Friday, 25 November 2016

Week 32 - North Island NZ, East Coast road trip

Feeling refreshed after a boiling hot shower we made our way back onto the State Highway headed for Gisborne. This time the journey took us along the coast showing us the expanse of the crystal blue ocean, it was beautiful and calm, though the sea sometimes disappeared when we went up a mountain or through a forest, and with the windows down you could smell the fresh pine, flora and fauna. 2 hours into our journey we reached a small little town named, Wairoa, we decided to pull into the information centre here for more information on freedom camping in the area. The woman was beyond helpful and gave us 5 options to choose from, obviously Kyle chose the one which was closest to the beach…this meant a further 20 minutes in the car to Mahai.

Mahai is a quaint little beach town, with more beach than town. After driving around for a good 15 minutes looking for a legal place to camp we found a beach shop and two friendly local women with good advice. They pointed us in the direction of Oakura reserve, a grassy campsite in front of a huge river leading into the sea, and with only 8 other vehicles on the whole site, it was more like the Freedom camping I expected in New Zealand. As I made the bed for the evening and caught some rays, Kyle took to exploring and made friends with a local guy who took him fishing. Well he called it fishing, the guy removed his shorts and handed them to Kyle, before wading into the sea and collecting his net, in which was 4 fish. The man told Kyle that he comes to check his net twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening, he uses what he catches for both his dinner and tea….and with that he was off again in his car to cook up his catch. After retelling his tale Kyle and i decided to walk across the river to the sea. It was refreshingly cool in the mid afternoon sun, and you could see all the huge fish and clams below…I am surprised at how many there were left considering the amount of people fishing. The sea current was strong and the deeper we got the colder it became, even Kyle couldn’t handle swimming this time, so it was back to the car for tea. 

We settled down to prepare our tuna pasta on the camp stove but before we had even chopped an onion Kyle’s fishing friend returned, and he didn’t come empty handed. The fisherman had returned with some Paua (known elsewhere as abalone), an edible sea snail, which he had caught earlier in the day and wanted Kyle try. Thankfully he removed their teeth and de-shelled them, however he didn’t cook them, leaving us both guessing on what we were supposed to do, (how life becomes difficult without access to Google). Settling for a shallow fry, Kyle cooked his Paua and then shared them with the car park. I refused a taste after seeing them pulsating in their shells, Kyle’s feedback was that they tasted like salty, chewy mussels and he won’t be rushing to try them again unless they are cooked properly.

A migraine and sleeping in a car do not mix, especially when you’re in the middle of nowhere with no 24 hour Tesco, so as I settled down for an early night Kyle tried to read by sticking his head under the curtain to catch the last of the evening light. It was a hot and uncomfortable night, Kyle’s theory is that you wake up due to hip ache and have to turn once every 2 hours or less. 6.30am was our morning call, neither of us were happy about this but we dragged ourselves up, washed with a baby wipe, forced down the worlds sweetest porridge and got back on the road towards Gisborne.

The journey to Gisborne was short besides the small delay caused by some cows walking down the State Highway, if this was York’s A64 people would be moaning all over the place. I shall take this opportunity to point out that the State Highway is the main road network in NZ and is mainly a single track road, apart from the odd over taking lane every so often. Our final descent into Gisborne took us down a mountain with lots of steep turns, it was like being on a roller coaster, I hated it! We were faced with disappointment at Gisborne’s I-centre, Freedom camping is illegal at all sites unless you have a chemical toilet, don’t think we’ll be carrying one of those around in the back of our car do you? A frantic internet search on the cities half hour free wifi led us to a Youth Hostel on the cities outskirts, a beautiful wooden building with clean shared areas and private rooms was just the ticket, and I was more than happy to be spending the next 2 nights in an actual bed! It was clear to see that most of the other people at the hostel had, had the same troubles as us with the camping situation, the carpark was filled with vehicles all decked out with mattress’ and pans.

You may be wondering why we chose to fork out for accommodation rather than stay in the car somewhere else, well apart from the fact that Freedom sites are rarer than leopards without spots in the North East, Gizzy (as it is known to the locals) is a prime surf location. Kyle was eager to test the waves for himself and after we’d hired a board from the shop over the road we made our way to Wainui beach, on the recommendation of our new Japanese friend. Wainui beach is huge, and like all the other beaches we have seen so far beautiful. As Kyle struggled into his wetsuit I got to sunbathing on the hill, high tide prevented me from enjoying the soft sand on the beach. Kyle persevered with the surf for a good 2 hours, but with a strong current and big waves he found it difficult to get out far enough, a kind guy suggested going further down the beach where Kyle was a little more successful. 

