Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Floating Rocks and Desert Roads

You hear a lot about Freedom camping in New Zealand. We have several friends who have camper-vanned around New Zealand and they all tell of just parking anywhere, anytime, and having a wonderful place. We've come to learn that they were either here many years ago, or they were here in off season. There are lots of rules surrounding freedom camping now and you better get there early in the day to claim your spot. Most nights, we ended up in commercial campgrounds after finding the designated freedom campsites to be full. They charge by the person here ($15-30), rather than by the site. Since we are traveling with 3 people, it's been $45-90/night. Luckily that's in New Zealand dollars and the exchange rate is well in our favor, making that $30-62/night.

So, we were thrilled when we came across a freedom camping spot that had enough room for lots of RVs. And it was gorgeous, right on the shores of lake Taupo.

There are volcanoes around here, made obvious by the pumice-stone rocks laying all about the beach. They are very light - throw it into the water and these rocks float!

We just stayed there one night, then headed south toward Wellington. Melinda's friends asked if we would be taking the "Desert Road" - highway 1. Huh? Desert is about the only environment we don't see in New Zealand, but, yes - we were taking Highway 1. Lo and Behold, a while after leaving Lake Taupo, we found ourselves in what loooked like eastern Oregon - the high desert. Straight road! So straight that it put Melinda to sleep. In this video - you'll see the view out the side window.


Where there's Hope, there's tickets

The reason that Melinda is so familiar with New Zealand is that her son married a New Zealander and lived here for many years. Two of her grandchildren were born here and she spent months at a time visiting. Her son and grandkids are back in the states, but Melinda still keeps in touch with her daughter-in-laws family living in Cambridge, New Zealand - just down the road from Matamata and Hobbiton.

We parked in their driveway and had a lovely dinner of fresh vegetables from their garden and lamb chops from their sheep. The next morning we all went out to breakfast including their other daughter, Hope, and her 2 kids. I had the "Smashed Avo" - it's toast from wonderful homemade 7 grain bread with a generous serving of avocado, a poached egg, feta cheese, pickled onions, pine nuts and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The Red Cherry Cafe.

This was the best breakfast I have ever had!
During the conversation we mentioned how we were shut out from visiting Hobbiton and Hope said, y'know they always have cancellations. Let's call and check - so she did. After speaking to the person on the other end she asked: "Do you want to go on the tour at 12:30 or at 1?" Wow.
So we got to see the Hobbiton movie set after all!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

There's beer at the barn

We left Whangamata headed for Matamata and the Hobbiton movie set. The road was still curvy and we even got some rain through the Karangahake Gorge.
At every turn in the road I marveled at the sight of the Tree Ferns. It looked like we were in Fiji!
Just before Matamata was Wairere falls. We decided to stop and check it out. It was still a bit rainy and it looked like a fairly strenuous hike, so we skipped it in favor of getting to Hobbiton. Guess what? The Hobbiton tours were fully booked for the next 5 days. Oh No! That was the first sightseeing stop we had on our map from the beginning - it didn't occur to us that we needed to make pre-arrangements. Silly I know, you should always think about crowds for popular attractions like this during high tourist season. We much prefer to leave our schedule loose so we can follow serendipity, so we get over our disappointment quickly when things don't work out. It's how we roll. 
So ... back to the falls we go. The weather had cleared up a bit, and we now had all day free. WOW what a gorgeous hike. We ended up feeling grateful that Hobbiton didn't work out because this hike was SO rewarding. 

It was long and steep and hot. We felt very accomplished to complete it - and rewarded with the waterfall view at the end. Melinda had stopped before the waterfall and took a dip in the stream. We picked her up on the way back. Jim took the lead the rest of the way. I commented that he was acting like a horse that wants to get back to the barn. He responded "There's beer at the barn."

Combined with our beach walk in the morning - we recorded over 17,000 steps this day.

The beach is closed

One destination on our list was Cathedral cove on Coromandel peninsula. After miles of twisty windy road, we reached Hahei where there is a trailhead to the beach at Cathedral cove. There was a car park with a park and ride sign that looked promising, so we parked and got on the bus to the beach.
Before we could get inside the doorway, the bus driver said, just so you know, the beach is closed. The oversized surf make for crashing surf where the beach should be, so it's too dangerous right now. This bus will take you to an overlook.
We figured looking was better than nothing so we got on.

The overlook was spectacular and we could see the crashing waves. There was a walk from the overlook back to town. We took that and found a fabulous picnic spot in the shade. Otherwise it was hot. So, we didn't get to see Cathedral cove, but it was still a memorable stop.

