to the next one – absolutely amazing scenery. We stopped for lunch at a DOC campsite on the beach in one of the coves, and made lunch, and then went for a wander along the rocks with mussels growing all over them, and Chris tried (and failed) to teach me to skim stones – we eventually settled on me collecting stones for him to skim!
We ended up at the far side of one of the sounds at a place called Clova Bay, which had been recommended to us by the couple we met on the wine tour in Blenheim – they said it was their favourite place in New Zealand, so we thought it was worth a look! We couldn’t find the place they said they’d stayed – there were only about three houses there, so it must have been one of them, but they all looked very private property-ish! – so we carried on along the road to a DOC campsite. I was convinced we were on the right road, although we kept having to stop and go through gates, and there were cows on the road! But I was armed with my DOC leaflet and persuaded Chris to keep going, and eventually we reached the end of the road and a lovely campsite where we were (unsurprisingly, since we hadn’t passed another car for hours!) the only ones there! We found a flattish spot in the middle of the field, with an amazing view of the sunset over the bay, and sat and had a glass of wine and watched the sunset. Gorgeous. Then we got ourselves tucked up in the van, made supper, went outside to stargaze for a few minutes – possibly the most beautiful night sky yet! – and went to sleep, feeling miles from anywhere!
We had booked our ferry to the North Island online from Motueka (using our Top 10 discount, winner!) so we knew we had to be in Picton for midday the next day – we got up early, with the sunrise (which is at 7am ish) and headed straight off so we could enjoy the drive without rushing. We stopped along the way and made BLTs for brunch, and still got to Picton with 40 minutes or so to spare, so we drove into town and parked up and sat and had coffee in the sunshine at a street cafe, and then went for a wander along the very picturesque waterfront. Everyone we spoke to said we were lucky with the weather, as the day before had been windy and horrible and a very rough crossing, but that day was calm and sunny and lovely!
We drove round to the ferry at 12, and waited a few minutes to drive onboard, which was all done very smoothly – we were with the large vehicles, so ended up parked out on deck along with the other campervans and a load of sheep transporters! Lovely smell! We went straight up onto the top deck so we could look at the scenery as we left Picton – the first half hour or so of the ferry journey is through the Marlborough Sounds, and it’s stunning. And such a beautiful day, as well – we really were lucky. We were still cold out in the wind, and were happy enough to go inside after half an hour, and snuggle up in the comfy bar with a hot chocolate and a book for the rest of the crossing!
I’d been flicking through the listings for Wellington and found that it’s almost impossible to find somewhere to sleep in a campervan in the city – all the listings for Wellington were actually 20 minutes outside the city, and we wanted to go out for dinner and drinks with Kelly, so we really wanted to be in the city. Kelly had said she would have loved to have us to stay, but she couldn’t put us through the ordeal of sleeping in her house, which is colder inside than outside at the moment! I eventually found a listing for a backpackers which had a car park and phoned them to make sure they were happy for campers to park up – so for $30 we ended up parked in a car park behind a slightly dodgy backpackers, on a very steep hill (Chris created an ingenious pile of planks and bricks to park two wheels on, to get us more or less level!) but walking distance from town – result!
Kelly had been to a house viewing near the backpackers, and decided not to bother going home, so she was sitting in the hostel lounge reading when we arrived – it was lovely to see her and to catch up properly, it was all so hectic during the wedding that we hardly had a chance to chat! So we sent Chris off to do the washing-up (noticing a theme here? I have a lovely husband!) while we opened a bottle of wine (and, erm, finished that one and half of another one) and sat and chatted.
Eventually we were both showered and sorted out and ready to go, so the three of us walked into town, and Kelly took us to a lovely little Italian place which made amazing pizzas (I had calzone, also amazing) and we sat and chatted and had a lovely evening there, and then walked halfway home together as Kelly lives in a similar part of town. Her life there seems like such fun, it’s a beautiful city and she lives right within walking distance of town – her walk to work every day takes her along the beautiful harbour, and her walk home takes her back past the main strip of restaurants and bars – it seems like a really lively place to live.
