Howdy folks! Hope you are all doing well? I’m sure you want to know how we got on buying a van in Auckland, so here we go.
After not much luck calling up sellers that had advertised on hostel notice boards and online sites like Gumtree, it had started to remind me of our sticky situation back in Cairns, Australia. I was certainly not going to rent a van again since doing that in OZ had made sure we’d go right over budget everyday putting us in serious debt. The fact that the Hippie Camper only did 300km to the tank also meant we’d sometimes fill up twice a day! Expensive stuff eh! We wanted to buy a decent vehicle that would home us and our bags for three months, that was road worthy, would go further on fuel and would sell ok at the end. Not too much to ask really! We looked into relocating camper vans for free, but none of the rental companies were interested in the route we were going and only ever gave you a short amount of time to get to the destination. DOH! This van hunting malarkey was really getting me down and we were gagging to get on the road exploring NZ. Auckland is a cool city, Mt Eden is a wicked suburb but there’s only so much you can do in either of them.
A girl at our hostel was selling her shit heap that we reluctantly test drove out of desperation and just about made it back onto the driveway. I automatically locked the car when I gave her back the keys not knowing the central locking system was wank and now wouldn’t open again for her. We left her to open the front by crawling through the boot (which never locked, hmmm how safe!). After a failed attempt at looking for vans at the Backpackers Car Market (all were knackered old bangers previously owned by grubby travelers forgetting to remove the mouldy cans of baked beans from the foot wells or it just had small cars with tents included – no thanks!!!), we went to the City Car Fair hoping for the best. We met a couple of Germans (not hard here in NZ much like Australia, they are here in force!) and test drove their nice Nissan Serano. It had a few problems but we liked it and started asking about the price. Turns out it was already promised to a guy at their hostel?! WTF are you doing here then you scheiße kopf?!
Feeling annoyed, we walked down the rest of the long line of old bangers with dodgy looking Arab car dealers waiting to pounce on us like some Egyptian tourist market, till we arrived at a white Ford Econovan. It looked wicked! The inside had just been converted into a camper with a new bed and mattress, it had a set of drawers and camp chairs, tons of storage space, a kitchen work top in the back and curtains on all windows (6 in total in the back, that’s more windows than our old flat had!). As we spoke to Phil the dealer, a haze of other travelers started to surround the van looking interested and I think Andy and I panicked. ‘Ok we’ll take it for a test drive!’. Andy took it for a spin first around the block, then I drove it back, giving it my seal of approval. As we returned to the carpark, all the travelers started walking over again like zombies going in for the kill. We shook hands with Phil and the deal was done. After about 2hrs of going to different banks trying to withdraw a large sum of money, we were now owners of this white beauty. Road trip time!
The next day we got a service done on the van and then kitted it out in a wicked shop called Warehouse, I guess our equivalent back home is Matalan, or maybe the Big W in Australia. After a food shop in Countdown (similar to Woolworths in OZ and cheap like Tesco without the horse meat in the UK) we drove out of the big smoke, heading towards Northland. Just 15mins into our journey, the green hills started appearing and the we drove along the coast admiring the clear water and bright red Pohutukawa trees perched on rocks. Now this is what it’s all about! Our first night camping in our van was by sand dunes, watching men fish off Uretiti beach using robotic cart-submarine things with tons of hooks. I swear one guy brought in 10+ snapper in one go! We watched the sun set on this beautiful land and felt free for the first time since travelling 🙂
The days leading up to Christmas were much the same, roaming around in our van exploring the coast. We visited the little town of Russel which seemed very pretty and quaint to us. Apparently back in the day it was described by Darwin as ‘the hell hole of the Pacific’ where sailors would come to drink and enjoy themselves whilst on shore leave. We then spent a few days in Paihia, situated in the Bay of Islands, which is gorgeous by the way. The sun was out, we went for hikes along the coves listening to the Tui bird (a native nector eater) singing his alien-like song, spotting starfish in the shallows and watching Maori children collect shellfish for dinner with their parents. It was in Paihia that I visited a little Pharmacy to buy some anti-sea sickness pills my friend Nicola had recommended. Known as Paihia Bombs (no I’m not joking), they are world famous for sorting out your wobbly sea legs and I needed some for all the sea fishing, dolphin swimming and ferry crossings I was planning on doing whilst in NZ. And boy do they work! Thanks Nic xxx
We drove in the howling wind and rain to the tip of the north island called Cape Reinga. A pretty harsh place up there, hardly any people just sheep! No trees either since they were all cut down, so for a few hours it was just green rolling hills. When we reached the tip, the rain eased and we went for a walk to the lighthouse at the end of the land. This place is sacred or ‘Tapu’ to the Maori as it is where your spirit leaves the earth and returns to Hawaiki, the land in which the Maori came from. They believe spirits do this through the roots of an ancient Pohutukawa tree that clings onto the side of one of the cliffs here. I spotted it in the distance and read about how it has never flowered. Spooky eh! On the way back south, we drove for about 30mins on an unsealed road (not a great idea when you already have a cracked windscreen!) to get to 90 mile beach. While Andy ran out to get a photo of the incredibly long straight beach, I tried my best to do a three point turn without getting stuck in the sand. FAIL, that’s all I’m saying!
