We spent our last night on the south island, tucked away from sight, in another remote campsite. As we drove up the steep and winding gravel road that led us there, we gained a glimpse of the surrounding coastal area. Very nice indeed. When we arrived at the campsite, there were three other cars camping as well. Lucky there weren’t more, as this was a pretty sweet spot: only meters from the water (including surf break) and great views. We spent the evening making dinner, drinking beer, and playing cards. In other words: an excellent evening. The next day, John hopped in the water for a quick surf session while I lounged by ole’ Tim Tam, writing and drinking tea.
We arrived in Picton to catch the Interislander ferry to the North Island. We pulled our campervan onto the ship and headed to an upper deck to chill out in a cafe for the 3 hour journey. The inside was very luxurious and relaxing, especially for us ragged campervan folk who had been living out of a tiny box for weeks. The boat felt HUGE! We were sad to leave the South Island, especially because many people recommend skipping the North Island and to just spend all your time in the South. We had to see for ourselves. The ride went by really fast and we soon pulled up into Wellington Harbor. We immediately knew why people felt differently about the North Island because we pulled off the ferry into a fairly busy city. When I say busy city, I mean a place with multi lane highways and some cars were driving around, nothing crazy. The South Island consists of pretty much all one lane roads through the wilderness, except for the city of Christchurch. Wellington was far from a huge city compared to American standards. It was pretty easy to navigate and we spent the next day and a half exploring. We went to the Te Papa museum, a free museum about the history of New Zealand and Maori culture. The museum was really well done (and we aren’t really museum people) and we spent 4 hours wandering around the exhibits. Some of the highlights were seeing the largest squid ever caught, huge whale skeletons, and an earthquake simulation. We only made it through three of the six floors!
The Wellington waterfront is lined with heaps of restaurants and bars and is a lovely place to walk around. I think we had been craving a little bit of city life after a month in the outdoors, so we were not quite ready to leave Wellington but decided we had a lot to see in the North Island and we should move on. After driving up to the lookout on Mount Victoria and taking in the views of the city below, we headed out of town. We are glad we did because we camped about an hour North of Wellington, beside a lake and witnessed an incredible spectacle. We pulled up after dark and John looked out the window and said, “Is that a moon rainbow?!” To which I could only reply: “Do those exist?!” The conditions were apparently perfect for a moon rainbow with light mist and clouds rolling in toward us. John set up his camera and took a long exposure shot which we think is pretty freaking cool. We even saw a double moon rainbow at one point!
Our campsite was on the way to our next destination – Hastings/Hawke’s Bay. We were headed there for some wine tasting! Hawke’s Bay is well known for producing some of the best wine in New Zealand and the surrounding area has dozens of vineyards and wineries. We found our favorite camp site of the trip, a free site right up along the beach at the Clifton Road Reserve. We literally parked about 10 feet away from the ocean. There were other campervans there, but it didn’t feel busy. The area was free of bugs, so we were able to hang out all evening with our windows open (this was rare in the South Island because of sand flies!!). We just watched the moon on the ocean and listened to the waves for hours. It was such a relaxing place. The next day was Valentine’s Day and we rented some bikes to do some wine tastings. The wineries are all really close together, so we were able to jump from place to place and taste wines from 6 different wineries. One of the tastings even included a sample of wine slushies, different olive oils, spreads, and red wine vinaigrettes! We had a blast biking around and sampling some of the best wines we’ve had. We returned to our favorite camp spot for one more night before driving to the sleepy little town of Gisborne.
Gisborne (aka Gizzy) is a coastal town on the East coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Our friend Kevin, who introduced us to Dan and Liv back in Christchurch, also has a friend living in Gisborne. He introduced us via email and Aaron and Rachel kindly invited us to come stay at their beach house. Gizzy isn’t really on the tourist track, so it appealed to us even more. We could use a few days to be in one place and chill out. We arrived at Aaron and Rachel’s house to find an amazing view of the Pacific right outside their door. We parked ol’ Tim Tam in their front yard and joined Aaron and his two naked children (Arlo and Leroy) in the house for some lamb curry. The boys went to bed and we spent the evening chatting with Aaron on the porch, drinking a few beers. We retired to our van for the night and woke up to meet Rachel, who had been working the previous evening. She graciously offered to let me borrow her wetsuit and allowed John and I to use their longboards for the day. The surf outside their house was waist high and I was excited to get back in the water after learning to surf in Fiji. We suited up and headed out. John was on a 7’0 and I was on a 9’0 longboard. We paddled out into the waves and I caught the first wave I attempted! It felt good to be back in the water. John was having good luck too and we spent several hours out in the water together. This was the first time we had gone surfing together and we had a blast out there.
This day was also Arlo’s second birthday, so Aaron and Rachel invited us to eat lunch with them and join in on the happy birthday singing and lollies and cake. Arlo kept talking about lollies and cake for his birthday and we kept assuming he was talking about lolli pops. We soon learned that in New Zealand, lollies are candy. The two boys (Arlo, still naked) and their neighbor friends were digging into the cake and lollies with their fists. Rachel politely asked us if we wanted a piece and we quickly said, “no thank you.” We didn’t want to spoil the second birthday party family time so we took a drive north to see a historic wharf and check out a few more beaches. When we returned, we had some tea with Aaron and Rachel and they became our heroes when they offered to let us do some laundry. Showers and clean clothes, all in one day! We were smitten. The next morning, we got up to head to Rotorua and Aaron and Rachel were headed out of the house. They were so sweet and told us to make ourselves at home while they were gone. We said our goodbyes and enjoyed making breakfast in a real kitchen and having a real house (with a view!) to ourselves for a few hours. Thank you Rachel and Aaron!