The next day the guy at the hostel reception kindly agreed to let us leave the van there (parking in the city is $15 a day for campervans!) so we walked into town and were outside Te Papa, the national museum, when it opened. What a brilliant place! We spent two hours there, wandering around the exhibits – it’s all very interactive, with buttons to press and screens to touch and bits of rock to pick up – we spent ages in a brilliant display on geology and earthquakes (relevant in NZ!) and then at a colossal squid which was caught in Antarctica and brought back to Te Papa – we watched a video about how it was caught and preserved, absolutely fascinating. Before we knew it, it was 12pm and time to leave to meet Kelly for lunch.
We had a lovely walk along the harbour to Kelly’s office building, and she was downstairs waiting for us when we got there, so it was all very easy! We went back out to the waterfront and ordered burritos from a takeaway stand, and sat on a bench in the sunshine to eat them, along with hundreds of other Wellington office workers. Such a lovely lifestyle – and this is nearly winter for them, imagine November in London and everyone eating their lunch outside in the sun! We said goodbye to Kelly after lunch, and wandered slowly back to Te Papa, stopping for an ice cream, and really enjoying the feeling of being on holiday while all the people around us were at work! We’ve been mostly among other tourists, I suppose, so we haven’t had that feeling so strongly before as we did in Wellington.
We spent another hour or two in Te Papa reading stories of immigrants to NZ, and displays about Maori history, and eventually realised we really needed to leave or we were spending another night in a backpackers car park! So we headed back to the van, stopped at the supermarket to stock up, and drove just out of Wellington, to a commuter town called Porirua, where we stopped at a campsite for the night. We arrived at about half five, and when we stopped, I stayed sat in my seat for a minute thinking of doing the cooking, having a shower, sorting out the washing up, etc., and felt tired at the thought – so Chris said, ‘Well, we’re on honeymoon, and we can do whatever we want, shall we just make the bed and get into bed straight away and eat crisps and watch an episode of 24?’ So that’s what we did, and it felt wonderfully decadent!
The next day we got going early, and drove along the main highway for a while, stopping at Levin and then at Palmerston North – I had Skyped Mum for a chat the night before and been cut off, so we thought there was something wrong with our Internet router thingummy, so we took a slight detour to Palmerston North to find a Vodafone shop. It’s a pretty town – I wandered around the square while Chris sorted out the router (we’d put credit on the wrong tariff, it turned out, so we were using it really fast – all credited back now and sorted out!) and went into the information i-SITE office to pick up some brochures for the next few places.
We made it to Wanganui around lunchtime, and headed off on the drive we’d been aiming for, the Whanganui River Road. The more astute among you may have noticed two different spellings there – one is the Maori one (with an h) and the other is the English one, and the town is without an h, and the river is with an h, and some businesses in the town have the h, and others don’t… all rather a lot to follow. Either way, you pronounce it ‘Wanganui’ and not ‘Fanganui’ which is the normal pronunciation for Maori names with ‘Wh’ in them. Got it? No, me neither.
The road was actually not as exciting as we’d expected it to be – it felt very isolated and we didn’t see many other cars, which was lovely after the shellshock of civilisation in Wellington, but the river was cut off from view of the road in a lot of places, and the ‘historical sites’ we passed were not wildly exciting. We dutifully stopped and walked down to the old water mill, which was quite nice in a quiet sort of way, but mostly they were just small settlements with a few farmhouses and a marae (Maori meeting house) and I think the only really meaningful thing was to think about the fact that there have been small Maori settlements there for a long time, and people are still living there in a similar way now, even if now they’re in nicer houses and have better road access!
We pootled along there for a few hours, and by the time we got out, it was about time to find somewhere to spend the night – we decided to head for a DOC campsite in the Tongariro National park, just at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. Tongariro NP is famous for its three volcanic peaks, which are all still active, and one of which was cast as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. It was quite an amazing moment to come over a rise in the road from the river, and suddenly have this stunning view of snow-covered mountains ahead of us!
