Monday, 31 December 2012

To the north from Auckland. And then back south through Auckland

Life after Auckland

By the time we left Auckland, I think it’s fair to say that we had seen pretty much all it had to offer as a tourist destination. While it is a great place, it’s actually a fairly small city, and while I’m sure there are many more things we could have done (in fact there definitely are) we were both glad to be moving forwards.

New Zealand

It was only after we had arrived in New Zealand that I really started looking at maps of just where everything was. For some reason, in my head I had always thought it was just a tiny island off the coast of Australia, a naïve view that I attribute to never fully appreciating the vast size of Australia from only ever looking briefly at maps and not giving the subject any real thought. For this reason, I’ll provide you with some of the basic facts that I had picked up during my stay in Auckland and the rough plan we had created as a result.

Map of New Zealand

The first thing I realised after closer study of map was that the north island wasn't actually that much shorter than the south island. In the six weeks we planned to spend in the country, our aim was to see as much of it as possible, while not missing out on any of the major tourist attractions. When we rented the car, the deal came with one way passage on the South Island ferry, so we had to choose a date before renting the car. While we didn't want to miss anything we’d regret, all the guide books and most of the people who had been suggested that the south island was a lot more scenic than the north, and so we decided to allocate just over two weeks in the north with the rest of our time to the south.

After talking to several people at the hostel in Auckland, we had decided to head north to start with, towards the peninsular which leads to the very top of the island. The main reason being ninety mile beach down the western side which we were told is exactly as the name suggested; a ninety mile long continuous beach which you could, at low tide, drive along (although we decided not to try in the Sunny due to insurance concerns.)  
The first thing I noticed was the difference in driving compared to the UK. 

After getting accustomed to the automatic gears, it became apparent that that wasn't all that was different about the experience. It was the lack of people, not only on the road but the rolling hills and fields in between towns. It was almost like the American small town feeling, as every now and then you’d pass a welcome sign, a gas station, a couple of shops and then a thank you for driving carefully as you exited once again into grassy valleys before you even realised you were in a town. 

Driving north from Auckland

It was a pleasure to drive, and I felt the enjoyment that I hadn't felt since the previous year down the west coast of America. It’s what I imagine driving in England used to be like before over developed villages and towns massed gradually outwards into one big urban mess. Like driving in the lake district or the Yorkshire dales would be if you didn't have so many city drivers rushing all over the roads, with enough room for camper vans to happily go both ways without any danger. Although I do highly recommend it, that’s probably enough about driving for now.

After leaving Auckland, we began the journey to the beach. After staying in a hostel which was more like my parents’ house in the UK, and watching the ‘new’ Robin Hood with Russell Crow (the ending of which topped it off as one of the flimsiest plot lines since Space Cowboys), we made it the next day.

Ninety Mile Beach

It was really a good view, and we had a great day for it but we were faced with the dilemma of just how far to go up the peninsula. We could have gone further up, as there were sand dunes which our friend Jan had highly recommended, or further still to the northern most point. But the question was would it really change that much? We had already seen some of the ninety miles, and because of the thought of going back on ourselves as we would be coming back down the same road, and the thought of spending the money on petrol we decided to call it, and instead decided to push on to the bay of islands.

Me, looking concerned, on Ninety Mile Beach

The Bay of Islands

While still north of Auckland, these were down the east coast and marked the beginning of our journey south. Because of the timing of our journey, the summer tourist season had still not fully begun, and while it was clear that the towns visitor capacity was nowhere near filled, it was still a great experience. The hostel we stayed in, much like many we were to see during our journey, was packed mainly with German tourists who were there for the soon to begin farming season. In the kitchen, following the days long drive, we cracked open a bottle of wine. I made the mistake of having a little too much before cooking dinner, leading to an awkward moment in the open plan kitchen involving several German girls, the language barrier and some jacket potatoes. After dinner we did manage to make friends, and after a quite quiet but fun night we spent the next day in the town. We would have stayed longer but we decided that due to the time frame we should push on with the drive. Unfortunately, it would appear that neither of us remembered to take any photos here, but I assure you that it was due to the sheer beauty that we forgot to take our cameras out the car.

After leaving the Bay of Islands, we headed south, returning through Auckland on our way to see the rest of the North Island.

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