New Zealand Part 1- North Island; Nice Folks and Natural Beauty

Hi Everyone,
Greetings from New Zealand! As mentioned in our last blog, Kat and I are on a seven-week adventure down under in beautiful Kiwi country. New Zealand is made up of two long, kidney bean-shaped islands which are kind of stacked one on top of the other, forming “north” and “south” islands. Here is a shot flying in to the capital city of Auckland, located roughly 2/3 “up” the north island.

Since we are only here for seven weeks it was kind of pointless to ship Charlotte here, even if we’d wanted to. New Zealand laws regarding the temporary import of vehicles would have never let her into the country. She is too dirty! NZ is very strict regarding any foreign dirt, dust, spores, bugs, etc. entering these remote islands, polluting their fragile ecosystem. The funny thing is, ever since humans first set foot here a thousand years ago, they’ve been screwing up the island’s ecosystems to the point where today, for example, 90% of the original wetlands have been destroyed, and many of the flightless birds, unique to New Zealand, are extinct. Only in the last thirty years or so has a conscious effort been made to reverse the trend. So, Charlotte, with her South American dust cooties behind her door panels, in her headliner and stowed away deep in her frame rails, would be a potential eco-nightmare for this already eco-ravaged country!
So, what is a van-livin’ couple to do? We found a cool website called ShareACamper. It’s like an Airbnb for RVs. We rented this stylin’ 1997 Fiat Ducato-based motorhome, or campervan as they are called down here, from a nice gal in Auckland named Sally. We named it Moby Canardly ‘cause he is kind of a big white whale and can-hardly get up hills! But, as I write this, after covering 2,000 miles of the north island, ‘ol Moby has been good to us, with trouble-free mechanics (are you listening Charlotte?) as well as providing us with cozy living quarters, complete with a shower, indoor cooking and couches to sit on (hope Charlotte’s not listening!).

Here I am in Sally’s kitchen going over the particulars on Moby. Looks like she’s chewing me out, but actually, she is a very nice lady, and the whole rent-an-RV experience has been a great way to go.

Downtown Auckland with the city’s famous Sky Tower dominating the skyline.
It is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere.

As the city’s focal point, all tourists are drawn straight to the base of the Sky Tower…

…and sucked into the ticket office and up the elevator…

… to stand on the thick glass panels in the floor and take pictures looking down roughly 720 feet!

Wandering the streets of downtown Auckland, we were serenaded by these rockin’ Krishna folks.

Hanging out in the Viaduct Basin district where all the cool bars and restaurants are. This posh area was built along the city’s waterfront when NZ hosted the Americas Cup sailing races in 2000.

When in NZ you eat lamb, and what’s better than a big lamb shank?

Drawn back to the tower for a night shot.

First breakfast in NZ… had to order the biggest thing available! We’ve been blown away by the freshness of the food, the ease of finding gluten free items on menus and the overall made or grown in NZ vibe to the food chain.

True to Ned and Kat form, we figured out early that you can pay 5 bucks to park all night in a city car park. No “no camping” signs, so perfect cheap city accommodations!

Meet “Bev,” the Ned & Kat travelin’ penguin mascot. We found her face-down in an aisle, far from the toy section, in a “Warehouse” store. (NZ’s version of Wal Mart.) She was lost and scared so we scooped her up and are taking her for a ride. I asked the nice older lady at the checkout stand what her name was. She said, “Bev,” in a classic Kiwi accent. I told her, “that’s our new penguin’s name!” She was flattered…I think.

Practicing selfies on one of the many gorgeous beaches lining the entire coast of this unique country.

Bev sees cows for the first time; quaint pastoral scenes abound as we roam the countryside.

This is a Kiwi bird and its egg, stuffed, because you’ll rarely see one in the wild. They are nocturnal and almost extinct due to introduced rodents like possums and rats that have wiped out most of New Zealand’s flightless bird species.

This is a quarter scale replica of the Endeavor, the boat in which British explorer, James Cook, “discovered” New Zealand in 1769. 700 years earlier the Maori peoples from Polynesia had settled the islands, rowing here in long canoes.

Really incredible scenery…

“Be right, stay left” the Kiwis say. Hmmm…is that positional or political?

“Best fish and chips on the north island,” we were told…and they were right! The restaurant offered three different types of enormous chunks of caught-that-day fish. Of course, we had to try them all and happily pigged-out while enjoying this fun, over-the-water view.