We drove through Ohakune to the Mangawhero campsite and realised it was on a road called the Ohakune Mountain Road, which seemed to head up Mount Ruapehu – it was a bit late for exploring, so we decided to go and have a look in the morning! We drove down the road to the campsite and there was snow along the sides of the road – it was a pretty chilly night without our electric heater, but we managed ok once we were tucked up under our duvet and two blankets!
This morning we woke up and had breakfast, then drove up the mountain road to see how far we could get – it was amazing, it went all the way to the chairlift that serves the ski field on that side of the mountain. It was a cloudy, overcast morning, but about halfway along the road we broke through the cloud into bright sunshine! There was snow along the sides of the road, and by the time we got to the top there were big drifts of snow everywhere. We drove back down carefully and started driving along the road around Tongariro NP, towards Taupo.
We had talked the day before about the scenic flights over Tongariro, after we saw a brochure for them – we both absolutely loved the flight over Mount Cook and the glaciers, it’s been the highlight of the trip so far, and we had both thought it would be amazing to do a flight over the volcanoes and see the crater lakes and everything. We agreed we’d drop in and see how much they were, at least. Then this morning, when it was so cloudy, we agreed it wasn’t worth it. But as we were driving along the road, the clouds started to clear, and we suddenly had an amazing view of the mountains, and beautiful blue sky – and then we drove past the airstrip at the side of the road, so we decided it was meant to be, and pulled in!
We chatted to the guy and loved the sound of it, so we booked a flight for an hour’s time – it was a 4-seater plane, so the pilot told us it would just be us and him! We went off to kill time for an hour while the pilot did the flight before us, and we had a lovely time – we drove up to the DOC information centre in the Whakapapa village (remember, the Wh is pronounced as an F), and read the displays about the science behind the volcanoes, and we drove up the road as far as we could go, to the ski field on the other side of the mountain, and then we went on a 10-minute walk to a lovely waterfall.
We got back at 1pm, and the pilot put up a sign on the door that said ‘Gone flying – back at 2pm’ and locked up, and the three of us went out to the plane parked outside! I sat in the front with the pilot, and Chris just behind us. We barrelled along the little grass runway and we were off! It was a wonderful flight – Chris loved it even more than the first one, I think, because it was the kind of little plane he learned to fly in. He really wants to get back into flying when we get home, so I’m going to have to get used to being the passenger! I was a bit scared on this flight – it was a little bit bumpy, and I kept feeling panicky whenever it got bumpy. The pilot realised after a while and started warning me when he could see turbulence coming up, and that helped a lot, once I realised it was normal! Also, I did keep getting distracted from my scaredness by the amazing view – we flew over all three mountains, and circled around the craters, and dipped in over the crater lakes, and waved at people abseiling on a waterfall, and at scientists taking samples on one of the craters, and hikers on the trail around the lake – it really is an incredible experience being in such a small plane, you feel so close to everything. I can see why Chris loves it so much – I hope I can start feeling like that eventually!
Anyway, we landed safely, and had been chatting to the pilot and told him we were on honeymoon, which he thought was very exciting, so he went and rooted out some freebies for us – so we’re now carrying some amazing posters of aerial photos of the mountains around with us! We carried on down the road, and stopped for lunch where we could still see the mountains. Eventually the drive brought us round to Lake Taupo, and the road followed the edge of the lake for half an hour or so, with some spectacular views.
We drove past Taupo, up to Huka Falls, which is the most visited tourist attraction in NZ – it was wonderful, but somehow a bit less special thanks to the huge car park and steady procession of people, and the neat concreted pathways and metal railings everywhere. I think we both prefer discovering slightly less spectacular but more out-of-the-way sights!
It was almost 5pm by then, so we came back into Taupo, and drove up to the Hot Springs, which conveniently has a holiday park attached. We parked up and went straight down to the pools, which were wonderful – quite green water, it’s mineral-rich water from thermal springs that’s pumped in constantly, and the two pools are at 38° and 40° – we soaked for over an hour, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! We bumped into an Australian couple who’d been going for a scenic flight as we left the airstrip, and chatted to them in the pool for a while. Once we were well and truly wrinkly, we came back up to make supper – and now I’m finally caught up, we just need to choose some photos and upload everything, and then we’re off to bed!