Friday, May 1, 2015

Road Trip to the South Island

For our three week land trip in the South Island of New Zealand, Mark and I decided to rent a camper van. It would give us the freedom to drive wherever we wanted to go, stay in nature or camping areas for free (this is called “freedom camping” here) thanks to our CamperMate travel app, and let us cook our own, healthy and affordable meals. We wouldn’t have to move into and out of rooms with our bags every day and we would save money, time and inconveniences in the long run. We plan to have our own house and office on wheels, for three full weeks!

To avoid the steep ferry fee for cars and campers and because we are focusing our explorations in the South Island for now, we booked the camper in Christchurch, one of the main hubs in the southern part of the country. To get there, however, there was a bit of traveling involved.

Mark and I left “our” comfortable Auckland flat in the early morning of April 25th. The 11.5 hour bus journey to Wellington brought us along Lake Taupo and through the amazing Tongariro National Park, stopping often along the way for pee and food breaks. All in all, the journey was quite pleasant, showing us a bit of the North Island: spread out villages, loads of hills, even more cattle and sheep, and some really great scenery in the National Park. We arrived in the capital quite late, making our way over to an AirBnB for two comfortable nights.

We decided to spend a full day in Wellington, visiting the War Memorial and Museum, where an exhibition about Flanders in WWI was showcased. Since it was a grey day, we also viewed parts of the massive and interesting Te Papa Museum on the waterfront. We returned later in the day to wait in line and experience their brand new exhibition: “Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War”, which is really well done. To stretch our legs, we explored the area along the harbor a bit more and walked back through the Botanical Gardens after taking the cable car up into the hills. Our friend Monique from SV Heartbeat (on their long ocean crossing from French Polynesia to Panama at this very moment) recommended a great cocktail bar and eatery for dinner. The bar was closed on Sundays, but we did enjoy a lovely and affordable meal in her favorite Chinese restaurant on Cuba Street.

The following morning, it was time for our ferry crossing to the South Island. After only 3.5 hours (with free WiFi!), we found ourselves in the small town of Picton, having passed through the misty Marlborough Sounds. Another five and half hour bus ride – with a short stop in Kaikoura (we didn’t see whales) - brought us to Christchurch, where the brother from our friend Garth (SV Heartbeat) was waiting for us. He was the perfect host during our one night stay in his city. On our way back from camping, we plan to explore Christchurch a bit more.

Then, on Tuesday, April 28th, the big day arrived. We would pick up our very own camper van! Some of you might already know that Mark and I traveled Mexico and Central America with a truck camper for a year in the past; a lifestyle that suited us all right back then. We are also considering more overland adventures in a camper in the future; a camper very similar to the one we are renting. So, for us the time we have to explore New Zealand in this van has multiple purposes: we want to enjoy the South Island sights, test a few things in regards to our new Wirie products, figure out the feasibility of living long term in this size vehicle, make time to do some work remotely from the comfort of our camper and feel free to roam around, picking our destinations based on weather, something we are very used to doing. :-)

So, before I bombard you with a whole array of photos representing the lovely and incredible scenery we were able to enjoy the last couple of days, I will stick to our trip to the South Island first. More in the next blog, where the real adventure commences!

Graveyard "memorial" for Anzac Day, in Tokoroa

"Talking Pole" (Maori sculpture) in the town of Tokoroa

Lake Taupo through the bus window

Mt. Ruapehu in Togariro National Park

Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in "Lord of the Rings"), in Tongariro NP

Enjoying an ice cream in the sun during one of the bus breaks

Typical North Island scenery

War Memorial in Wellington

Old London bus turned into army vehicle during WWI

It looks a bit disgusting, but this is the "colossal squid", the biggest ocean squid ever captured and on display in Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Elaborate Maori marae in Te Papa Museum

Long lines to see the "Gallipoli" exhibition in Te Papa - we would come back late afternoon

Skyline of Wellington, New Zealand's capital

The big and interesting Te Papa Museum

Let's take the cable car up into the hills - this form of transportation is also used by locals, using the multiple stops on the way up

View of Wellington from the end of the cable car line

Bigger than life statue at the "Gallipoli" exhibition

The eye for detail during the creation of the statues is incredible!

Amazing display at the "Gallipoli" exhibition

Grieving nurse during WWI ("Gallipoli" exhibition)

Sailing through the rainy and misty Marlborough Sounds with the ferry

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Week in Auckland, New Zealand

After Mark and I visited our boating friends further north, we brought Axel’s car back to Auckland. Our German friend was meeting a diving buddy in Muriwai that afternoon and we decided to join him on a sightseeing trip in the morning. Axel showed us the local Gannet colony, the extensive beaches and the wild coastline of this western region. Once back in Auckland, Mark and I resided in an expensive hostel for two nights. While happily being part of the more affordable backpacking scene, many years ago, I felt a bit out of place (and noticeably older) in the tiny room, shared bathroom and sticky, underequipped communal kitchen.

On Sunday, Axel and Liz handed us the keys to our very own temporary apartment on K-Road! That was a joyous moment, and for the last week, Mark and I have truly enjoyed the city life in our spacious and modern flat. The unlimited running water, the warm, pressurized showers, the decent wireless internet, the non-stop electricity, the comfortably equipped kitchen and the roomy walk-in closet (which barely has clothes in it) give us a true feeling of how the average human being in the western world lives. An enjoyable and welcome change, that’s for sure! Parks, public transportation and a Chinese grocery store are within walking distance, together with all the shops and (ethnic) restaurants you can think of. This is the life, indeed. For now…

One of those days, last week, I met up with my friend Lisa and she showed me around Auckland’s street art scene. Knowing all the artists and having been present at the annual 2015 All Fresco Street Art Festival, she proved to be an amazing guide. Her insights as a street art admirer and connoisseur added to her knowledge and navigational skills of the city. The photos underneath don’t do the murals justice, but it was a very interesting experience to learn and see a bit more of this increasingly popular art form.

Being in such comfort for five days allowed Mark to focus full time on the Wirie business and pending projects again, while I managed to plan our upcoming trip to the South Island… and write some blogs. :-) This weekend, we are heading down to Wellington (New Zealand's capital) and then our three week land adventure can begin!

One of the Muriwai beaches

The "wild" west coast

Gannet flying over local fishermen

Part of the Gannet colony

Axel and Mark on a cold and windy day

Cave dwelling in Muriwai

Photographer Axel in action!

Axel's hexacopter in action!

Mark trying to do some work in our tiny room (Auckland's BK Hostel)

This one and the photos underneath are some examples of Auckland's street art

Lisa taking one of her hundreds of street art shots!

Auckland's skyline

Lisa being goofy with wings -  a little angel!

Liesbet with wings

The reflections in the owl's eyes make this work special

Our favorite work of Auckland street art, by Owen Dippie

The details of this bigger than life master piece are amazing!

Mural of the Maori woman in context of her environment