Thursday, 17 October 2013

My big fat Viking roadtrip

First of all, I need to apologize to you, for not posting in a long time. The main reason is that for two weeks I was stuck with dial-up speed. Yes, dial-up speed. The thing we all were used to in the 90s. In New Zealand they have limited internet, so each household has a subscription of X amounts of GB. My house just happened to have a 30 GB subscription, which does disappear quite quickly when you Skype home to Europe, upload photos/films and use Spotify. The internet is now sorted and we have bumped up the subscription.

Anyhoodle, the road trip! That's what this is about. During Spring break, a fellow Au pair (and friend) and I had a week off from work, so we decided to pack the car and head out. After having waited a full day for the garage to finish servicing the car, we filled it with everything from tinned beans and fruit to sleeping bags and camping gear. To save money and to do it in proper gapyear style, we decided to sleep in the car.
Here you might be thinking Oh how lucky you are that you've got access to a campervan/motorhome. Well, not exactly. It was a standard five seater Nissan, where we popped the backseats down and laid out an air mattress to sleep on.

As travellers you learn to appreciate the free and local knowledge of people. This trip was put together by loads of free maps and brouchures from the local tourist office and advice from Kiwi's. Having heardthat The World Forgotten Highway (43) was New Zealands' equivilant of US's Route 66, I knew that was one thing we simply had to do. From there I devised up a route which would be easy enough to do in a few days and without costing too much.

Day 1 

Because the garage took all day (or just "Kiwi-time" as we call it), we didn't set off until five o'clock in the afternoon. So we decided to camp just outside Taupo. Freedom camping (camping outside a holiday park, like rest stop, field etc.) is illegal in NZ and will earn you an instant fine of NZ$200/£100 if the police catch you. Nevertheless, we needed to sleep, so we found a rest stop.

Breakfast after the first night in the car. Esther, my friend and fellow traveler, brought some really good camping gear so we could have a hot breakfast and tea/coffee.
TIP! If you are going to use a rest-stop, look for other travelers. For example a pro traveler family, with big homes-on-wheels, satellite TV and general gypsy lifestyle, will probably know where it's safe to park so that the police don't mind.

Day 2

Having spent the night in the back of a car, we felt fairly ready for a shower. After, we decided to head into town. Though you might not be a huge fan of touristy things, I do suggest you stop by the information centre (i-site). So far, all the i-sites I've been to, have been full on local knowledge and have guided towards more "attractions for locals" instead of the standard tourist stuff.

Anyhoodle, Taupo. A city just by the shores of, guess, Lake Taupo. The lake itself is fairly big and stunning, but the city centre offers a wide variety of shops and cozy cafes.

Posing infront of a typical Maori arch, a style which you can see all over NZ. (Lake Taupo in the background)
TIP! In NZ, you'll often find public shower. Not always free, but normally fairly reasonable. The Super Loo in Taupo charges 50c for entry and the NZ$2/£1 per four minutes of shower. The trick to only spend $2, is to prepare EVERYTHING before you go into the shower. Then as soon as the water starts flowing, you need to multitask. Good luck!

Bee yourself.
Or you could stop by the Huka Honey Hive and have a FREE taster of their absolutely amazing honey and see how it's all made. If you do, you really do need to buy some fudge, it's amazing!

The World Forgotten Highway

The World Forgotten Highway (highway 43), is a 151 km long road from Taumarunui (King Country) to Stratford (Taranaki). Along the way you will pass some amaxing scenery and small quirky towns. Climbing three tops, or saddles, you will get the chance to have a 360 view of the landscape.

The Moki Tunnel was built in 1936 and is known locally as the Hobbit's Hole. In the 80s the floor was lowered to allow access to big trucks.

In addition to many different sights underway, you also leave NZ for a short period of time and enter the Republic of Whangamomona. Though it is somewhat of a tourist gimmick, it is actually a real republic. Murt "Murtle the Turtle" Kennard (2005–present) is the current President. The local garage owner fought off strong competition from former president Kjestrup and a cross-dresser called "Miriam" to become the 4th President of the Republic.

