driving took us north and to the bay of islands. Arriving late afternoon we had a look around a small town found a campsite and booked boat tour for the next morning. Fully intending to also get a decent drive in we booked the boat leaving at 8.30 am. The speed boat we were on took us out around the many islands of the aptly named bay before dropping us of at a larger more distant one which we were left to explore for the next two hours. Having done a fair bit of hiking over the last few months we didn’t think it would be too much of an issue around an island that can’t have been more than two miles wide. Turns out it didn’t just look like it had steep hills because we were in a boat on the shore, there were some really tough climbs to get up to the best views. The boat also dropped and picked us up from different sections of the island meaning we had the added pressure of missing our boat if we got lost or stuck on a hill! Despite all that, we had plenty of time to spare and we’re back at the original port by 1pm to find out if our gamble of leaving the camper in a 4 hour free parking zone had paid off. It had and we were on our way again by 1.15 continuing north along the beautiful coastline.Lesson one of campervan-ing; check under the van for any belongings before driving off. Luckily we only got 5 minutes down the road before I remembered I hadn’t put my shoes back in the van, unluckily it was pouring with rain! They’d been rescued by some kind people close by and so weren’t too wet. That was our first morning on the road in New Zealand. Our first day
Lesson two of campervan-ing: check on top of the van for any belongings. We weren’t so lucky this time. It took an hour to realise that the green bananas we’d been carrying around since Auckland that we’d put on the roof to try and get some sun in order to ripen quickly hadn’t been retrieved and were now probably left on the ground close to where we stopped for lunch. We’d been driving down from the north western coast and the ironically named 90 mile beach (ironic because it’s only 60 miles and the kiwis uses kilometres). We’d stayed in a campsite right on the beach for our third stop and were able to do a run on it in the morning; we ran about 3 miles north which felt like the beach was infinite with no clear horizon just ocean to the left and dunes to the right before turning round and retracting our steps (literally as the imprints weren’t washed away by the pretruding ocean).
After packing up th camper and having our breakfast we were back on the road and heading south along the western coast this time on a much slower highway that twists and turned around creeks and through forrests. Over two days we drove for roughly 10 hours along the scenic west coast on what was called a highway but in the UK it would definitely be classed as country roads. The strait road driving we experienced across America were a world a way as we bobbed and weaved through the New Zealand landscape. We went through Auckland stopping for lunch and a walk around the marina as we hadn’t seen any of it when we flew into its airport. Back in the camper we turned east and took our camper out to the Corremandel Peninsula where we pitched up to spend our 5th night in the cozy campervan.
The Corremandel Peninsula is home to Hot Springs Beach so named as it has hot springs running underneath. Apparently, at low tide, you can dig holes in the sand to make you own personal spas. While we were in the area morning low tide was at 8am so bright and early after a comfortable night sleep we rocked up to the beach, borrowed a spade, and headed over to an oddly busy section of the sand. What we were met with was a bit bizarre; 100 or so people, some dressed appropriately for the weather in coats and trousers paddling in pools others stripped off to swimming costumes lying in pools of water about a foot deep, many digging random holes around them. We started digging but at first we’re only finding cold water, I thought it was a bit of a joke, that the people lying in the water weren’t actually warm just pretending, showing off, looking for attention. We were directed over to another part of the beach where someone had just found a new spring, as we walked over we suddenly experienced a burning sensation on our feet, the type you get when the sand has become to hot from sunshine to walk on but the sand was wet. We dug a hole to create a pool and enjoyed the warm water that filled it while trying to maintain a sea wall to stop the incoming tide breaching it. Eventually we had to subcome to nature and our warm pool was filled with cold sea water, but we’d had a good hour or so enjoying the odd natural phenomenon. We climbed back into our camper in the car park to enjoy breakfast overlooking the sea.
After driving down south we spent the afternoon exploring middle earth, well the shire to be precise. Kind of. It’s easy to see why This part of New Zealand was used to stage scenes from the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, it’s looks a lot like Britain but a bit more exaggerated; deeper greens, higher hills, taller trees. I guess that’s what J.R.R. Tolkien had imagined. The hobbit on movie set is still intact after the conclusion of filming for the Hobbit and is open for tours. So we were taken around the Shire to view Hobbit holes, vegetable gardens, stone bridges and the green dragon inn. We were told how Peter Jackson, the director, loved detail or was actually a nut case: for example a tree that was only in the film for about 3 seconds had to be painted a darker shade of green 3 weeks before filming because it didn’t look “quite right”! At the end of the tour we were given a complementary drink to enjoy in the green dragon inn next to a roaring fire and chose a pork pie from the menu that included a ploughmans sandwich and steak and ale pie. It was just like being home!