|Last Friday we headed back to the airport, ironically enough, to pick up our campervan and head north. The van is great. It's just the right size for the two of us and it's really well designed so during the day we have plenty of room to sit and eat, etc, and at night we have a nice comfy bed. The odd thing about the van is the large graphic saucy lady on both sides! We thought she looked like she belonged in an old movie, so the van was christened Rita, for Rita Heyworth. With Rita we drove up to Whangarei and discovered the wonders of winding New Zealand roads. We stayed in a nice campground near a waterfall before getting up early to head to Tutukaka for diving at Poor Knights Marine Reserve. The diving was VERY different than diving the warm waters of Thailand, so there was lots of adjusting to do and the scenery down there was totally different as well. It was a fun day and a good addition to our diving experience.
After diving we hit the road again and, after a slight mistaken detour, found our first free Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite. We were right by a river, a toilet, and a lot of trees! It was great. The next morning we were on the road again heading up the peninsula at the very northern tip of the country. We had lunch at another quiet spot, that's beginning to become a trend. We the found our way to another DOC site, this one not free but cheap and right by the beach. We had a nice walk by the beach (except for all the sandflies!) and a successful first go with our solar shower! The next day we drove on a long gravel bumpy road out to Cape Reinga, the very northern tip of the country. It was neat to look out to sea and think about how far away everything is. It made New Zealand feel very small even though it had taken us days to get up there! That night we stayed in Ahipara at a nice campground on Ninety Mile Beach (which is actually 90 kilometers long-who can figure these kiwis out?). We then drove down the western coast of the peninsula, known as the kauri coast for all the kauri forests there. On the way we had to take a car ferry, very fun, and we stopped at a rest area and were rewarded with an amazing view of Hokianga Harbor and the surrounding sand dunes. No views like that off of I-95! Some of the oldest kauri trees we saw are thought to be 2000 years old! We had some nice walks in the forest once we lost the crowds who only went to see the closest trees to the road! We stayed in a great DOC campground right on a very well preserved forest. We went for a night walk there because there's a good chance of seeing kiwis at night in that particular forest. But the little bird was elusive and we heard them but couldn't catch a glimpse. We did see some cool glowworms though!
That was our last night in Northland before we drove back south through Auckland (it's an isthmus so the only way to get from north to south is through the big city!) to Taupo. On our way here we stopped at Sheepworld where we saw a sheep show. Sheep are a pretty big deal here-there are 10x more sheep than people! Kate had a great time hanging out with the kids and feeding lambs. It was a long haul to get here, but we're glad we did it in one day. Taupo is full of volcanoes and geothermal activity and a big lake formed by an eruption thousands of years ago that caused the sky to darken in China! We're gearing up for a few days of hiking in Tongariro National Park. Should be great, we're hoping we don't get any of the rainy 40 degree weather than can move through here! We'll keep you posted when we get back to town.