New Zealand

In the summer of 2003 I made a two-month trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, with a stopover of a few days in Singapore. Below the third part of the travel-log that I wrote.

In Auckland, New Zealand, I was kindly received by my next ‘Servas’ hosts; a somewhat older couple. It felt like I was visiting ‘grandpa and grandma’; I was really spoiled! Lovely to sleep in a real bed after a few days in crowded hostels with bunk beds, snoring people and dirty bathrooms. A private room with a clean bathroom, all for myself! The neighbors in the neat suburb had just bought a motor-home and I went to take a look. Just like when I first stepped into Dave’s caravan, the idea of a ‘little house on wheels’ immediately appealed to me. How wonderful it seemed to me to travel like that. But usually that is incredibly expensive, and certainly if you travel alone.

However, I was really excited and out of interest I decided to call a number of rental companies. To my surprise one of them had such a great deal that I actually couldn’t miss this opportunity!

So now I live in my own tiny camper van. Everything is there: a stove and all plates, pans etc. Sofas, table, a bed with bedding, a sink with ‘running water’, even a small wardrobe! I had already done a lot of shopping with my hosts (way too much for 2 weeks), so that I would be completely self-sufficient.

Totally happy I left the rental company. Even though it was raining, I drove towards the unknown with a big smile. I wanted to drive somewhere to a beautiful bay in the east of the country, but all those Maori names look so similar, and I don’t have a sense of direction either, so that eventually I arrived at a peninsula somewhere in the north … But that doesn’t matter, because it is beautiful here too !!!

The campsite was unfortunately closed, but on the way there I passed a parking lot with toilets, where you can camp for free. So I drove back 10 kilometers on a dirt road, parked and was ready for it … Then I found out that the toilets were locked with a large padlock … and of course no one in the area … that was an interesting introduction to nature!!!

To celebrate my first evening, I had bought delicious Italian food and wanted to open a bottle of wine that I had received (very friendly) when renting the camper. Mmmmm, some red wine with the pasta sauce wouldn’t be wrong either! There was even a corkscrew in the van. Really, everything had been thought of. Unfortunately the corkscrew broke off when I had screwed it into the cork. There was no possibility to get it from the cork, or the cork from the bottle… .. Too bad, just a nice cup of tea then? My good mood could not be broken!

I turned on the gas, put the kettle (yes, also present!) on the hob and waited for the water to boil. Then something strange happened: the kettle was spitting out FOAM !!! Apparently the previous occupant had diligently washed it with detergent. I decided not to drink tea anyway. Cooking also became a bit difficult, because the cap of the olive oil bottle would not open. It was an iron screw cap and I ended up opening it with a primitive can opener. Only now it does not close. That will be something, two weeks with an open bottle that will not fit in any cupboard….

In the end I had a delicious dinner and enjoyed my first night in the large double bed. Just a pity it was so cold. Fortunately I had two sleeping bags and together I wasn’t too cold.

New Zealand is the only tropical country in the world where you don’t have to shake out your shoes in the morning. There are no scorpions, snakes or other dangerous reptiles or insects. Predators also never made the crossing. You would almost think it’s boring to walk through the jungle here …

I seriously think that this is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And that means a lot, because I have only been to the North Island, while people say that the South Island is even more beautiful. Moreover, it is now winter here with a lot of rain and it’s cold, and I am still very impressed by the beautiful nature. The people are also very friendly. Everyone is doing their best to help others. There is hardly any crime. There is news throughout the area if a pickpocket has been spotted anywhere. If you leave money behind or forget your shopping, people will bring it back to you.

There are hardly any cars on the road, but when I get to a remote village, people complain about the traffic !!!!! Wonderful how time stood still here!

Every day I drive a bit from one beautiful bay to another picturesque beach. If it doesn’t rain, I try to take long walks in the beautiful forests.

You quickly get used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. But every time I want to get in, I’m on the passenger side. The windshield wiper and direction indicator have also been swapped around, which means that whenever I want to make a turn, I am wiping my windows …

I stayed two nights at a Buddhist center. The ‘stupa’ with Buddhist decorations suddenly appeared along the road and I was so surprised to see it in such a remote area that I drove onto the estate. Unfortunately my van got stuck in the mud right away. When I went to ask if they wanted to push me, it turned out to be so relaxed and cozy that I stayed for two days …

My next destination is the hot springs (mmmmm!) and geysers in an old Maori area. In the meantime, I am kept well informed of the situation at home. I heard that my white cat had run away. The petsitter found out after a week that she was in the shelter and picked her up again. Strangely enough, the shelter turned out to have given her the name ‘Hugo’. A bit weird for a female cat … She was also a bit smaller, but yes, she could have lost weight … She also behaved a little awkwardly in the house … A few days later she was gone again and showed up a little later … Anyhow, to make a long story short, they probably picked up the wrong cat! My own white cat is still missing so I am curious when I get home if there are 1, 2 or 3 cats waiting for me …

I’m in love!!!!!! I have fallen totally head over heels in love with New Zealand !!!! What a beautiful country, nice people and beautiful nature with wonderful sights. It is the land of outdoor living, being close to nature and relaxing.