To see dense native forest after days and days of bloody sheep, cows and green barren hills was a welcome sight I can tell you. The Waipoua forest homes ancient Kauri trees, real giants of the tree world that were nearly wiped out by the first European loggers. I think I read there are only a thousand left! We hiked into the rainforest to visit Tane Mahuta (man of the forest) who is over 2000 years old. Get your head around that…2000 years old! Standing pretty tall and covered in lichen, air plants and other flora, it looked just like Hometree from Avatar! We stood in silence in his shadow until the squeaky bark of a nearby little Fantail bird made us both laugh. This tiny native bird constantly jumps around trees and bushes fanning its tail and wings trying to scare you off. Terrifying little creature 🙂 One night Andy and I went for a walk into the Trounsen Kauri forest with a head torch on looking for Kiwi (NZ’s iconic endangered bird). All we found was a fat Possom (an introduced mammal from Australia that decimates trees and eats Kiwi eggs) sat looking at us on the forest floor. Daft as a brush, you can literally walk straight up to them without scaring them away. It’s not until you try picking it up that it would probably rip your face off ha ha! Cute lil buggers though. Along with the Hedgehog, Possoms are famous for being roadkill in NZ. They literally line the roads here like Wallabies do back in Australia, or you’ll see them in tourists shops as gloves, hats and scarfs.
The drive through the acres of forest was pretty crazy with hairpin turns and steep inclines. That’s when we realised our van wasn’t changing gear as it should. In fact, we couldn’t always get it into any gear when climbing a hill, fook, not good news! Kiwi’s are really nice people till they get on their roads, getting really pissed off with travelers like us in campervans (even if you are driving to the speed limit), so crawling up the hills at the rate of a snail was not making us any friends. We had no choice but to swing by a mechanic in Auckland as we were passing the city anyway to head out east towards the Coromandel Peninsula.
The guy we found in a garage just outside of Mt Eden (where we stayed with my Mum) sorted the problem out in around an hour and charged us only $40 (£20) for his trouble. What a dude! The van drove like new, we couldn’t believe it! To celebrate the fact our van didn’t need a new gear box or clutch, we treated ourselves to a visit to the cinema to see the new Hobbit film in 3D and in this swanky new high frame rate everyone’s been going on about. Well we loved the film, especially since we were in ‘Middle Earth’ watching it. Shame about Peter Jackson’s choice in using the high frame rate which made the film look cheap and like an episode of Eastenders. I cringed looking at the actor’s thickly applied makeup, shoddy wigs and shite prosthetic hairy Hobbit feet. I can’t wait to watch it again on plain old DVD which would hide these small imperfections and make me feel like I’m watching another world rather than Albert Square!
Like déjà vu we drove out of Auckland again and in two days time had arrived in the town of Coromandel. Since it is a Kiwi tradition to head to the beach for Christmas (or if you are an Aucklander, you go to the Coromandel Peninsula), accommodation was getting booked up pretty fast. So we booked into a motel (which had space in the garden for vans and tents) for the days over Christmas. As soon as we went into the kitchen we realised we’d be having a Krout Xmas. Yep, the whole place was full of Germans! Now I’ve got nothing against them, it just baffled me where all the Spanish, Italian, French, even English were or any other bloody nationality for that matter! They are certainly not in NZ that’s for sure! After just one day of sharing the kitchen with them, baking their Apfelkuchen till midnight, covering every surface and kitchen appliance in some sort of sticky cinnamon goo or the tv room where they’d play guitar at 7am singing ‘I’m a Barbie Girl’ with a German accent (can you f’ing imagine that!?), I was literally turning into Alf Garnett!
In the daytime we would escape the invasion by walking into town, visiting the nice cafes, bakeries and old pubs. We ate fresh local green-lipped mussels in the famous Mussel Kitchen, unlike the little ones we get back home, these dudes are massive! We did a hike up into the forest and onto a viewpoint of the harbour which was situated on a Maori Pa (a defensive fortification). Pohutukawa trees were everywhere and Tuis and Bellbirds (another greenish native bird) flew around collecting nectar. We did all this under umbrellas since we were experiencing the aftermath of Fiji’s cyclone Evan and man was it raining! Apparently it was due to rain for 2 weeks meaning both Xmas and New Years was going to be a total wash out for everyone 🙁
By Christmas Eve the weather had got us both down and we were missing our friends and family. We lacked Crimbo cheer and needed a pick-me-up. Remembering we had the film ‘Elf’ on our laptop, we sat in our little van drinking local red wine and laughing our heads off to Will Ferrell in green tights. If you love this film you’ll understand why it definitely puts you in the festive spirit 🙂 The next day (Xmas Day) was surreal. We spent it eating bbq’d sausages in baps instead of turkey, drinking lots of bucks fizz and watching Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee, A Christmas Carol and Harry Potter (yep that’s a lot of films!) with our German buddies in the tv room while it hammered down with rain outside.
It was certainly different and I’ll never forget it nor do I ever want to experience it again. I can’t wait for next Christmas. Bring me that tree with hundreds of twinkling lights. Let me salivate over that smell of turkey and roast potatoes cooking in a hot oven. Show me high streets lined with colourful decorations playing Cliff Richard’s…hang on, no wait, no not Cliff Richard for Christ sake, Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas’ over and over. Surround me with friends, family and a few less Germans! Please! Phew rant over 🙂
In the words of Macaulay Culkin – ‘Merry Christmas you filthy animal, and a happy new year’!