A trip in a Spaceship

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
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Trip End Apr 16, 2011


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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Saturday, February 19, 2011

After the madness of Queenstown and Wanaka we were looking forward to giving our bodies and our wallets a bit of a rest and went excitedly to Christchurch where Gordon's parents had kindly bought us a week’s campervan rental for our birthdays. Gordon travelled round New Zealand in 1999 with two mates and they bought an old van which they fitted out with benches in the back to sleep on and lived in it for a few months driving round the country and he was looking forward to reliving that time (but hopefully with more showers).  It turns out they were way ahead of their time as every other vehicle on the roads these days is a backpacker van from one of about 20 companies and the locals all hate them because of the rubbish and other things (most notably excrement) campers leave behind all over the place.  The van we’d been hired was a 'spaceship’ which are normally an unsubtle bright orange but we were given the rather sophisticated silver model so did at least vaguely blend in.  The van was brilliant with a really comfortable bed, a proper fridge and even a DVD player – a bit of a step up from the wooden benches in the 1999 model.

After spending a relaxed couple of days in town with family & friends we headed north for a day’s kayaking in sunny Abel Tasman.  We’d hired a 2 person kayak which Gordon insisted on sitting in the back of shouting "paddle, paddle, paddle" at Sarah whilst not doing anything himself.  Grrrr.

Next stop was a crossover to the north island on an amazingly calm day and on to Martinborough where we hired a tandem bike to cycle round the excellent vineyards.  Sarah got her own back for the kayak too by sitting on the back of shouting “pedal, pedal, pedal” at Gordon whilst not doing anything herself.

After stocking up on wine in Martinborough we headed west to Taranaki, a huge volcano that rises up 2,500m out of the otherwise flat countryside which we had our eye on climbing. It just cries out to be climbed and even looks cool on a map. Some Kiwis had recently gone up it carrying a couch and a barbecue but having heaved ourselves up with volcanic scree with only our daypacks we were relieved to be travelling light.  The views from the top were back to the south island and over to the peaks of Tongariro to the east.  The way back down was much more fun as we became adept at the new sport of ‘screeing’.  This feels like a cross between skiing and ice skating and is basically throwing yourself down the scree as quickly as you can.  Once you pick up speed you can do proper turns although at first it felt just like being a beginner skier – at one point Sarah even had to sit down to turn around for fear of falling over.

Having got a taste for screeing we decided to try to perfect our skills on the Tongariro crossing so the next day headed across the country on the ‘Forgotten World Highway’. As well as being a stunning drive this took us through the tiny village of Whakamomona which protested against come changes in local council boundaries by declaring themselves a republic.  Their presidents have included a goat and a poodle.  Brilliant.  Our luck with the New Zealand weather held in Tongariro and we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day to do the Tongariro crossing; the most popular day walk on the island.  The crossing itself is really nice but just off the main route is Mount Ngauruhoe, aka Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films.  There was really no option but to climb it and so we found ourselves scrambling up yet more volcanic scree in a Frodo style where every step up seemed to take you two back.  Once again though the views back over the crossing and volcanic lakes were worth every step – as was the screeing run back down the mountain afterwards.  By the time we finished the rest of the crossing we were much in need of the hot tub in our campsite!

We finished our spaceship tour with a stop in Lake Taupo and another on the west coast before heading back to Auckland to make the most of Mal’s hospitality once again.  There may be a lot of campervans on the roads now but it was a really great way to see a bit of New Zealand.  It was as we returned the spaceship that we heard the news about the Christchurch earthquake where we’d been just a week before.  It was horrible watching the pictures on TV and we were hugely relieved that our friends & family in the town were all ok.

We spent our last couple of days in New Zealand with Mal and Beinn climbing no volcanoes but exploring Waiheke island and Auckland and then heading out to Mal’s utterly gorgeous batch near Kare Kare beach (of ‘The Piano’ fame apparently but none of us have seen the film) to relax, play petanque (which Mal won), backgammon (Gordon won) and cards (Gordon again, grrr).

Mal, Sal & Beinn – thanks for everything (and sorry about the car, we think the sheep came off worst!)

One of the funny things on this trip is that every time we leave somewhere that normally we’d be upset to be leaving we have our next destination to look forward and that was definitely the case as we left Kare Kare.  New Zealand was absolutely brilliant; gorgeous scenery, great hiking, silly activities, getting to see friends & family, lovely clean hostels and amazing flat white coffees.  But next up was a flight to Santiago and the start of the Americas leg of our trip.  For the first time we’re also now going to be travelling towards the UK, rather than away. Wow.
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