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Roadtripping with My Loves…

She was a rare beauty: smooth exterior, reliable, and displaying exquisite features. Love is fickle and I was falling for a nineteen year-old named Bazils… an automobile. Was my heart large enough for two ladies? Time would tell. And Ash was along for the ride.

Auckland Skyline Arriving in Auckland Auckland

However, our three-week adventure discovering New Zealand’s fjords, mountains, and vineyards with Bazils the campervan would have to wait a day. Auckland was our first Kiwi experience and Ashley found this North Island city quite likeable. A couple local pints of beer were consumed in a pub while a driving itinerary was planned. All the while, a loud and very obnoxious man was blabbering about this and that using foul language every other word. It was the first time we encountered the worldwide American stereotype proven accurate. We both apologized to the pub staff declaring that the rude person isn’t typical of USA citizens and the Kiwis agreed. Feeling good about the good folks of New Zealand and excited to hit the road the next day, we strolled home to the hostel and caught some shuteye. Damn you Sir for making America look bad.

Bay of Islands285,000+ kilometers on the odometer, but she was looking good and purred like a kitten. Ash hopped into the shotgun position as I guided the manual transmission Toyota HiAce onto the left hand side of the wet asphalt. Like that, we were headed towards the Bay of Islands region and hoped for dryer weather. We were exhilarated upon arriving at our first destination, but our excitement was tempered with the need to fill the small fridge with groceries. If you would like to see how different Ashley and I can sometimes be, follow us into a supermarket. Ash insists on perusing each isle while my impatience boils over. Anyway, we procured the necessary (and unnecessary) items and found a spot to camp along the road. We woke early and cooked breakfast with the bay providing a pristine backdrop. Next stop was the tip of the North Island: Cape Reinga.

Cape Reinga Light Tower Cape Reinga Cape Reinga Waves Crashing

Only one road connects Cape Reinga and the journey is no short jaunt, but Bazils was fearless. Located 100+ kilometers from the nearest town, we sought the advice of the gas station attendant and he assured us the weather at the Cape would be swell. But as we drove North, the drizzle turned to a steady downpour and the fog grew thick. Pulling into the carpark, it was clear the friendly petrol man should not opt for a career in meteorology. Nonetheless, we hit the footpath and reached Cape Reinga where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet in a raucous manner. Through the dense fog, the crashing sea was plainly audible. Despite not witnessing the grandeur how we imagined, the inclement weather did not deter us from enjoying the moment. Seat belts fastened, we headed South for the Giant Sand Dunes of Te Paki.

Te Paki Giant Sand Dune Meets Rainforest Te Paki Giant Sand Dune Te Paki Vastness

We had no idea New Zealand offered such a unique place. The rainforest literally abuts a barren desert of huge sand dunes then gives way to the Tasman Sea. A bearded man sat on the bumper of a 4×4 vehicle offering rental boogie boards to essentially sled down the golden sand. We declined, but saw revelers in the distance making slow progress up one massive dune. If you have ever walked in sand, you know the difficulty. Now apply a 45 degree slope. On all fours, we climbed Te Paki and finally reached the summit only to realize the dunes stretch for eternity down Ninety Mile Beach. It was as if we were transported to a barren wasteland (like Cleveland, Ohio). Before the delightful descent, we watched the sandboarders leave snake-like markings as they jetted downward. One poor gal made it to the top after fifteen grueling minutes of climbing only to drop her makeshift sled and watch helplessly as it plummeted to the base. The return trip was tremendous as we bounced like astronauts down the fluffy sand towards the surrounding forest.

Te Paki Giant Sand Dune Sandboarders Ash On Her Way Down

With no grand stop on our next day, Bazils treated us to a delightful and relaxing drive along the coast. Initially, Ash and I were bummed about the unrelenting fog, but in the end it made every place look more charming. Cable Bay was empty on such a damp afternoon, so we enjoyed the vista under a tin shed as the droplets rang out above us against the metal roof. Certainly our favorite drive on the North Island was into Doubtless Bay. The lush green forest surrounding the calm water filled with fishing vessels and monohaul schooners was enveloped with a white fog. It seemed the Kiwis were sipping tea on this day because yet again, no one was around. Hugging the forest on one side, the bay on the other, the narrow asphalt road was a bit tricky to navigate especially when the driver was gawking at everything in sight. But Bazils did not want to meet her fate quite yet and kept us from a cool bath in Doubtless Bay.

