It is Saturday night at Gatwick airport and I am still working on an edit of the wonderful Julia Bradbury planting trees with Premier Paper Group and the Woodland Trust in Surrey. Finally finishing the video, laptop shut, I boarded the plane, the adventures begin.. (video can be seen here) For this trip myself and partner Mike are heading out to New Zealand for a six week ‘vanlife’ trip exploring both the north and south island.
I have been to NZ before, but it was about 10 years ago, and so I was very excited to head back for a second time to see what I missed, which turned out to be a lot as 18 year old Holly was very different.. and no, I did not bungy jump again… nor will I ever!
Our first stop was Auckland where we met up with some friends then took our little van up to the Bay of Islands. We had the best kumara chips in the whole of NZ here in Russell and it is also where we booked an eco boat ride. We were hoping to swim with dolphins, but once we found a pod they had juveniles so we couldn’t. I am glad they stick to protocol and don’t take advantage just for the money. But luckily, as I was testing out the new mirrorless Canon EOS R from Park Cameras I happened to get some lovely shots from the boat! I found the camera much lighter than my 70D and the fact I could use my lenses with the adapter really helped. There are a few settings which are in different places which takes time to get used to, but once you have, it is a wonderful alternative to an SLR camera.
Our journey then continued through the north island gradually heading towards Wellington. During our walks we found some lovely hidden beaches, some gigantic Kauri trees over two thousand years old and of course some wonderful waterfalls. The best thing of all was the lack of plastic pollution, probably in the whole six weeks I saw about five pieces.
You can’t take a trip to the north without recognising some of the most stunning volcanoes (whether you’ve watched Lord of the Rings or not!) Maori legend says that the beautiful Pihanga has to choose a husband and all seven males had to battle for her. The last battle of the mountains was between Taranaki and Tongariro – which was a burning battle of rage, where, in the end Taranaki was defeated and he retreated to the west coast carving out the Wanganui River on his way. There are a lot of Maori legends but I think this is my favourite.
Once in Wellington, our ferry crossing was delayed by a few hours because of the weather, but once we were onboard it couldn’t have been nicer, even if it was a bit windy! Once on the south island we took to the water once again, and the perfect bag for this was our 20l Overboard rucksack. We brought it with us as it was lightweight, also it’s so easy to roll up in our luggage and pull out for snorkelling, kayaking and other water adventures..
On the south island, thanks to Viewranger we managed to plan and map out a decent day walk pretty much every other day.
Some of our favourite walking locations were along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, which was mainly flat but you had contact with the sea throughout. Inland we headed to Arthur’s Pass, where were trotted up Avalanche Peak. We woke up at 3am to start walking up to Roy’s Peak for the sunrise. They are all so different but all were truly spectacular!
Then there’s the wildlife…
I am so glad I had my camera and brought a variety of lenses with me. The kea were very inquisitive and at the top of Avalanche Peak they joined us near the top as if to say ‘come on slow coach, nearly there!’ Then you have the seals. One of the best places we went was Surrat Beach and Shag Point. We went to the latter on Christmas Day and saw hundreds of seals just resting on the rock. We stayed for hours just watching their behaviour and how they interact with each other. It is fascinating. Then of course you have the whales. Kaikoura, whale watching capital… the good thing here is that there is only one company who have boats that go out, and they do not get too close and give the whales space. I have to say that I did get a bit queasy (twice actually) but that didn’t seem to matter when there were whales to watch.
This was our first van trip and the great thing about doing it in a campervan was the flexibility. Tired, no problem just pull up. Fancy a cuppa, no problem just pull up. Everywhere we stopped was beautiful, I can’t think of one place we went and thought we best be moving on. But if you do fancy something a bit more structured I found out that the Camping and Caravanning Club run escorted tours where they have packaged together some highlights on both the south and north island. It’s worth checking out. On our trip we were freedom camping, I could write a whole other blog about that! But I have to say, we found some spectacular spots.
I have been thinking about what was the most useful piece of kit that I brought with me.. and I have to say that my Water-to-Go bottle was probably up there in the top 5 pieces. Along with my mini photo printer and watercolours! Whilst the bottle can’t make salt water drinkable, it can be filled up from any water source. Now I know that there are more polluted countries than NZ but for the type of trip that we had it really was very useful! My TOG Buff is of course on my list too.. Also I am so glad I packed our waterproofs, so even if the weather was pants we still managed to get up the mountains. No excuses! I think that Cotswold Outdoor have the best selection of waterproofs and their staff are knowledgeable so can help you out.
Overall, I would most definitely go back to NZ. The scenery is just stunning, the people are lovely and the weather is pretty much perfect (who minds a bit of drizzle!) I would highly recommend spending no less than 6 weeks there though as it is a long way and even 6 weeks really isn’t long enough!