So it is proving harder to update the blog regularly while on the road, between hours spent driving and the worst wifi availability we have encountered so far on our travels.  But, rest assured we are having a fabulous adventure exploring this country that looks like it has been photoshopped at every bend, with turquoise dye dropped into its rivers and lakes, tropical-colored seas, countless shades of green splattered against its hillsides and vibrant flowers placed strategically alongside the winding roads.  The North Island scenery recalls the most attractive parts of California, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and the UK Lake District but condensed into a small geographic area and improved upon. It really is extraordinary.

We have naturally settled into a division of labor with Jonathan (aka Map Man) as navigator and me as driver.  (Zara and I even have a little ditty about Map Man, sung to the tune of “Bat-man”).  As Map Man toggles through 5 different versions of maps on his iPad and iPhone, I am finding it surprisingly relaxing to be at the wheel.  We tried reversing roles for an hour and let’s just say that the tension levels rose noticeably in that short time.
We’ve been on a whirlwind tour, because there really is just SO MUCH to see.  When I booked the camper van for 33 nights, it seemed like an impossibly indulgent period, but I’m already wishing we had more time.
We whisked through the N. Island in 9 days never staying in a place more than one night, despite loving it, knowing that we will have 5 weeks in Wellington post-Taranga, which will allow us further explorations.  In spite of it being the supposed high season, the N. Island’s roads felt empty, and most campsites only half full.   We alternate between staying at established campsites with power/water and freedom camping, which can involve either an official rest stop (with loos) or just a roadside turnout (where we “go native”).  Zara prefers the latter, although the official campsites have offered her the opportunity to make some friends.  Overall, however, we are finding very few families on the road now that the NZ school year has started.
Our N. Island itinerary first took us north of Auckland towards the Bay of Islands and then circling back down to the Coromandel Peninsula and across the center of the island to the West Coast.  Memorable moments from the North Island include:
  • First night freedom camping at Mangawhai Head parking lot where strong winds buffeted Taranga and rocked us to sleep.
  • I suffered a minor panic attack while on the Cliff Walk at Mangawhai Head when faced with a straight 200 foot drop to the sea below.  Much to Z’s dismay, we had to cut the hike short while I backtracked along the path hugging the inside cliff wall.  This will become an ongoing theme.
  • Dinner alongside beach at the oldest pub in NZ – Duke of Marborough Hotel. Gorgeous views of sailboats dancing in the bay of islands while Z played on pebble beach.
  • Hundterwasser Toilets – artistically designed toilets in old mining town that has reinvented itself as artsy community
  • Visit to the oldest and thickest Kauri tree in a primeval forest
  • Z setting up a makeshift game of Boules for us with rocks outside of our freedom camping spot alongside TokaToka peak (which we nicknamed Zara Peak)
  • Hiking vertiginous TokaToka Peak before breakfast
  • Arai Te Uru Lookout– Hiked down to nearly deserted gorgeous beach where Z played in tide pools.
  • Driving Creek Railway on the Coromandel Peninsula – Established by Barry Brickell, who turned to pottery as a living after realizing he wasn’t cut out for teaching, became a successful potter, bought 60 acres, turned his childhood obsession with the railway into a dream of building  a single-gauge railway through his property and opened it up to tourists in 1991 after urging from the bank to do so because he wasn’t paying his mortgage.  He built the rails and five trains by hand.  Panoramic views from atop.
  • Z’s new friend knocking on Taranga before 7am asking if Z can come out and play
  • Freedom camping at only freedom site on the Coromandel Peninsula above Cathedral Cove
  • Digging natural hot tubs on Hot Water Beach in a light rain
  • Exploring old mining caves at Karanghake
  • Hiking Rainbow Mountain as steam escapes from volcanic vents on mountain
  • Burping hot mud baths — we didn’t go in!
  • Unauthorized freedom camping at Lake Okataina where black swans floated silently in mist alongside single kayaker
  • Mt. Doom!
  • Whakapaka Ski Resort
  • The solitude of the West Coast
Will try to upload photos and map our route when we are back in reliable wifi land.  Also, Jonathan is keeping a running list of things he likes about NZ, which we will share when completed.  WARNING: it is long.