Back on the road ... the curvy, twisty road ... with lots of views. Our destination was set to a "Freedom camping" spot in Whangamata (pronounced FungamaTAH). I found it using the Campermate app not knowing what we would find. OMG - what a find! Check out this parking spot, view and direct beach access.

However, on closer inspection, we found signs that indicated there were only 4 parking spaces designated as free camping - and those spaces were already full. :-( Melinda and I were willing to risk it, but Jim said no - we need to be good and follow the rules. He was right, so we moved on to a pay-for campground in town. It was more like a trailer park, no view, tight spaces. But, it had beach access and the beach was less than 2 blocks away. 
Jim and I actually woke up before sunrise and walked to the beach for some sunrise photos. It was beautiful - especially because there were big rocks out in the ocean to frame the sun.

What we didn't bargain for was the surfers! The big swells that closed the beach at Cathedral Cove meant Surf's UP! Here's video of a surfer who caught a great wave.

Then we continued walking around the corner to the marina. Just beautiful. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Camper Van, Horses and Heroes

On our fourth day in New Zealand, we picked up our motorhome from Wilderness RV. We chose this company and booked the motorhome several months ago because of the recommendation of Heath and Alyssa. They spent 3 months in one and highly recommended it. See their excellent video series on Camper Vanning in New Zealand. It wasn't cheap - approx $300/day - but we had to get the larger model to sleep 3, and we got extras like Internet service, and pre-booked Ferry.

See a little video here. After getting the instructions on how everything works, we took off, Jim driving on the left side of the road, and me feeling like I must be about to go off the road on the left side. White knuckles driving thru Auckland and over the bridge to the north. "Keep Left" "Look Right"  "Keep Left"
It's the right turns that are really freaky - crossing the the traffic to turn right on the far side. What?

Here is a little video (it's in the main Album) of when we first got the RV and are ready to take off.

We traveled about an hour north of Auckland to a campground we found in the Campermate app.

Our first night in the camper was just Jim and me. It was good to get everything stowed and get a little familiar with it before picking up Melinda.

After our one night, we drove back into Auckland to pick up Melinda and start our adventure! The whole excuse for this trip is that Melinda was asked to present her workshop on Equine Assisted Professional Development (see her website We were early for the Spirit Horse Festival, so we found a campground not to far and settled in for 2 nights. Aaaaahhhh.

I've known Melinda since the late 70s, lived with her in Lake Tahoe, and traveled together many times. We let Jim come along :-) He likes it!

Spirit Horse Festival

What a trip. People, horses, kids, food, camping, seminars - all on a gorgeous piece of property called Dunes Lake Lodge. Melinda gave two presentations: 1-Thinking outside the Paddock, and 2-Creativity in the Arena. She is a teacher - that is the bond we share - and she has been teaching and facilitating with people and horses for many years. She has a herd of her own on her property near Reno, Nevada. Jim and I know nothing about horses, we were just there as Melinda's support. Something different for sure!
Melinda's presentation on Creativity in the Arena

Here's a little movie put together from Jim's photos and videos.

Jim is still the Technology Hero

We were only there to support Melinda, but she made sure that the festival organizers knew that we were Technology Geeks - so when their WiFi stopped working, they came to Jim!

He saved the day. We actually called ourselves Computer Heroes years ago. And, when the presenters arrived at their session with only  thumb drive containing their PowerPoint presentation - Jim got them hooked up with a computer and HDMI cable to the big screen TV in the presentation room.

It was a fun time. Now on with the adventure!

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Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Auckland Rocks!

We met Grant and Ali in Wyoming last summer while they were RVing in the US. They invited us to visit their home in Auckland. We accept those invitations! We already had one night booked at a downtown hotel (Scenic Hotel) then we spent 2 nights at their house before we picked up our rental RV.
Grant and Ali call themselves Gypsy Rockers - they travel all over the world and their passion is dancing Rock and Roll! While chatting in Wyoming they told us of the Rock and Roll clubs in New Zealand and how they go dancing all the time. I said I'd love to do that - so they took us out on Saturday night. What great fun! Do these kind of clubs exist in the States? I gotta find out.

Sightseeing in Auckland

We did spend one day walking around downtown (that's called CBD around here: Central Business District) Auckland and the Maritime museum.

Then Ali picked us up and took us home with her! It feels so much like California around here. It makes sense when you look at a map with Latitudes - San Francisco is about 38 degrees north of the equator and Auckland is about 38 degrees south. The temperature is similar, the plants are similar - we're just in opposite seasons. It's summer here - January is like July/August. It's hot inland, but the water is cool - about 22 degrees celsius (72 fahrenheit) so it makes for cool breezes.

When we got to their house, we settled in the guest bedroom, then had just the best New Zealand dinner ever - mussels! What a treat.

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