It was early February and we were finally off in the van to explore New Zealand. Since arriving in late November the weather had been hot and sunny. Parts of the North Island were suffering a drought.
What better start to travels, than an invitation to join friends, Charlotte and Richard, for a weekend at Lake Rotoiti. A fantastic weekend in great company, glamping on the lawn and taking part in a classic boat regatta and enjoying the local hot-springs.
We also headed to nearby Rotorua to check out the bubbling mud, take in the sulphurous fumes and of course see some colonial architecture. Then on to walk through a forest of giant Redwoods.
Our plans had been to head south and hit the South Island for late Summer/Autumn but, acting on Kiwi advice, we headed North - the North Island is beautiful most of the year, but the South Island is beautiful all of the year.
In order to enjoy 'Freedom Camping' - free camping spots and quite a few camp sites throughout NZ, a van has to pass a compliance test. We needed to make a few changes. I bought a porta-potty, hoses, pipes, 2 x 20 litre plastic tanks 'n stoppers to complete the work and we returned to Raglan to get the job done.
With modifications made, we were back on our travels. We drove to Auckland and surrounds, to find the best kite-surfing spots on the east and west coasts. Auckland was where we passed the compliance test, but not without some unnecessary torture. A country that I thought was easy going regulations-wise is far far from it. We had survived for four years in the Americas, in some very bleak places, without the need for 2 x 25 water litre tanks. Hey ho, we had jumped through the hoops and had the necessary certificates. We also joined the NZ camping association and purchased a DOC pass - the Department of Conservation has some amazing camp-sites and everyone loves a discount.
Whilst driving in the city, I noticed we had a puncture. The local tyre repair discovered it was actually a cracked wheel rim. With an 'Ooh mate, that could be expensive', we set off to find the Volkswagen dealership. A few streets later and we were in the VW Parts Department chatting to Jyap. Not to worry, he would have one in stock or us next day, only $150. Several hours later and Jyap phones to say he has the rim and there will be no cost.
When we arrived the following morning, we are greeted by Jyap and met other friendly staff. The mechanic took the van away and when he returned an hour later, we had two new rims, a new set of wheel nuts on all 4 wheels (he thought they looked tired), four new plastic rim covers and four new spare ones, just in case they get lost. To say Jyap and his colleagues at VW Giltrap were friendly, is a serious understatement....they were great. Our bill was minimal, thanks to all those people who change their rims and discard the factory fitted ones!
In Auckland we were also able to catch up with old friends and attend the North West Wine Beer & Food Festival in Kumeu Valley - great music from Milly Tabak & The Miltones, The Black Seeds and The Mutton Birds.
Whilst enduring a lack of kite-able wind, we finally got around to having a solar panel fitted to the van roof and bought a posh fridge. We've been living in the van for 4½ years and discussing solar and a fridge for at least four of them. Rachel was finally rid of our 12v coolbox, although in truth, I had to prise it off her!
We headed north, visiting and camping at or near many of the beautiful beaches along the East coast. Tawhanui was was a particularly beautiful spot. We even managed a little kite-surfing.
In the Bay of Islands we visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. There was a guided tour, a superb museum and a new interactive memorial to Maori soldiers who served in the World Wars. This whole area is steeped in history and culture, both colonial and Maori and was a great place to start to understand a little more of what makes New Zealand.