We absolutely loved our three weeks in Chile visiting deserts in San Pedro de Atacama, seeing wineries in Casablanca valley, looking at the stars in Vicuña and otherwise just chilling and living in 'our' apartment in Santiago for 2 weeks. But these 2 weeks parked in Santiago were primarily meant to recover from the two months long journey that brought us to 4 different countries and recharge our batteries for our next adventure... a road trip in the land of Kiwis!
We were excited to finally be able to see New Zealand's surreal and majestuous landscapes with our own eyes! We took a 13 hours overnight flight from Santiago to Auckland which fast forwarded our clocks by a whopping 18 hours (New Zealand's timezone is 13 hours after Greenwich). Our arrival in the country was a bit of a shock: New Zealanders live by very similar quality of life standards than us in North America, despite being almost on the other side of the world. In many ways, being in New Zealand feels a bit like being at home.
Because of that, the cost of everything is also quite high - very similar to prices in Canada. Traveling for 8 months requires us to be wary of our costs so when planning for our adventure, we considered multiple ways of exploring New Zealand in the most cost effective way: traveling by bus, renting a sleepervan (small vans equipped with a bed and kitchen) or renting a car and buying all the needed camping gear. We finally settled with the most adventurous option: car and tent!
Days 1-2: Gearing up!
We arrived at 6AM local time in Auckland so we were a bit too early to achieve anything. I was able to buy a local SIM card for my phone right at the airport so we were instantly connected. After a quick coffee we got to the car rental office and in the blink of an eye we were set up with our own car that would somewhat become our "home" for the next 3 weeks!
We spent the entire morning at The Warehouse (very large shops similar to Walmart) shopping for camping gear and trying to buy everything we needed to be autonomous in New Zealand's campings. Finding everything was an adventure in itself, and we definitely exceeded my personal tolerance level for shopping sessions!
After checking in to our hotel in the afternoon, we spent quite a bit of time wandering downtown Auckland, walking Queen Street - the main commercial street - and exploring Albert Park, a lovely park on a hill directly beside downtown that seems to emerge from nowhere.
There is something about Auckland that just made us really, really like it. It is clean and well maintained, there are parks everywhere, people are friendly and the quality of life in general seems really good. It's hard to explain but we felt a very good vibe over there.
Days 3-4: Christmas day... in a camping...
We were all geared up and ready for our New Zealand adventure, so we packed everything in the car and left Auckland to travel towards Lake Taupo in the central region of the North island. Our idea was to go visit some geysers in Rotorura region in the afternoon but the trip took a little too long so we ended up going directly to Taupo where we set camp for our first camping night.
The next day - Christmas day - we figured not much would be open so we opted for a nature-oriented activity. We traveled south to Tongariro National Park to do a hike in the middle of three volcanoes (all active - but without any danger of erupting soon). The 3.5 hours 14km hike was rather easy and led us to some incredible landscapes. The numerous volcanic eruptions shaped the landscape of the National Park with many lava flows that ressemble worm holes. All this accompanied by a backdrop of snow-capped summits.
Day 5: The Forgotten Highway
Leaving Taupo in the morning, we came across the coolest McDonald's on Earth (if a McDo can be any cool...): one with an old airplane on display where you can actually have your meal inside the airplane!
Back on the road! Highway 43 links the central region to the West coast of the North island. It is a old highway that has seen better days but because it has been replaced by more direct routes to the major cities in the region, people don't use it much anymore. Hence the 'forgotten' name. But the highway meanders into some jaw-dropping landscapes. Steep hills intertwine to create a truly unique landscape. It is a challenging road to drive but the views are definitely worth it!
At the end of the highway, we arrived in the Taranaki province which is home to the humbling Mount Taranaki that overlooks an otherwise completely flat region. The contrast between the volcano's 2500m high cone and the flatness of the rest of the region makes the volcano especially spectacular.
The drive West took us almost the entire day and we set camp on the West coast to see a beautiful sunset in a cloudless sky.
Day 6: On the way to Wellington
We spent most of day 6 driving our way South towards Wellington. The farming lands on the way weren't spectacular but still very much enjoyable. We set camp on a campground on Battle Hill as clear skies were announcing another perfect camping evening.
Day 7: Battle Hill and Martinborough
The campground where we stayed was actually an active farm that allowed people to camp on their land. There were a few hiking trails so we went to explore the area in the morning. The hike allowed us to walk in typical New Zealand farmlands crowded with sheep. It turns out the land was also home to the Battle of Battle Hill in 1846, where one of the last engagements between the Maori (the local people of New Zealand) and the British colonial forces took place.
We took off late in the morning to continue our travel towards Wellington. After setting our tent in Upper Hutt we drove to the nearby Martinborough town which is home to some 30 vineyards. We tasted some nice but unfortunately not great Pinot Noirs, Sauvignon Blancs, Gewüstraminers and others.
Day 8: Wellington
Here we are today in Wellington, New Zealand's capital. The high winds caused by its geographic location has earned the city the name of 'Windy Wellington' and we can definitely agree with that surname: there is definitely a good breeze around here!
We visited this morning the awesome New Zealand Museum (also called "Te Papa") which allowed us to learn more about the Maori culture and the people's history, the wildlife and the geography of the country. The museum is also home to a well conserved specimen of a female Colossal Squid which in itself is quite an experience to see! Overall a superb experience!
Tonight we're taking the night ferry to the South island, which is supposed to showcase the most spectacular views of New Zealand and is also home to New Zealand's most reknown wineries! To be continued...