We both enjoyed a long, hot shower before dressing in fresh, clean clothes (a real treat) and then jumped into the car for a spot of lunch in the city centre. Our cafe of choice was just closing, but the kind ladies were nice enough to make us the worlds biggest BLT before shutting down their ovens for the day, shame I suffered from a bout of Asia belly not long after, resulting in us buying the worlds most expensive packet of Immodium…I am thinking that this was probably due to the two coffees rather than the sandwich. Gisborne feels less like home than other places which we have visited due to the increase in palm trees and tropical plants, noted in our walk around the river and through the city centre and is fast becoming one of our favourite places so far (yes, I know that we have said this 1000 times, but I think we might mean it this time). To complete our day we drove to the top of Kaiti hill and enjoyed 360 degree views of Gizzy, which just proved New Zealand’s uniqueness once more, I mean where else do you get views of the ocean, city, mountains, rivers and forests in one?

When you rent a board you’re obviously going to check the next days waves to see if you can enjoy yourself for a couple of hours, right? Kyle was happy to note that the waves were easier to catch the next morning, and spent a good 2 hours out in the sea before joining me for a tanning session, though I wish he hadn’t as his tan is now better than mine….bastard. The afternoon took us to the Sunshine Brewery to taste some of Gisborne’s home brewed ales. We tried 10 in total, some of which we really enjoyed, others not so much, fittingly the favourite was a brew named Pipeline, the surfers ale of choice. It was a great afternoon that left me feeling merry, never the less we still ended up picking up another bottle of our favourite brew on the way back to the hostel which we enjoyed out in the sunshine. I was hoping for a chilled out evening, one where we could enjoy our beers and make plans for the next few days, but an hour into chill time we were joined by a guy named, Johnny, who had been living in NZ for the last 3 years but was soon to live for Thailand, and this meant that for once we had to be social. Turns out Johnny was an O.K guy, travelling solo on a motorbike, he’s decided to leave Aukland to train for his divers teaching certificate in Thailand before heading to South America for work. 

An early start awaited us the next morning, we wanted to head to Rere Rockslide before continuing on to Opotiki. Rere Rockslide is located 2km’s away from the huge Rere falls, and is one of the largest natural rockslides around. It’s basically a strip of rocks that have been made smooth by the constant gush off water, and as they’re on a slant they’re perfect for sliding down on body boards, inflatables or mattress’ as we later found out. Kyle and I were the first ones there and armed with a body board found in a tree Kyle made his way out onto the top of the slippery falls. Just as he was working himself up to take the plunge we were joined by 2 older couples who took great pleasure in egging Kyle on. I’d say it took a good 10 minutes of waiting around until he finally went down, and only then I think it’s because Johnny and another guy from the hostel turned up so he didn’t want to look a twat. After that first time Kyle had a new found confidence and once he had climbed the slippery path to the top he was showing everyone else what to do, that was until the local kids turned up and started going down on their knees and doing flips at the bottom…we swiftly left after that.

I struggled in the car for the next part of our journey, I’m not good with sitting still as it is so long journeys and hot cars just make me whiney, especially when I’m hungry too, and to top this off the next hour of the journey took us along what can only be described as a gravel path….I mean come on guys, concrete your fucking roads! The car now looks as though we’ve driven it on a desert and some fool (me) has written in the dirt! Once that pure hell had ended though the next part was actually amazing, the road took us alongside a river with huge mountains and waterfalls at the other side, keen to investigate further we found a place to stop and crossed over the Tauranga bridge. Built in 1922 the Tauranga bridge was built by Public Works Department to access the sheep farms in the valley, and is now a Category I listed place. It was pretty cool and had great views over the gem like river, I enjoyed myself until Kyle made it shake…probably pay back for writing on the car!

As we journeyed on we unfortunately came to a standstill when we neared a road accident. It didn’t look as though anyone was seriously hurt, and we were moving again within the hour, though the poor cows in the truck in front were suffering in the mid day heat, and boy did they show their rage, I’m shocked that they didn’t kick their way out of the truck. This delay taught us great patience, not that we needed it with the views, but still if you get bad road rage and can’t take waiting driving in NZ is probably not for you, you can’t just turn around and go a different way when there’s only one road, can you?

Once we started moving again we were shocked to learn that we were 5 minutes away from our next accommodation, Soleil, a lovely homestay run by Jackie and Murray. We were welcomed into their lovely home with such genuine warmth, and had a great evening around the BBQ listening to their stories. And what stories they were, Murray once lived in England whilst in the Para’s and both he and Jackie have travelled to may places around the world, so could share in our travel stories. They’re home is located just 5 minutes from the beach, so of course we checked that out before bed time, and once again enjoyed the soft black sand and crystal blue waters. 