Cable Bay Doubtless Bay Fog Doubtless Bay

Our love affair was just beginning, but it turns out Bazils is quite the minx. Upon arriving in Christchurch three weeks later, she would go gallivanting with yet another adventuresome individual(s). So I am stuck with the gal from Claflin, Kansas. Happily stuck with the gal from Claflin, Kansas, I mean. Bazils, please don’t forget the time we spent together.

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. There are countless way to see New Zealand. There are hop-on/hop-off buses, internal flights to smaller airports, or daytrips from major tourist destinations. As you have read above, some of the best adventures cannot be had within the confines of packaged tours. Having your own automobile opens up more doors than you can walk through. We found the most awe inspiring places not mentioned in any guidebook as a result of having our own four wheels.
  2. Most rental cars or vans are manual transmission outside America. Thus, before embarking on an international trip it is suggested you become acquainted with the “clutch and stick.” You’ll find automatic transmission vehicles for hire, but prepare your billfold for the increased cost.
  3. New Zealand was my first experience driving on the left-hand side of the road. Couple that with changing gears with my left hand and you get a rough first two kilometers. If you find yourself in a similar situation, first get a general sense of where you intend to go then focus on the flow of traffic. Simply following the car directly in front of you will ensure you stay on the proper side. If criticized for poor driving, insist that they drive on the wrong side of the road!

Where Oh Where May Bazils Rest? Locating Campsites in New Zealand

Bay of Islands (North Island)“How about right here?” I would ask.  “S*$%, this is someone’s private drive.” 
“Greg, this looks good,” Ashley would point out.  “Wait, nope.  Too exposed to the road.”
Having a home on wheels in New Zealand is fantastic until the sun retreats West.  About the size of Colorado and with just 4 million folks, one would think finding a hidden spot to pull over for the night would be a cinch.  Negative Ghost Rider the pattern is full.  Thus for twenty nights the same song and dance was performed.  Broadway won’t be calling us for auditions any time soon.

The ideal spot for “freedom camping” revolves around being hidden from the world.  If your campervan is exposed, concerned citizens will wake you in the middle of the night to ensure everything is AOK.  Or passing police will knock on your window until you begrudgingly move along into the pitch black night after parking in a prohibited area.  But we were focused on the first syllable in the phrase “freedom camping.”  A success rate of one in four nights (mainly within National Parks) planted the seeds of frustration each evening.  We seemed vexed until utilizing Department of Conservation (“DOC”) campgrounds.

Cloudy Bay Vineyard (North Island) Doubtless Bay (North Island) Navigator

DOC campsites are no frills to be certain: no showers, treated water on occasion, and roadside style toilets.  For what these sites lack is made up for by being inexpensive ($5 per person), no crowds, and offering sensational views.  When our patience grew thin searching for a free spot, helpful DOC brochures directed us to their locations.  Sometimes we would arrive prior to daylight giving way to shimmering stars.  Other times not so much.  Such as the night we drove through the rain, fog, and darkness of Waipoua Kauri Forest completely lost.  Over two hours of madness and an incredibly lucky siting of a nocturnal Kiwi, we arrived at the campground.  Our favorite DOC campsites were found in Merita, Lake Moke (outside Queenstown), and Mount Cook.  When we began smelling ripe due to hiking and lack of showers, it was time to pony up for legit campsites ($12 per person).

We fought like hell to avoid campgrounds (called Holiday Parks) such as these because they were expensive versus the alternatives, overcrowded, and offered lesser views.  But certain needs must be met like charging the auxiliary battery (powers fridge and internal lights), obtaining fresh water, and bathing.  The hippies of the 1970′s would never have condoned our “shower every third day” behavior.

Cook Strait Ferry Bay of Islands (North Island) Cable Bay (South Island)

For twenty nights, we slept beneath the stars in Bazils, our 1990 Toyota HiAce campervan from ExploreMore.  Like brushing your teeth every morning (let’s hope anyway), we were trained to snap a photo of each campsite.  Below is a brief slideshow portraying Bazils’ bed each day:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) DOC campsites are not equipped with personnel to check in/out guests.  Payment is on the honor system.  So don’t be a jerk and short the National Parks.  After all, your money goes towards these incredible places of nature.
2) As mentioned above, freedom camping is more difficult than it would seem.  Secondary roads don’t exist like in the USA.  New Zealand has main thoroughfares and side roads typically lead to homes.  Asking locals and conferring with the friendly folks at iSites (green signs) provide good leads on where a suitable overnight place could be found.
3) Find a camping spot well before nightfall.  We learned this quickly having searched in the darkness on several nights only to end up paying for a Holiday Park.  Pick a time at least one hour before sunset to be settled in a location.  Then toss the migraine medication out the window (not literally, that would be littering such a beautiful country).

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