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Other side of the world – Snowball In The Sahara

With three quarters of our tour experienced we have now entered the final month of traveling. And what better way to start then loosing a buggy. Somewhere between El Nido and Auckland stands an unoccupied and slightly lonely push chair.

Fortunately everything happens for a reason and an hour down the line we found out as to why this had happened. We left Auckland airport and took a short taxi ride to a small town just south of the city РPapatoetoe. After a mad search online a few days previously, we had managed to book in a camper van from a private owner. Slightly unsure of what to expect when paying half of what the larger companies were charging, we met Lyndon, the owner of said van. He was so welcoming and ran through everything we needed to know. We loaded up our mobile home and he even let Prevelly use his toilet for a long overdue bysar. In need of a car seat for our gorgeous little one we followed Lyndon to a local store. Car seat purchased and then a spot of grocery shopping and we were ready to go.

Car seat and crisps
Car seat and crisps

Go where, we had no idea. Like with most of the countries we visit we had done very little research but unlike most of the others we were now relying on our intuition, an old school, actual map and any advice Google had to offer. As we were not on public transport, which has proven to be its own valuable source of local information, we settled on any memories of other people’s travels to start us off. We decided to head North towards the Bay of Islands as we had heard this mentioned somewhere.

It was around 7 pm and we knew we’d have to find a stop of within a few hours. With a pit stop at a gas station and a quick search we decided upon a small surfing town called Owera which was only half hour away. A drive by of the beach front and looking for any car parks without the no camping sign and Daniella spots an art gallery and youth club with toilets and showers outside. A perfect first nights stay. Woken by other cars entering and parking up on the Saturday morning, we realize we’ve slept through till 9 am. Jet lag and sleep deprivation apparently work wonders for sleeping in a van. A quick drive to the beach carpark and we are embracing the freedom camping lifestyle. Gas cooker out, eggs boiling and coffee in hand. The sea was lined with surfers and the sun was shining through the broken clouds. Soaring temperatures to a cool chill as the clouds covered the sky. With a clean up of pans and a quick, very cold shower we wandered into the park where a very retro style fair was in place. A beautiful stroll around and some human size bubbles for Prevelly to marvel at and we planned the next stop.

Whangarei was the middle city from us to the Bay of Islands so we aimed for our next night to be there. On route we passed through a quaint town – Matakana – with a feel that life operates at a slower pace here. It had some beautiful boutique shops and an immaculately kept center with some lovely water features and statues around the farmers market. A quick coffee and ice cream and we ventured on to a town called Leigh. With goat island and some snorkeling opportunity we pulled up and the heavens opened. A few people were attempting to sneak a peak at the local marine life but with a sleeping daughter and two months of snorkeling in the Philippines we settled for a selfie and pure admiration of the incredible view.

Embracing the camper van lifestyle

With a final cruise up the winding coastal road we made it to a very well kept I Site. These are places to gather information, a coffee and if the site allows, then a place to park up for the night.

Quite literally a bay of islands. Not an excessive amount but enough to create a postcard like picture and we instantly saw why this place was a favorite with the locals. For the first time in over three months myself and Daniella both agreed that we weren’t too bothered by beach life. As beautiful as it was but with limited time to see a vast amount, we decided to set off across the top of the North Island to the oldest remaining forest in New Zealand. Half way along the connecting road was a thermal mud bath ‘spa’ – Waiariki hot pools. At only 4 dollars per person we ventured in to an open aired piece of land with varying temperature mud baths. Ranging from ice cold up to 54 degrees Celsius. After a few toe dips we found one that was perfect for the whole family. Daniella melted away into another world as she covered herself in the warm mud, gathered from the foot of the pool and Prevelly sat happily splashing. With a few groups of locals and travelers bathing within the numerous pools we mingled in and were told about the history of the area and country. Prevelly then found a few stones beside a pool and showed off her throwing accuracy. As she landed each one in the hot water she was met by applause from all of the bathers, who fell in love with her beautiful personality.

A much needed bath

We headed on across towards the west side of the North Island and made it to a coastal town. Night had fallen and we stumbled across a small car park with a toilet block. The sound of the ocean was strong but we couldn’t see much. We carried out our nightly routines and fell asleep. Woken by three native ladies, all drunk in their car and playing loud music at around 3 am. After they had thrown up and started singing I had little option but to confront them. They then proceeded to tell me that the tourists were the real problem in the area but after a few words they promptly left. We woke to a very different atmosphere and had breakfast overlooking the sea. A fishing boat had been out early and as we departed we saw their incredible catch and had to stop. A marlin the size of a Maori rugby player was hanging proudly on the scales and the locals welcomed us to join them on a trip at the next fishing competition if we were staying around the area. Unfortunately with our time frame we had to head off but not before a selfie, as we posed, as if we had reeled in the 120 kg fish ourselves.

The driving continued and took us down the coast towards an old preserved forest – Waipoua. An example of what New Zealand was once like and it was home to some of the oldest tress on the island. The tourist spot was there for a close up of the Tane Mahuta tree, over 2000 years old. With Prevelly asleep in the van, Daniella and I tagged team to have a look and get a picture next to natures local hero. A beautiful winding coastal drive then took us back across the land towards Whangarie. With lush lands and fields inhabited by cow’s we stopped for some food and gave Prevelly a close up of her now favorite animal. After a few days of spotting them throughout our travels she has perfected her moo. Trying to communicate with the herd she proved more of a threat then a friend. With thousands more around we’re sure she’ll manage to befriend a few.

As you drive through New Zealand, remembering at this point we have barely scratched the surface, you get a very different appreciation for the countryside. Whilst we have seen rolling hills, mountains and the coast in abundance on our travels and at home. Here it doesn’t seem to end and blends perfectly into each other to create a land that has an untouched feel to it. It becomes quickly obvious that the Romans didn’t lay the roads here and the speed limit adjusts according to the winding highways, making the journey rather slow. With that being said it’s a very peaceful and scenic drive with so much to stop and marvel at. We hope the rest of the country is as impressive as the first section we’ve encountered and we look forward to keeping you updated soon.

Much love from a country down under and slightly to the East.

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