First off, we had an amazing, AMAZING wedding. Rarely does something live up to the expectation (or what is in my head, anyway), but the way everything turned out, it really surpassed anything I could have even imagined. We had an awesome time hanging out with friends, family, and having lots of good food. Saying good bye to Texas was hard, looking forward to our honeymoon somewhat softened the blow. We flew back Monday morning from AUS to SFO, said goodbye to friends who also traveled with us on the flight home, hung out with our kitties, and then re-packed for our three-week adventure. It didn’t leave much time to think, absorb, or even allow time to figure out what to pack.
Flight to NZ on Air NZ was uneventful. We barely made it through the instructions part of the flight before passing out (I think I had a combined total of 10 hrs of sleep in the past 4 days). We woke for dinner service, then back to sleep again, then up again for breakfast, then back asleep. Such is international travel — eat sleep eat sleep. Two huge pluses: 1. the seats actually reclined at an angle that made it comfortable to sleep 2. I actually fell asleep. Negatives: really frazzled people on the flight, one guy was so anxious to get his bags before everyone else that he got up from his chair and fiddled around in the overhead bin just as the plane was about to land…as in the plane was just about to touch down…flight attendants did not like that.
We arrived in New Zealand around 6am — 3 hrs before the campervan place opened — which left us 3 hrs to meander around the airport gift shops (Sly of course chatted up every salesclerk he could find), and to have our 2nd breakfast, sorry, “brekkie” at McDonalds. Say what you will about McDonalds, but I love eating their breakfasts, and I love seeing how the McDonalds menus become customized for each country/city.
Finally, around 9, we caught a cab to downtown Auckland (cab fare was crazy expensive, seems ridiculous) and checked in to Escape Campervans. Sly requested manual so we could both potentially drive, and since all the automatics were reserved, they asked if we would be willing to wait a couple hours for them to finish up a brand new, never-been-driven campervan. We decided to wait — the vans are essentially terrorist vans converted by some guy in his home shop. Two plywood boxes provide storage, and support the bed/couches. In the back, a plywood kitchen sink area,is packed tight with everything you need. On the outside is a mural by one of four commissioned artists they use — ours has flowers on one side (normal), then an infant newborn curled up in a forest of leaves on the other side (weird). Glad we waited for the new van though, some of the others were a little on the busted side.
With a couple hours to spare, Sly and I walked around downtown Auckland, hitting up a junky mall with a K-mart like store called The Warehouse (or is it The Outlet, I forgot), then walking (and for Sly, talking) to various stores/salesclerks etc. Everyone was so friendly and chatty and smiley that I almost thought they were messing with us. Definitely not used to this. From one of the sales clerks, Sly deduced there was a nearby sushi train, so we walked up Queen Street, asked/talked to more people, then became frustratingly lost. The further we walked up Queen street, the less English people seemed to speak. Nobody had even *heard* of a sushi train. After backtracking and arguing over what the salesclerk said, we finally found the place.
Pretty good sushi, not that cheap. So far, nothing in New Zealand is cheap, even though the American dollar is a bit stronger than the NZ dollar…things are still pretty pricey.
Once in our campervan, we hit the 1 south, with plans to make it to Wellington before nightfall. The 1 cuts through the center of the North Island, and therefore we saw lots of cows, sheep, couple of pigs, more cows, more sheep…lots and lots and lots of cows. The towns we drove through were a mix of European suburbia warehouse type cities, or just like crumbling old buildings from I don’t know when.We bought groceries for our trip at New World, a supermarket chain that seems to be popular here. Also popular: chicken flavored chips, super creamy full-fat dairy products, strange combo deals from gas stations, like an energy drink with a sausage roll or energy drink with a candy bar, or energy drink with stick of cheese…energy drink combos are popular here to say the least.
Besides miles and miles of pastoral scenery, we did drive by Lake Taupo, which looked amazing, and hopefully will be a place we hit up on the way back. We didn’t really make any stops of interest as we barreled towards Wellington. Sly and I both struggled to stay awake, we were so exhausted.