I was sad to say goodby the next morning, not only had we had great nights sleep in an extremely comfy bed, we’d had the chance to meet some truly lovely people…so thank you once again for your great hospitality Jackie and Murray. I was happy to learn that the days trip would take little over an hour, I wasn’t quite ready to face another long day in the car, but as we neared Rotorua we started to get hit with random bursts of eggy smells, honestly the sulphur here smells worse than Kyle’s farts!! We obviously wanted to punish our noses further when we visited Kuirau park, filled with geothermal activity this park honestly smells like shit. Don’t get me wrong it was pretty cool to see the steaming lakes and bubbling mud pools and all for free, but my nose could just not hack it so we decided to take a drive to see some lakes instead. The first lake we visited, Tarawera, was like something off a postcard, it was truely breathtaking. The lake, like glass, is surrounded by trees, mountains, and a volcano, with a clear blue sky it felt like we were sat in our own little section of paradise. The only other people there were a few ladies celebrating a birthday, so as we relaxed we endured their old Abba records from a cassette player, I even had a paddle with the birthday girl. 

Next we ventured to a viewing platform from which we could see two lakes, Rotokakahi, the green lake and Tikitapu, the blue lake. It was Tikitapu that we decided to waste the afternoon at, Kyle once again braved a swim, whilst I waded in only to my knees. As we sat back to take in our surroundings once again, we were overwhelmed by another pinch yourself moment. 

Freedom camping once again is not allowed in Rotorua, so instead we checked into another homestay this time hosted by a lovely Japanese lady, who like me has dreams of returning there one day and just had to convince her partner also. Her home is quaint and cute, and with the fluffy toilet seats I think that she’s compensating for the lack of a heated seat like back home, not that I’m complaining mind. We even had the option of running a bath using hot spring water from the ground, but with the temperature exceeding 30 degrees we both gave that one a miss! What truly made my stay though was the little Christmas tree in the room, yes I know it’s early but with all the palm trees, nice weather and beaches you sometimes forget that Santa will soon arrive and all you poor buggers back home are probably freezing!

It was a $5 Dominos for tea, which in my opinion is a great idea, I don’t know why it hasn’t taken off in England to be honest. We even managed to save some for the next day, always saving money…Kyle’s tightened those purse strings again. We had a pretty uncomfortable nights sleep and had to leave the fan on all night, it was a bit like being back in Asia, we weren’t made to feel much better at breakfast either. We were supposed to get a ham and cheese sandwich but it was essentially a ham next to cheese one instead, and I swear a slice of ham was shared between both of our breakfasts! 

With empty bellies we hit the road and continued on the final leg of our journey to Taupo. On the way we stopped at a Geothermal park which looked pretty cool and mutually agreed that if the entrance price was less than $20 that we would go in. Well it wasn’t, it was $36 each, so we obviously said no to that one, not that we needed to pay anyway, there was a great little viewing platform in the carpark that over looked the whole park. The whole journey took us less than an hour and we were soon pulling into to Taupo  and walking around the huge lake. It’s a pretty impressive lake and bloody huge, the town was cute too, it was just a shame that the weather had taken a turn for the worse and we got caught in the rain.

Instead of moping we took a drive back out of Taupo to Huka Falls, a set of really powerful waterfalls on the Waikato river that are so powerful that water looks white, it was amazing. We decided to walk up the river to the advertised hot springs as we’d missed the turn for the free ones on our way and the walk was only supposed to take an hour. Now it was a lovely walk, following the beautiful blue river through the woodland and over the hills, but I was pretty pissed off when we got to the end to find that the hot springs were actually just a cold bit of the river…not ideal on an already cold, rainy day. Nevertheless, our moods improved when we found our freedom camp on the other side of the river, it was a huge grassed area with great views and plenty of space for lots of cars so you didn’t feel like sardines like back in Napier. (shame the toilets were worse than those at Leeds festival though).

So to be honest we slept pretty well last night, despite the rain it was quiet and we were comfy, which was good as the drive back to Kym’s in Wellington was long. We loved the first part of the journey, singing along to Meat Loaf and Celine Dion with the snow capped Mount Ruapehu at our side, but soon all the scenery gave way to fields, lots of fields and we got bored…not even our classic rock CD could cheer us up….obviously time for a rest stop, after which we were refreshed enough to continue on and arrived in Wellington earlier than planned! Now were left with a nice relaxing weekend, cleaning out the car, before heading to the South Island.

Love Carrie xxx

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