In between rain showers I try to take a nice walk every day, either along one of the beautiful, often deserted beaches, or through the woods. There are different shells on every beach, one more beautiful than the other. I usually come back with all my pockets full of shells although I already have a full box in the camper. That will be difficult to choose which I will take home later!

I have now arrived in Rotorua, the most active thermal (not to be confused with terminal ..) area. Geysers, hot springs and hot mud pools are everywhere. I think this is the only city on earth where steam comes out of the gutter, accompanied by an indescribable rotten-egg smell that hangs throughout the city. It is (relatively speaking) such a big tourist attraction that, for fun, they call Rotorua ‘Roto-Vegas’ … I think it is not so bad; there are some cafes, restaurants and shops, just nice after being without these comforts for a while!

At my campsite they have something unique: heated tent sites! The soil is so warm here because of all the volcanic activity that your tent is heated at night! Unfortunately that does not apply to campers, so I have just my heater. And that is absolutely necessary, because it is 1 to 5 degrees at night! Today I made a three-hour trip through a forest, delicious, but cold and wet. I was therefore happy that they have their own hot springs at the campsite! I spent an hour in it! Hopefully all the dirt from the past weeks has now been ‘erased’ …

I just read in a brochure that a geyser around here erupts every day at exactly 10.15 am. It appears that they ‘help’ it a little by throwing a kilo of soap into the hole. Soap breaks the surface tension of the water, causing the eruption! I wondered how they found out and heard that the original settlers had tried to wash their clothes in the hot springs … with soap !!! That must have been a shock!

By the way, this afternoon I bought a new corkscrew to finally drink that bottle of wine. But as soon as I had screwed it into the cork and started pulling, it broke off too! Can you imagine? Two corkscrews broken off in one cork! Apparently I wasn’t supposed to drink wine, but I didn’t give in; together with some other people at the campsite we have been messing around until the cork was out. Now I have to drink the whole bottle because I can’t keep it. But after one glass I am already tipsy … I am now in my van with red cheeks (from the hot pools or the wine ???).

Rotorua is not only known for the geysers, but also for the adventurous sports that you can do here (by the way throughout New Zealand). I wanted to climb a climbing wall, but was told that you had to be with two people. When I asked the receptionist of a backpackers hostel if anybody from her hostel would want to come along, she said “you know what, I’ve never done that myself, I’ll go climb with you!”. The next day, with muscle pain all over, I cycled through the wet but beautiful forests for two hours. Completely covered in mud, with even more muscle pain, but with a blissful smile on my face, I said goodbye to Rotorua.

Now that it is so cold, I intend to make the best of it and go skiing. It is strange to hear that there is a heat wave in Europe !!! I have even bought gloves, which I now wear when reading in bed in the evening, because everything that protrudes from my sleeping bag is immediately getting cold … I watch the weather forecast every day as I slowly get closer to the snow. But when I am 100 km from the ski area, the weather changes and all lifts are closed due to ‘gale-force winds’. So not a good idea to go skiing. I only have a few days in New Zealand left and therefore no time to wait. I decide to go to the famous caves of Waitomo. At first I thought it would be one of those manicured caves with handrails and lighting, but in a brochure I saw that you can make great adventurous trips there.

I booked a half-day tour with a rating of 8 on the ‘Rambo’ scale of 10. First, abseiling 35 meters into a deep, dark hole until you get to the cave. Then in the dark on a kind of cable car to rush to the other side, while glowworms around you form a kind of fairy tale starry sky. Finally wading, swimming and floating on a tire through the underground river to the outside.

It was a very special experience, I thought it was wonderful to see and do, but I did not feel that I had really pushed my limits. I asked the guide, a somewhat older man, a real caving fanatic, whether there would be any real caving trips. That same evening he introduced me to the local caving club. It was weekend, and the next day they would make a big trip. Everyone liked my caving-fever and thus invited me to come along. Thermal underwear, an old, dirty overall, helmet, lamps, gloves and boots were brought together. The next morning I went out with a very diverse group. They had a number of things in common: they were all relaxed types, crazy about caving and other adventure sports and … slightly disturbed. They were, however, so good and professional that they were deployed as emergency troops in case of an accident. That gave a sense of peace!

The trip we made cannot be described. A 2-hour drive from Waitomo, we stopped at a hilly pasture area. After half an hour wading through the mud we arrived at a tiny hole in the ground. So we went in. Creeping in the stone riverbed, chin in the mud, we crawled into the entrance under the overhanging rocks. After that it was 6 hours of wading through water and slipping on muddy slopes. Swinging like Tarzan from ridge to ridge, climbing over rocks of which you think “No Way!” and so on. It was very tiring, in the end I could not lift my legs anymore. But it was sooooooo beautiful!

You come to places where almost no one has been before. Beautiful rock formations, waterfalls, underground lakes etc.

When we came crawling outside again at the end of the afternoon, it was so unreal to stand in the meadows again. Someone who would see us there like that would think we were crazy. A group of weird types, with muddy coveralls, the weirdest color combinations, tired, wild faces, sopping rubber boots, staggering in the middle of the meadows.

I have become a caving fanatic! Who is going to the Ardennes ??????

But all good things come to an end, and also my time in New Zealand. After more than two weeks I had to say goodbye to my loyal camper and I boarded the plane to Fiji.

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