Today is a busy day since I visited Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland this morning and now I am heading to a Maori village experience. I’ve been interested in the Maori and have been waiting to do some cultural and educational event to learn more about the culture. My campsite in Rotorua recommends Whakarewarewa as a more authentic village to visit.
I arrive late afternoon and catch a tour a few minutes in. Unfortunately I miss out on a Maori geothermal cooked meal since I am late for lunch.
Our tour guide takes us around the village and explains the typical life of a villager.
We learn about two unique ways of cooking: one is in a steam box another is in a steaming hot lake.
We also learn how the geothermal heat is used for bathing.
We are taken further through the village where we are taken to a community building.
There is another geyser nearby and I am here just in time to see it erupt.
I didn’t arrive in time to taste a geothermal cooked meal but I am there in time to see a cultural show. It is nice to see the dances, some with props.
I finish my visit trying some corn.
I head back to the campsite to rest for the rest of the afternoon but it is hot out.
Van life is getting old.
I think it could have been the long drive the day before, or maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t get my milk for my coffee in the campsite kitchen until 7 AM (kitchen is locked overnight) – van life has taken a toll on me. I’m beginning to think that this might not be a long-term solution for me. I like the freedom and simplicity but sometimes the discomfort of van life is too much especially when you’re not feeling well. Yesterday and today are pretty hot and after a long day of sightseeing outdoors the last thing I want to do is go back to my van and sweat. The nail in the coffin is when I somehow run out of my 1 GB of free data even though I am barely on my phone and laptop the whole entire time I am there (wifi at campsites is lacking or spotty at best, most charge extra). I’m leaving the campsite and getting a hotel room. I can’t do this right now. This is technically my last night of van camping since I have a hotel tomorrow night and return the van in Auckland the day after. I could tough it out one more night but I just can’t do it tonight.
After a booking.com mix up I finally get a motel room. I have AC and wifi, the only downside is now I can smell the sulfur smell, even with the windows closed in my room. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much.
At some point a couple days prior I stupidly drove off with a glass on the counter of my van and broke it (broken dish number 2 – they really should provide plastic dishes in these things). Luckily I returned to the same chain in a different city and replaced the broken glass with an almost match. Don’t tell the rental place! Hopefully they won’t notice the difference.
I have picked up my campervan and I am on the road south to Moeraki New Zealand. My first drive should take about a 4 hours. I make a couple stops along the way: one to a farmers market and another to a grocery store to stock up on some goods I need for the next couple weeks. The plan is to self-cater many of my meals so I need to stock up on the basics as well as things such as detergent, and all purpose cleaner. The van I have rented does not have a refrigerator but has a chill box. I later find this to be very inconvenient as it is only really for keeping cold things cold, and only while the van is running. A few days later I regret not paying more to rent a van that is solar powered when I have to throw out spoiled food after a outing or two. For the first few days though everything works out well. I am able to store perishables in the kitchen of the holiday park and the heat isn’t too bad so things left out don’t spoil as quickly.
The GPS helps get me to my first holiday park (holiday parks are essentially camp grounds in Australia and New Zealand). To get to my destination, Moeraki Village Holiday Park, I have to drive down narrow rocky roads and essentially driving through dirt in some areas. The car handles the bumpy roads fine but awkwardly until I get right to the entrance to the holiday park. Somehow I take a curve into the park too quickly and at the same time hit a bump which causes the van to lift off the ground. Things that aren’t secured go flying all over the back. One of the provided porcelain bowls has cracked in half. I have my first casualty and I haven’t even had the van for a full day yet. It seems kind of stupid that the plates and bowls are not better secured on the shelf; better yet plastic plates should have been provided instead. I learn a lesson that day to keep my things better secured.
I check into the holiday park I get my assigned spot for the next two nights. My spot is powered but my van is not set up to take advantage of it. Also regret not paying more for a powered van. It would come in handy when I want to charge things.
At the park office I note the viewing times for both the famous boulders and viewing of rare yellow-eyed penguins.
The goal today is to view Yellow-Eyed Penguins, the rarest penguins in the world. I am heading to Katiki Point Lighthouse this afternoon to try to get a glimpse of them. There are about 30 of them nesting here.
I secure my van and drive to the lighthouse. GPS is not giving me the best directions so I am having a hard time finding the lighthouse. I end up backtracking and and takes me much longer than I expect to get there. I fear I have missed the march of the penguins. Good thing I’ll have another chance tomorrow.
I find the lighthouse and park. The wind is strong, I have hard time opening and closing the doors of my van. I grab my camera and follow the path to the observation area.
I start to look down at the shore and I see Fur Seals.
I walk further out on to the ledge and pass some fur seals resting in the sun. I try to keep my distance.
I walk around the peninsula glimpsing down trying to find penguins but I am unsuccessful.
