Don’t come to New Zealand unless you’re prepared to encounter people who are very, very, very nice. Gandhi nice.
We landed in Auckland and I went straight for a shop to buy a SIM card for my phone so we could surf the net without worry. The gentleman behind the counter said that he could sell me a SIM card but that the shop next door was running a special on SIM cards and that I should go there. Welcome to New Zealand. The land of the ridiculously nice.
In this post, there will be no lady under the stairs. No cops shaking down unsuspecting tourists. No aggressive panhandling. No danger of animal mauling. No shysters. No carpet salesmen. No hucksters. No con men. Nothing but nice people. Very, very nice people.
Oh, and there seem to be a lot of RVs here. Many people suggested that the best way to see New Zealand is by driving around in an RV carrying your home on your back like a turtle. With an RV you have freedom to go where you want when you want! Hungry? Pull over and make a sandwich! Have to go potty? Go potty, right in your own vehicle! Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?
We arrived in Auckland after about twenty four hours of travel and went right to the RV rental place, where we watched a short video on how to use one of these things, after which we were permitted to just drive the thing away. What’s the matter with people? I mean, there we were – two dangerously sleep deprived travelers entrusted with a massive vehicle with a steering wheel on the wrong side and traffic moving in the wrong direction. It reminds me of the time when we checked our daughter out of the baby clinic she was born in. They just handed us our baby and wished us luck.
No matter. We were in New Zealand, which is full of nice, English-speaking people! We were not going to have to pack our suitcases for more than two weeks! All we had to figure out was how to get certain amounts of, er, waste out of our vehicle and into a drain somewhere.
Our first stop was a little surfing town called Raglan. I can’t remember why or how we picked this place, but damn if it didn’t feel a lot like home. It’s set on a sweet little bay and if it got any more laid back it would disintegrate completely. After checking in at the only RV park in town, we wandered into the little village for a perfectly wonderful pan-fried flounder and craft beer at a charming little outdoor pub.
We meandered through the town, which could be plopped down in Marin County and nobody would notice. Everyone just seemed…happy. Even tattooed skateboarders smiled and waved. Since when do hipsters smile? In New Zealand, that’s where. To borrow a phrase I heard recently, Raglan is a hotbed of social rest. The next morning we made breakfast in our new home then took another stroll through town, where we stumbled on a place that looked so good we had breakfast again. I had corn fritters with salsa, quacamole and poached eggs. Janine had avocado toast. Avocado toast! We wept tears of breakfast perfection joy. The coffee was roasty and toasty and would take the paint off an aircraft carrier. After three months of Nescafe, I heard angels sing. Craft beer, good coffee, great breakfasts, happy people. Are you kidding me?
We have no particular itinerary. We know that we’re going to go from the North Island to the South Island, but that’s about it. New Zealand has all sorts of crazy cool things to see – fjords, glaciers, thermal pools, and Middle Earthy stuff.
We kicked things off by driving to a town called Waitomo where we took a little boat ride through a cave on the ceiling of which hang what they call glowworms, but which are actually glowing pupae of fly larvae. Glowing fly larvae pupae! That’s what I’m talking about.
We then made for Rotorua, a town that stinks. It actually stinks, because wherever you look you will see sulfuric steam emit from cracks in the ground. Where there’s steam, there’s boiling water, and people come to Rotorua to see bubbling mud pots and steep in stinky mineral baths. I happen to love a stinky sulfuric mineral bath, although Rotorua as a town is nothing to write home about. We came, we soaked, we left.
From Rotorua, we planned to set off for Whanganui, a little town on the west coast of the North Island that would put us within striking distance of Wellington, about which we had heard great things.
I should note that not all had gone smoothly with the RV. On the first day, I lost the cap to the water tank. We couldn’t figure out how to make the hot water work. I had some, um, difficulties dumping the toilet tank.
But we were finding our sea legs nevertheless, and we were confident that the journey to Whanganui would be scenic and fun! Like Gilligan and the Skipper, we set out on a three hour tour. We had no idea what the best way to get to this place was. After reversing course twice, we decided to climb a relatively harmless-looking mountain range and shave a few miles off the journey. We had the road largely to ourselves and made it over the pass without too much trouble. About an hour and a half in, though, the RV started beeping. Perhaps a door was open? But why did it only start beeping now? After a little more beeping, we figured it out – our fuel gauge was on empty. Most of the road was one way in each direction, there was no shoulder to speak of, and we were in the middle of a national forest.
There were no towns, no people, no nothing. Oh, and we had no cell coverage. If we ran out of gas, we were hosed. There are only three things you can do in a situation like this. You can go forward, you can go backward, or you can stop. We decided to go forward. With each uphill, we held our breath. With each downhill, we let it out. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally saw a sign ahead, but our hearts fell. It said, Whanganhui – 56 kilometers. There was no way in hell we were going to make it for another 56 kilometers. Surely there was another town before Whanganui, although I couldn’t find one on the map.
About fifteen minutes later we saw the makings of a town…but there was no gas station. We kept going. Janine was driving and she would give the thing just enough gas to get to the top of a hill and then coast down. This went on for at least another stomach-churning half hour until we started to make out civilization and then I finally fixed on a cell phone signal. At the very least we’d be able to call for help. Janine pushed and prodded the vehicle just a bit further and then there it was – the most beautiful BP station I’ve ever seen. I damn near forgave them for the spill. It took seventy seven liters of fuel. According to the manual the fuel tank only holds seventy five liters. Fortunately, we’re just slightly luckier than we are stupid, and we are really, really stupid.
The next time we plan to take a mountain pass though uninhabited country, we might just want to stop for gas first.