By the time we reached the Wellington area, it was 10pm. The guide book mentioned there were no holiday parks in Wellington so we found one in nearby Lower Hutt…too bad we couldn’t find it. After driving around for 30 minutes, biting each others’ heads off, we decided to just head to the ferry terminal and figure out a sleeping situation since we needed to get up in just a few hours. In other words, we slept in the parking lot of the ferry terminal. With the dark shades pulled shut, and exhaustion setting in rapidly, it was quite a cozy arrangement. The first of the 3 hours, I could barely sleep as my ears were perked up waiting for the moment the cops came and fined us for “freedom camping” on clearly marked private property. But, safety in numbers — we saw a couple other cars/vans doing the same thing and figured we’d take the risk.
After several hours of sleep, we got up, drove the van to our designated slot, lined up, then passed out again, waiting for the signal to drive on board the ferry. Once on board, we were instructed to head to the lounge (which smelled like piss), where me, sly, and practically everyone else on board found a cold pleather loveseat, curled up, and went to sleep…all of us except one little girl who watched whale rider all night long at the loudest possible volume she could find on the tv in the lounge.
It seems as if we are getting used to catching whatever sleep we can, and surprisingly, we both felt rather rested after our 3.5 hr boat ride/slumber. I got up a bit earlier than the rest of the sleepers, and was able to roam the boat a little bit, and watch the sun rise as the ferry meandered through the sound. First impression is that the South Island looked night and day different from what I had seen of the north. More…tropical? Hawaii-like? Definitely more contrast in mountains and coastline. So far, the “prettier” island for sure.
At 8:30 am or so, we pulled into Kaikoura, booked passage on the 1030 whale watching boat, then found a holiday park. We made the decision to stay the night here, catching a good night’s rest rather than barrel on to another city. Our only agenda was to go whale watching, one I soon regretted.
I’m ok on boats, but what I’m not ok with is the smell of fumes and boats, or the smell of fumes, on a boat, with the sound of other people puking into a bag while the boat rocks back and forth, sloshing the morning’s disgusting and stupid choice of breakfast around in your stomach along with the “large” latte made with pure cream and tasted like chocolate ice cream. Needless to say, I puked. Then thankfully, I passed out.
We were on the boat for about four hours. The captain kept extending the trip as he was in hot pursuit of some whales. Pretty much the trip went like this: captain stops the boat. Everyone gets excited. Guide instructs everyone to quickly go outside. People rush outside like crazy. Captain puts sonar into water while strange Euro dude with long hair asks him about 900 times if he heard anything. Captain ignores Euro guy. Guide says, “if you look to your right” and before she finishes, everyone on the tour is running to the right side of the boat only to find out that the guide is pointing out a bird, not a whale. Guide instructs everyone to get back into their seats. Captain tries to find whale. Repeat about 50 times.
Anyway, long story short: we didn’t see any whales. But we saw quite a few albatross. Those guys look like someone took a seagull and supersized them. They are truly massive birds.
Back on land, I was still feeling sick, and had to lie down in our freshly painted van in the parking lot of the whale place while sly patiently waited in line to get our refund (if you don’t see a whale, they give you most of your money back. Honestly, after 4 hrs, I would have paid them anything to get me back to shore). We went to New World, bought some local fruits and veggies, purchased 24hr internet, and then settled down for a relaxing evening at the Holiday Park, interrupted only by our new friend, who came out of nowhere to have dinner of smoked seafood, veggies and local beer.
The wedding is still sinking in, and as the days after the wedding unfold, I find my mind revisiting special moments and conversations I’ve had with friends and family over the course of our night. Kaikoura, a somewhat sleepy fishing town, with a rocky coastline and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, is the perfect place to recharge, reconnect, and reflect. It all feels like a surreal dream. This feels dream-like too. I can’t really even think that I’m on the other side of the world, traveling the country in a camper van with my husband. It’s a lot to take in, but in a good way.
Kiwi decoder guide:
brekkie = breakfast
chilly bin = ice chest/cooler (I originally misunderstood it the first time I heard it, thinking it was “chilly BEAR”)
cherry tom = cherry tomato
sweet as = sweet/awesome
easy as = easy peasy
sushi train = sushi boat/sushi-go-round
pipi = whale
rubbage bin = garbage can
holiday park = rv park
crayfish = lobster
road maggot = campervan
freedom camping = camp wherever you want and pay nothing