With over a week back in Sydney housesitting for my Uncle and Auntie, you’d forgive us for thinking we had ample time to spend relaxed mornings with Lillie the American Staffie, afternoons taking beautiful coastal walks and evenings sipping slowly on our sweet tawny (Port) from the Barrosa, before our New Zealand adventures. But no, with a flash the week was over before it had begun, and we found ourselves racing around like headless wallabies getting things ready for our hand over with Christa’s friend, who’d be taking on the remainder of housesitting duties before Martin and Christa arrived back from Germany.
After successfully managing to squeeze in a photoshoot of our car and gear, ready to sell before our final departure back to the UK in October, we found ourselves checking in at Sydney’s International terminal the next morning. There, we treated ourselves to a Macca’s brekkie that was cleverly craned in from far above our heads, before then boarding our Latan flight to Auckland.
Our scenic 5 hr flight featuring quality films and all inclusive seat-service, felt rather sophisticated when compared to our previous 2 months of travelling through the Outback eating Vegemite sandwiches! We were tempted to remain on board in Auckland, as the planes final destination was Chile’s beautiful capital: Santiago, although New Zealand should suit us just fine for now…
Once we’d landed and managed to navigate our way from the airport to the CBD via a Skybus, we checked into the ‘Kiwi International Hotel’; a small, but brilliantly located accommodation a short walk from downtown Auckland. We quickly dumped our bags and successfully sourced a fine curry followed by proper PINTS of Kiwi Monteith beer in a wonderfully old world establishment named ‘The Bluestone Room’; once a 19th century warehouse still decked out with its original Kauri timber ceiling atop volcanic stone walls.
We woke the next day feeling rather jet lagged – not something we expected with only 2 hrs difference between Sydney and Auckland. There was only one thing for it; coffee of course! So with Joella’s artistic compass guiding us, we set off towards the hipster area of Ponsonby, providing awesome views of Auckland’s skyline while we perused the many boutique shops, charity emporiums, impressive street art, inventive sculptures and fortunately plenty of independent cafes… perhaps too many.
As per the norm, we initially struggled to decide where we’d get our caffeine fix, but eventually settled for the ‘Bread and Butter Bakery and Cafe’, within a happening food market full of delis and stalls selling a variety of edible delights. I was satisfied with my cup of silky smooth Joe and savoury bread and butter pudding featuring rich cheese, flavoursome herbs, charcoal roasted veg and a pickled salad; although Joella wasn’t too impressed with her bland smashed avocado and soft boiled egg :-/
After further boutique shop hopping, and perked up by a couple of coke spiders aka coke floats (McDonalds in NZ and Australia has a significantly different menu than to the UK), we jumped aboard a ferry over to Devonport – on the opposite side of the harbour from Auckland’s main CBD. Once docked, we zig zagged our way along the wharf and through the town, to begin our ascent of Mount Victoria; a prominent 100 metre high, dormant (still, we hope) volcano. Once at the summit we were treated with spectacular views across Auckland and far beyond, that I unfortunately struggled to capture in all its glory due to discovering some dust in my camera…
After taking in the eclectic mix of scenery sprawled out around us us, as well as the funny air vents camouflaged as giant mushrooms, we headed in the direction of North Head. There we were able to explore some old military bunkers and climb atop huge artillery emplacements from the 1800s, known as ‘disappearing guns’ due to their clever design, enabling them to be hidden from direct fire and observation. With our step count closing in on 30,000, we headed back to our hotel.
That evening we met up with an old NZ mate of mine and his girlfriend, who I’d worked with in London a few years back. Pete suggested ‘White and Wong’s’, a fancy asian fusion restaurant down in Auckland’s Harbourside Wynyard Quarter. Over some tasty dim sum they serenaded us with a never ending list of spellbinding sites and experiences that lay ahead of us in New Zealand; it was near impossible to take it all in. But then we shouldn’t be too surprised given that Pete works on the Visit New Zealand website! It was a lovely evening, surreally catching up with a friend on the other side of the world. After an evacuation caused by a fire alarm tested our honesty (yes we did go back and pay, unlike many other diners), we called it a night and headed back to our hotel, itching to get going on our tour of New Zealand the next day.
Cruising through the Coromandel
Following an early start to grab a coffee in an old shopping arcade and a failed attempt to hunt down a secondhand NZ travel book (all we could find was a very out of date 14 year old Rough Guide), we arranged our free taxi ‘shuttle’ (please excuse the pun) to pick up our ‘Spaceship’… rental camper van. Despite opting for the second cheapest option, we were rather impressed with our NZ$19 (£9.80) a day Toyota Estima named ‘Archie’; featuring a separate sleeping area in the back, bedding, fridge, cooker and utensils! After a quick pit stop to buy a pricy camera sensor cleaning kit, then picking up supplies from Countdown – NZ’s Woolworths, we were on our way 🙂
Based upon Pete’s recommendations and a guide from the brilliant new ‘Roadtrippers’ app I’d just discovered, we headed in the direction of the famous Coromandel, to the East of Auckland, on the other side of the Firth of Thames. Once we’d arrived on the peninsula and began driving along the road that hugged the western coastline through various small towns with brilliantly exotic Maori names like Whakateke Bay and Raumahunga, we struggled to make much progress. This was purely down to how unbelievably gorgeous our surroundings had become, meaning we couldn’t stop ourselves from pulling over every 5 minutes to take even more photos. This was even before day became evening; resulting in the horizon turning a yellow gold, thus causing the general atmosphere to become even more breathtaking!
Eventually we made it to Long Bay campsite we’d shortlisted via the NZ WikiCamps app, just in time to watch a dazzling golden sunset. Drifting off to sleep wasn’t an issue, thanks to the soothing sound of waves in the background.
More scenic stops en route to Cambridge
We woke the next morning feeling full of energy; and not wanting to waste the day, skipped showers and got going after a quick breakfast with a view (and a quick go on the tyre swing). First we stopped in past ‘Driving Creek Railway and Pottery’ to take a look at their vintage train engines and colourful wares, before making our way down to Cathedral Cove.
After eventually deciding where to park (opting for the closest, but priciest car park), we set off on the coastal walk, past the beautiful looking (and named) ‘Stingray Beach’ and ‘Gemstone Bay’, playfully jumping between boulders. Then it was on to the main event: Cathedral Cove – an enormous cathedral like tunnel, carved into the cliffside, separating two secluded white sand beaches. Our timing was impeccable, as we arrived just in time to seek shelter, as the heavens opened.
Before we knew it, it was time to make our way down to New Zealand’s Cambridge, where Joella had arranged a three week house sitting assignment. We were given a warm welcome from Paul, Mai and Lollie – their lovely miniature poodle we’d be looking after – before spending the evening chatting away over pizza and a bottle of tasty NZ Montana Pinot Noir. We’d only been in New Zealand for three full days and had already been blown away by its beauty; to say we couldn’t wait to continue exploring this magical land would be a massive understatement!