Different way of thinking down here…watch out or get run over!

There are still more sheep in NZ than people!

Jones-ing for a 4X4 while checking out 90 Mile Beach.

Cows with sand dunes. Don’t see that every day.

Cape Regina lighthouse. This is about the furthest point north you can go in New Zealand.

Tormented oceans. This is the confluence where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean come together.

Kat on a rock.

Sand surfing seemed quite popular up north. Take a Boogie Board, climb up a huge sand dune following a whole line of other people, and slide down without hitting each other. We took a pass.

Some of the whitest sand dunes we have ever seen were off in the distance.

The giant Kauri Trees are endangered, but are now revered and protected. This particular tree is 2,000 years old and is named “Tane Mahuta.” In Maori cosmology, Tane was the ‘giver of life.”

Crazy, big ferns lined the little back roads we love to follow.

Tourist Adventure Thrill Time.
We spent the big bucks and signed up for a five hour “extreme” adventure in the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves in the central part of the north island. Donning wet suits, helmets and climbing harnesses we first repelled 100 Feet down into a tiny “birth canal” hole in the ground.

We emerged into a huge cave system with a river running through it. Trading our climbing ropes for inner tubes, we were instructed to jump off a tall ledge into the river.

During the next three hours we swam up and down the river in the tubes, rode zip lines into new parts of the cave…enjoying an incredible, celestial-like view of magical glow worms…

…took fun photos…

…climbed up huge waterfalls (tall people advantage)…

…or drowned climbing waterfalls (short people disadvantage)…

…and crawled through super tight little tunnels (short people advantage).

Hours later we crawled through our last tight tunnel and emerged into daylight. Overall, it was a very worthwhile tour and adventure.

Old Friends Visiting Time.
Lorne DePape and I crossed the entire continent of Africa, together with 19 other crazies in a large 4X4 truck, back in 1980. We have kept in touch ever since. He and his wife, Carol, emigrated from Canada to New Zealand 26 years ago. They graciously hosted us at their beautiful beach house in Hahei Beach along the eastern coast of the north island for several days.

Just south of Hahei Beach is Hot Water Beach. Laughing, Lorne said we had to check out the “lemmings” on this beach at low tide. Seems there are hot thermal veins of water that run beneath the sand in one particular spot. Every day a large congregation of tourists form on the beach.

They bring shovels, dig holes and practically sit on top of one another, soaking in the sandy, hot water.

Voyeurs

Also on the agenda for the weekend we were in Hahei beach was the Leadfoot Festival, a car race up the long, winding driveway of retired, international-famed, race car driver Rod Millen. Millen, a native Kiwi, has put on the event for four years with, as we learned, mixed feelings from the local townspeople. Understandingly, many of them don’t like the noise and crowds the race brings to the area. When this “petrol-head” announced he was going to the race, while attending a local’s cocktail party the night before, I was met with several “greenie’ comments regarding my choice of entertainment!

Another attraction in the Hahei area is Cathedral Beach. We had a nice hike to this scenic spot, along with plenty of other people who had the same idea. It is late summer here and tourist season is at its highest right now. We have been assured by many that things will slow down next week when all the kids go back to school.

More Tourist Attractions.
In Rotorua we splurged for a canopy tour above the rain forest on zip lines.

Fearless!

Tucked up for a landing.

Graceful!

Dufus.

Momentarily out of the rain forest and rolling down the “desert Highway’ toward the South Island.
We are filled with great memories of the North Island and are looking forward to checking out the next island.

“Not so fast!” Moby Canardly said, and gave us a massive blowout just north of Wellington, the city where we catch the ferry to the south.

This nice, ex-pat Dutch Farmer immediately stopped to see if he could help us. Finding the jack and lug wrench in Moby’s bowels was a project. Oh, for Charlotte and her full tool kit about now.

We could just about see the air in the spare tire provided so we decided buying two new tires would be a good idea. We camped in the parking lot of the first tire store we came to. In the morning the guys hooked us up with new rubber. We kept the ten-year old left rear as a spare, dumped the toasted spare and shredded, right rear flat. We have found everyone in any trade industry job here to be super friendly and the tire guys were no exception, despite us waiting on their doorstep at 7:30 am.

The Big Ferry to the South Island.
We loaded Moby Canardly at 2:30pm for the three-hour ride to the next phase of our adventure. Stay tuned for our continuing adventures in Part 2 of Ned & Kat’s Down Under Adventure!

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