Free is the Magic Number

Trip Start Oct 15, 2007
1
56
97
Trip End Aug 24, 2008


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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pulling off the main road just outside Taupo fairly late in the evening, we found a layby near the lookout point for Huka Falls, and parked up for the night. Most of the laybys we stayed in throughout our New Zealand sojourn were 'Rest Stops', advertised by small blue road signs depicting a picnic bench under a tree. They tended to be set back from the main highway, in many cases with nice views. This was just a layby, containing only tarmac and a signposted gate through to a short forest walk, but it was fine for our purposes.

The following morning, we brewed up a pot of coffee, and wandered up to the lookout point to make the early morning visitors jealous with the smell. This done, and the unusually blue falls admired for a while, we drove into town, parked by the 'i-Site' (tourist information office) where we collected some leafletty bits about Taupo and environs. We did some chores and bits and pieces, then, having decided we fancied actually having a night out in a town, tried to find somewhere discreet to stay so neither of us would have to drive back out to the layby.

We drove around for a while, finding various fairly empty looking car parks in pleasant, quiet places, all prettily adorned with No Camping signs. A residential street yielded a little off-street parking bay outside a church, with no restriction signs, so we parked and pulled the curtains, figuring that if we did that in the middle of the day, then didn't come back till the evening, then it would just be 'that van that's been parked there for a while', not raising any eyebrows regarding there being someone asleep inside.

There seems to be a lot of nonsense concerning where you can and can't stay with a camper van, probably worldwide, but certainly in New Zealand. There are many nice places with No Overnight Camping signs, with no explanation ever offered as to why. This lack of explanation seems in itself to be rather unfair: if you're going to demand that people don't partake of a harmless pursuit, it seems only right that you should have to tell them why.

The signs are pretty much always in places where you're allowed to park, and, whilst there, all of the things you would do whilst camping are permitted: cooking, sleeping, eating and drinking, having noisy children running around being annoying. If it's dark though, suddenly the sleeping part of that becomes a problem. It's not even a restriction on parking overnight, it's sleeping in an otherwise legally parked van that's against the rules.

How long does overnight have to be though? Arrive at five to midnight, have a nap for ten or fifteen minutes then leave again and you're there 'over night', but that would be fine. That's just a quick 'powernap'. Arrive at midnight, sleep until eight in the morning, and you're camping, so no, that's against the rules. Even though you're only there on one day. See where this is going? The rule a) makes no sense, and b) cannot realistically have its terms defined, so cannot be reasonably enforced.

All the problems these rules seek to prevent are already covered by other laws: public nuisance, littering, fire safety, that sort of thing. People camping might contribute to these problems, but so might others. The actual act of camping is, quite categorically, not a problem, and as such, these bans are, quite categorically, entirely unjust.

Explaining all that to the copper who's just tapped on your window at three in the morning to be told "So you're allowed to decide which rules you choose to obey are you? Well then, I've a nice little cell you can camp in..." didn't much take our fancy, so we grudgingly played by the rules.

Although the parking by the church seemed like it would probably be OK, we thought we'd see if there was anything better to be had as we walked back into town. Kirsty asked the YHA if we could rent a small patch of car park for the night, which they agreed to but rather priced themselves out of a deal, so Jacob went and smiled his most charming smile at the manageress of the Pak 'N' Save supermarket and asked about staying in their car park.

Officially it wasn't allowed, but she had no problem with us being there as long as the shop was closed: it's not as though putting a vehicle in a car park is going to hurt anyone, is it? What a beautifully refreshing attitude.

Having secured ourselves a 'campsite' for the night, we went in search of an outdoor shop to get some mosquito coils, to ward off the other bane of the camper's life. Nattering to the bloke in the shop, he asked us if we were staying at Reid's Farm. That would be Reid's Farm, a free campsite on the edge of town. Armed with a map drawn in biro on the back of a receipt, we found the place and bagged ourselves a nice little spot under a big tree by the river.

Sorted.

Reid's Farm is not a farm, but it used to be, and when it was, it was owned by the Reid family. Nowadays it's a 'camping reserve' and it's free, which is one of our very favourite campsite prices.

Walking the few kilometres back into town, we stuck out our thumbs and got ourselves a lift from an English couple in a hire car, who dropped us off in the town centre. En route, the female half of the couple was making slightly pointed comments about it being Valentine's Day, and how us blokes ought to be intending to pull something special out of the bag at some point.

She seemed to be fishing for support from Kirsty, but this fell rather flat. Neither of us care particularly about Valentine's Day, which occasionally garners comments about our not being very romantic. Not so, we just don't see why a day which has no special significance in our personal calendar should be earmarked for romantic behaviour. Besides, wouldn't the gesture feel a little hollow if it was only made because the calendar told us to?
The driver smirked to himself, his wife seemed a little deflated.

We got out, went to find some mozzie coils (the bloke who told us about the campsite had run out), then went to book ourselves on a white water rafting trip for the following day.

Splashiness booked, it was still only mid afternoon, so we walked out to a mini golf course we had seen while driving around looking for places to camp. Jacob won, although Kirsty still claims the moral victory. Whatever that means.

Having exhausted the amusement value of miniature golf for one day, we walked back to town, stopping at a pub with pool tables that we had noticed on the way. It turned out to be quite a strange place: a hybrid of a pub, a diner and a bingo hall. We had a game of pool on the fairly terrible table, using the extremely well worn cues and rueing the lack of chalk. Those golf skills that we had been practicing earlier in the day started to come in useful - this was the sort of pool table where you really need to take a run up.

We can't remember who won, we were just glad that one of us had.

Time to move on. We found a fairly fancy bar where Jacob taught the barman how to make a South Pacific. Deciding that staying at this particular bar would quickly bankrupt us, we bought a bag of chips to share, then went to an Irish Bar (is there anywhere in the world that doesn't have an Irish bar?) for a few drinks and a few rounds of pool.

Nearing the end of our evening, we rounded it all off with a curry. Oddly, the curry house was due to close as it was nearing half past ten at night. Imagine if Indian restaurants in the UK closed before the pubs shut. They'd be out of business within the week. This one was just still open though, so we decided quickly and placed our order.
The curry was reasonable, although the Kiwis have a very low spice tolerance, so they were somewhat tame. Still, all in all, a good night out, especially for people whose 'nights out' usually consist of playing cards at a picnic table instead of in the back of the van.

We walked back towards the campsite, optimistically sticking out our thumbs. We'd got quite a long way before we were picked up by some fellow campers who had also been out on the town, getting a lift all the way back to the site.

We clambered into Lucy, setting an alarm for early o'clock in the morning, as we were going to be rafting from Turangi, which was about three quarters of an hour's drive away, and we had the ingredients of bacon butties to cook before leaving. Time for bed.
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