With a population of 15 in the "town" centre, it feels like you've been taken 40 years back in time. If it hadn't been for the bikes parked outside, one could actually think it was the 1960s.

Be sure to stop by the hotel, which is also the local pub, to have a pint and get your passport stamped (cost NZ$2).

After having gotten our passports stamped in the passport office/pub, we set off to Stratford and our final stop for the night , Opunake. We arrived at the Opunake Beach Holiday park around ten o'clock in the night, but manged to get a space. For only NZ$18 you get access to bathroom facilities (shower and toilet), kitchen and common area. The owner was really nice and said we could sleep on the sofas in the common room because it was fairly quiet. That's another thing; Kiwi's are so friendly to strangers, it's incredible.

Mount Taranaki, (2518 m/8261ft high) came into view as we were coming out of Stratford

Day 3

New Plymouth and the Surf Highway
Having had a nice time on the Forgotten Highway, we carried on with The Surf Highway (45). This takes you along the coast from Hawera up to New Plymouth. As with 43, it has several sites on the way, but is probably most known for it's many great surfing beaches.

Oakura beach is one of Taranaki's most popular beaches. During the peak season the beaches are patrolled, making it safe for both young and old. Also check out the Oakura fish & chips shop. It's a white building with blue writing on it. It might seem a bit dodgy, but that was truly the best fish & chips I've ever had.

Cape Egmont Lighthouse
About 40 minutes before you get into New Plymouth, make sure you turn left onto Cape rd and visit the Cape Egmont lighthouse. It marks the western-most point of the Taranaki coastline. Originally built in the 1800s in London (UK), it was shipped in segments to NZ in 1865 and was initially put up near Wellington, before later moved to its current location.

Drive down Timaru Road and you'll come to a beach with black sand the wreck of the SS Gairloch, which has been a local landmark for the last century. Running aground in 1903, it has slowly been rusting into the Tasman Sea. And from what I've heard, this beach is also great for surfing.

My first impression of New Plymouth is that it is an vibrant city by the sea. The 10 km coastal walkway, offers some stunning scenery and is also suitable for skaters and bikers. In the same building as the i-Site (tourist info), there's also a museum which offers an insight into the Taranaki life.

Downstairs is also a art gallery, which exhibits all kids of NZ art. Everything from sculptures and paintings to Maori dresses.

If you prefer to walk by yourself without loads of other tourists around you, ask the i-Site for a map for the Heritage trail. This will take you around the city and show you much of what it has to offer.

Though I'm not a Christian myself, I do respect and admire the greatness of many churches and cathedrals. New Plymouth is home to NZs oldest stone cathedral, Taranaki Cathedral. Carry on walking past the cathedral and the path will lead you to the top of a hill. Here you'll find a NZ war memorial and a stunning view of the city.

Taranaki Cathedral
War memorial
The view from camping ground

Day 4


 After a damp at Urenui holiday park, we set of towards Hamilton. Because the plan was to head back to Tauranga, we decided to NOT go into Hamilton city because four hours wouldn't be enough to explore all of the city. So instead we decided to go to Hamilton Gardens and boy was I surprised. I was expecting a boring rush bush and maybe an cactus. Instead we walked from one absolutely stunning garden to the next. Each garden had a theme. For example a Chinese garden paradise:

You could also find several Maori statues and arches around the gardens.

Separated at birth.
After a few nice hours in Hamilton gardens, we headed on to the charming town of Cambridge. Because it was a Sunday afternoon, several of the shops were closed, but that didn't matter to us. This town offers a nice variety of cozy cafes and restaurants.

GelatAmorè, AMAZING ice crream
By sleeping in the car and sharing food and petrol costs, my friend Esther and I managed to travel over 1000 kilometers around the North Island and see some absolutely stunning things. It is trips like these that make up a great gap year. Hopefully the future will bring many more trips like these.

Below you can find all the photos from the trip and see the route we took.