After a great day in the Waitomo Caves, we drove northwest to a gem of a town known as Raglan. John had heard this was one of the best surf spots in New Zealand, so naturally we had to check it out. We followed signs for Ngarunui (Ocean) Beach and pulled up to a gorgeous, wide, black sandy beach full of surfers. John was excited to see the waves were finally conducive to his short board, so he didn’t waste any time suiting up. One look at that wide, flat beach and I knew I needed to run it. Both of us headed down to the beach with smiles on our faces. John had an awesome 2 hour surf session while I ran the length of the beach and returned to watch him surf as the sun set. All that exercise meant we were really hungry!
We went into town where we found several adorable restaurants, and some of them were actually open at 9 PM! If you have never been to New Zealand, one piece of advice: if you want to go out to eat, make sure you do so before 6 PM. Most restaurants close very early. We had been cooking nearly every meal, but we decided we wanted to be lazy and grab something to eat before driving an hour to camp. We stumbled upon a place called Valente’s and had a delicious pizza. We ended up getting caught in an unnecessarily long conversation with the friendly owner and spent about an hour trying to politely slip away. That meant we wouldn’t get to our camp site once again until after midnight. Since we just wanted a quick place to park for the night, we found a free parking lot in Hamilton next to a stadium. We woke up at 8 the next morning to the constant sound of cars driving by our van. We peered out the window to see hoards of teenagers dressed in capes headed into the stadium. We still don’t have any idea what that was all about, but we high-tailed it out of there as soon as we could! We had been listening to the Harry Potter books on tape during our drives, so we like to think maybe it was the Quidditch World Cup? I know, we’re nerds.
Our next destination was the Coromandel Peninsula, a popular kiwi holiday spot due to it’s large number of beaches. We planned to spend the day on the beach, but Mother Nature and Tim Tam the Campervan had other plans. As we entered the peninsula, our check engine light came on. The van seemed to be falling apart a little bit more every day (at this point we has duct tape holding the headlight and various other fixtures on), so we didn’t feel too concerned. We made our way to Pauanui Beach where we were greeted with pouring down rain. We made some lunch and laid low, hoping the rain would pass. When it didn’t, we decided to go further North since the weather can change drastically in a matter of minutes in either direction in New Zealand. John turned the key. Silence. John turned the key again. More silence. Well, looks like our van won’t start in the middle of a rain storm and there is only one other car in the parking lot. At least we have a nice view. John hopped out and flagged down a super nice couple and asked if they had jumper cables. To our relief, they did! We all get drenched in the process of jumping the van, but it got going on the first try. Since we didn’t have any problems after getting jumped in Milford Sound, we figured we were good to go, thanked the heroic New Zealanders, gave them a Tim Tam, and said goodbye. We tried to pull out of the parking lot and once again, the van died. Oh no! Did they leave yet?! Luckily the man who helped us had stopped to use the bathroom before leaving, so we were able to get him to help us again. We tried jumping once more and got the van going, only for it to die again. We borrowed our new friend’s phone to call for emergency roadside assistance and bid him adieu armed with the rest of the box of Tim Tams and two beers. Within a few minutes, a nice man arrived and told us our alternator was likely bad and he would charge our battery enough to make a 15 minute drive to his service station. We made it safely and he did a few tests, confirmed we needed a new alternator, called Happy Campers for us, and arranged for us to have a new alternator put in the following morning in a town 30 minutes away called Thames. Talk about service!
We made the 30 minute drive to Thames, hoping we would make it over the giant hill and back down the other side without our battery dying again. Fortunately, we made it. We needed to dump some grey water before taking the van into the shop, so we ventured out later that evening to a dump station 5 minutes away. On the way back from the dump station, the van started to sputter. In order to get some extra juice, we needed to turn off the headlights as we sped down the road towards our campsite. After our highly illegal joyride, we literally pulled into the lot as the van died. At this point, we are thinking, “Uh oh, what do we do in the morning when we have to take the van to the shop??”
The next morning just so happened to be my birthday! Well, birthday #1. Due to the 18 hour time difference, we decided I got to celebrate on the 21st in New Zealand and also on the 22nd because it was technically my birthday at home. We started out the birthday morning with a walk to the the Thames Auto Electric Shop where we had the service center apprentice follow us to the van with a portable battery to get us to the shop. Once Tim Tam was all set for repair, we ventured into Thames to get some breakfast. And then I found 10 dollars! No really, I found 10 NZD lying on the ground in front of The Brew, our breakfast place of choice. Happy birthday to me! The breakfast was spectacular! We had eggs florentine and French toast with banana and bacon. We topped that off with a mocha and a chai latte, courtesy of my new found fortune.
We went back to check on Tim Tam and were told it would be a few more hours, so we rented some bikes and cruised along a boardwalk by the water. At first, we were bummed we were stuck in this little town for the day, but we started to fall in love with it. After biking around town, wandering through a metal makers shop, and buying an abundance of baked goods from the Thames Bakery, we returned to pick up our mobile home. Tim Tam was as good as new and we didn’t have to foot the bill, so that made us even happier.
We got back on track and drove to the northaast part of the peninsula where we hiked to the famous Cathedral Cove. The hour hike rewarded us with stunning scenery that we shared with many other tourists. We wanted to make it to Hot Water Beach for low tide, so we left the cove in time to arrive with time to spare. Hot Water Beach is a place where a river of hot water flows under the sand and creates natural hot springs right on the beach. Visitors go to Hot Water Beach two hours on either side of low tide to dig their own spa. We ended up joining some other travelers in their spa and drinking some wine and chatting. The water was actually REALLY hot! The temps can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit! An evening at a natural beach spa was a perfect way to end birthday #1!
Birthday #2 began with a drive to our final destination in New Zealand: Auckland. We spent the day checking out Auckland’s attractive waterfront and enjoying some food and drinks at one of the many restaurants lining the sea. Our last night in Tim Tam had finally come, and we were feeling sad that this part of the trip was almost over. We took Tim Tam out in style and camped North of Auckland in a nice free site by the ocean called Gulf Harbour. The next day was full of logistics like cleaning out the van, filling up gas, dumping grey water, etc. We dropped the van off and said goodbye to Tim Tam with tears in our eyes before taking a cab to our hostel in the city of Auckland for the evening. We spent the night hanging out in Auckland and enjoying our hostel bedroom which felt like a mansion after 36 days in a campervan. We awoke the next morning with mixed emotions. We were sad to leave the glorious land of New Zealand, but excited to begin the next leg of our trip. Thailand here we come!