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New Zealand, take two: North Island

My previous post, Mewe Zealand, detailed our adventure on the South Island and in which I promised a damning video.  Well, against my better judgement and sensitive ego, I’m gonna live up to my post.  Aptly titled, laurenjumpsoffabridgescreaming, enjoy.

Did you know that your body was capable of such a guttoral scream?  I didn’t.  I was calm as a cucumber until that baffling sound came shooting out of the depths of my visceral organs.

So, North Island, Kiwiland, here goes.

After spending time on the South Island, where the population is very low and freedom camping abundant, we were, at first, a bit underwhelmed by the North Island.  The Cook Strait crossing from South to North was spectacular, though it did come with a hefty $500 ish dollar pricetag (campervan came with us).  We bee lined up the middle of the island (time constraints), for the Rotorua area.  We ventured through Waimangu Thermal Area and were then recommended to go to Waikite Valley Thermal Pools and hot damn (literally and figuratively), what a find.  While it would have felt even better were we the Euro couple who had been bike camping through NZ with their 4 year old and 6 month old, our lazy, luxury camping selves thoroughly enjoyed.  You role up (or down actually) through winding roads into a STEAMY valley that looks like it must be void of life and to your shagrin, inside said steamy valley lives a hot springs (camping) resort.

Waimangu

Waikite

One great feature of the North Island that you don’t get as much on the South are the cultural roots of New Zealand; the Maori people, to whom we can credit a language that trips up even the most seasoned of travelers (and locals).  Onward and upward, we then headed through the rolling hills of Hobitron (where the Shire in Lord of the Rings was filmed – and still exists as an amusement part of sorts), which were everything you’d hope Frodo Baggins dreams were made of, and more.  And North we drove, until we got to the Coromandel Peninsula where we happened upon both the Driving Creek Cafe and Driving Creek Railroad (two different businesses, both located on Driving Creek Road).  Both of which you must do if visiting the Coromandel.  Deliciously thoughtful, slowly prepared food of all types (with a fantastic kids play area out front) and a miniature train line built by the hands of the ceramist who bought the property and constructed the railroad to cart clay from the mountainside.

And our one and only (illegally) parked campsite:

And then, we found paradise (with a way better view than the amazing view shown above).  Little Bay, on the east side of the Coromandel Peninsula.  It’s a calm little bay, flanked with hills that are speckled by sweet vacation homes, with a lazy stream winding its way into the water (and a spectacular place for young kids to frolick).  The problem with Little Bay (for travelers – an asset for locals) is that it’s very remote and there really isn’t anything around – though we did figure out that there is a campground just north of it (we ended up parked on the property of some locals who welcomed us in like we were family).

And, we got to go sea fishing for the first time (and each caught more fish than our captain and first mate, combined – beginners luck).

I can’ t be sure whether Denali is looking at the fish in disappointed disgust (for me), or if he’s saying “Mom, you’re a badass fisherwoman”.  As difficult as it was to see the fish die for my [eating] enjoyment, I take comfort in the fact that I did just that and that he/she helped nourish my body; it wasn’t in vein little fish, it wasn’t in vein.

 

 

 

Mewe (pronounced like ‘ewe’, a female sheep) Zealand: South Island

This will be numero uno in my series of ‘Back-Blogs’, as I’ve finally gotten my ass in gear, for now.

Last May, we journeyed to the land of the flightless Kiwi bird, New Zealand, which at the time, Safari pronounced as Mewe Zealand (and for the sake of keeping that memory intact, I will do my best to not ever let her say the word again because inevitably, it will come out correctly).

The most common inquiry I get in regards to traveling with my kids is, “How’d they do on the flight?”.  Probably most parents biggest source of trepidation when thinking of long distance travel with young kids.  And to which, knock on wood, I always respond, “Great”.  No doubt a 12-14 hour flight is painful, even for the drink-a-glass-of-champagne-take-an-ambien-and-pass-out-for-10-hours-while-sitting-in-first-class-type. Which, let me tell you, is a LONG shot from our experience, and it STILL works.  Though, I will say that more often than not, we end up with an extra seat we didn’t have to pay for because after all, WHO THE HELL WANTS TO SIT NEXT TO THE FAMILY WITH A 3.5 YEAR OLD AND AN ALMOST 2 YEAR OLD (screeching) LAP CHILD?  But, then again, it just depends on how motivated you are to actually do it.  In my case, I’d brave through a 10 hour flight, by myself, covered in poo and tears, so I could lay foot on foreign land.

Okay, back to Mewe Zealand.  We flew into Queenstown (south of the south island) and began our journey through middle earth.  Our first few days were experienced with a backdrop of sweet towns set amidst stunning lakes, flanked on all sides by magnificent mountains.  To be honest, the first few days left me a bit disappointed.  With an only slight cultural difference (yes I adore the accents and cute vocabulary), I felt like I could have been in Idaho, then Wyoming, then California and while those places are amazing, I DIDN’T just fly 14 hours to feel like I was in the US.  HOWEVER, what I realized after those first few days is that, for me, New Zealand’s strength is in the sum of its parts.  One day we were camping on a mountain lake and the next we were on a beach in the tropics.  Really, it’s that dramatic.  Camping, right.  So, we rented a campervan (thinking we were onto something then realizing that THIS IS HOW PEOPLE ‘DO’ NZ – including Kiwis themselves) from Wilderness Campervans.  If by the grace of God, someone is actually using my blog for travel advice/inspiration, GO WITH WILDERNESS, don’t think about anyone else, do it.  The only prob is that they only rent out of Christchurch and Auckland… BUT, work it out, it’ll be worth it.

Holy, I haven’t yet gotten to the gory details.  We went bungy-jumping (no, not the kids – though Safari claimed that she wanted to jump with Daddy), which I’ll show the video of in a separate post (even though it’s so embarrassing I’ve barely let my own mother watch it).  AND WE CAMPED, AND CAMPED, AND CAMPED.  FOR FREE.  Yay, freedom camping, yay New Zealand.  To be clear, it was LUXURY camping, I make no claims at ‘roughing it’.  Below is a small dose of our experience with it.

Night One – Arthur’s Pass NP (taken from parked campervan):

Night Two – beach near Punakaiki:

Night Three – Buller River:

At the same time we were winding our way through crazy mountain roads, thinking we were pretty badass, there was a couple, whom we later met on the north island, who was doing the same… on bikes… two kids, in a bike carrier, with all their shit, cycling on crazy mountain roads.  Now THAT’S badass.  I want to be them when I grow up.

We did A SHAT TON OF DRIVING.  We’d schedule our daily pushes to coordinate with naptime and only drive an hour or two outside of that… except when googlemaps told us it would take 3 hours and ended up taking more like 7, which actually happened often.  SO, if you’re fortunate enough to be traveling with some sort of googlemaps powered GPS/ a husband who can’t be more than a hand reach away from work (i.e. with phone at all times), beware.  Our course looked something like this:  Queenstown – Milford Sound – Arrow Town – Wanaka – Mount Cook – Tekapo – Christchurch – Arthurs Pass NP – West Coast – Nelson Lake NP – Takaka – Abel Tasman NP – Nelson – Marlborough Valley – Picton.  And we agree that if we were to do it again, we’d chart the same course.  Bam.