I am not paying close attention to my surroundings. I hear a grunt. I turn to find a fur seal is dangerously close. It grunts more at me then comes charging; it hops up and down quickly and has a snide yet determined look on its face. I am shocked and scared. I start shouting and running off. Luckily the animal gives up. It is a stupid thing on my part, I should have been more careful. Fortunately no one else is close enough to see my embarrassment.
The cheeky seals are laughing at me. (I am using my telephoto lens now!)
I head to another, safer, area where I get a good view of nesting birds.
I head to another area and notice a some families watching below, some with tripods. This must be the spot. I spot one isolated penguin in the distance. For the protection of the animals we are unable to get very close. Luckily I traveled many months with my heavy telephoto lens just for this moment.
Finally a couple of his friends show up.
We watch them waddle away to their nests further away from our view. I am confused that I only see three; maybe I missed more of them earlier? I decide to come back tomorrow to try again.
I head back to the campsite to settle in for the night. This is my first night van camping. I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful evening.
I make my bed and use the facilities at the campsite to clean up for the evening. Note: I do have running water and a camper toilet in my van. I don’t really plan on using either one because I don’t want to have to deal with the clean up that is needed if I use those things. I really don’t plan on freedom camping this trip so I shouldn’t need water and toilet.
It is a nice night and the bugs are not bad so I’ll able to leave the windows open until I close up for the night.
Many months earlier when I started planning a trip to New Zealand I mulled about a plan of renting a camper van to travel the country. I read online how easy it is to freedom camp in your van if you have a self contained model. It is a romantic ideal but I had a few people warn me about safety. I also don’t do well with not knowing in advance where I am going to sleep for the night. I decided to enjoy New Zealand by car instead.
As it came closer to my New Zealand trip I still had very little of my itinerary booked besides a plane ticket in and out of the country and a couple nights traveling with my aunt. For the rest of my trip I considered taking the bus around South Island since I am told it is cheap and easy. The problem is I really crave my freedom to visit where I want and when I want and not be limited by the bus route. I am also not thrilled with the idea of unpacking and repacking almost daily and continuing to damage my shoulders by wearing all my belongings on my back.
After meeting with a friend in Melbourne Australia I am once more encouraged on the campervan idea. So many people successfully manage campervan life all the time; plus I already had opposite road driving experience during my time in Australia. I had decided to rent a campervan.
When it came to booking campervans I found a number of websites that do rentals. Some have multiple drop off points with no one-way penalty and some requiring a roundtrip to return. I thought about renting the van for South Island only and renting a car on the North Island. When I finally tried to book, I found many places and models were already sold out (15 days out). Perhaps this is one of those things best booked in way in advance. Finally I found a good match: price is average (a little bit of an upgrade to what I originally wanted) and I decide to use it for both North Island and South, using the ferry to take it across islands. Once I book my changeable ferry ticket I am all set.
I will book some hotels along the way to break it up but I’ll be mostly sleeping and living in a van (down by the river sometimes) for the next couple weeks.
I still have some anxiety about campsites being fully booked but one thing I have learned during my travels is that I can pretty much handle anything as long as I remain calm. I am just going to take that advice and live one day at a time.
I spend extra on the GPS which periodically stops working….more on that later.
When visiting the south coast of Australia I thought it would be a good idea to visit one of the wine regions in the area to challenge my poor opinion of Australian wines.
Two popular wine regions I read about are the McLaren Vale and the Coonawarra region. I decided to choose the Coonawarra region due to its proximity to caves.
Working title: “Australia is closed for the holidays/fire/whatever”
I misread my check-out time of the Airbnb in Port Fairy and rush to put all my crap into the car when the owner arrives to clean for the next guest. Thank goodness I didn’t have to carefully pack my backpack -> one great advantage to having a car for a week.
Before I leave Port Fairy I do a stop at the beach there, beautiful as is the rest of the coast.
I continue my drive watching as the temperature gage slowly rises in Celsius. Watching temperature rising seems to be the theme of the next two days, as well as watching news of the Australian fires. Although the fires are getting worse, they are not yet affecting the regions I am at.
Temps go up to 99 F (37 C) during my commute to the next location.
Due to popularity the holiday park has purchased some new tents. Some of the older tents are in need of repair and are not in use this evening. The campsite is installing a new one for me and it isn’t ready yet.
My package deal includes wine and chocolate. I throw them both in the camp refrigerator for later so they don’t go bad.
While they are setting up my bubble tent I head into the nearby town (Penola) thinking I can find a restaurant but nothing seems to be open. Either everything closes early in this sleepy town or I am here off season. Even the grocery closes early (7 pm!). I need to pick up some food for the night before I lose that opportunity as well. I find out later that if I want a better selection of restaurants and stores I need to drive 30 minutes further to Naracoorte.
The disappointment I feel of things being closed seems to be a common theme in this area. Many good wineries exist in Coonawarra but the region is insufficiently able to handle tourism (local or foreign). Some of my bad luck is caused by traveling in the slow period before Christmas where everything comes to a halt. I wish I would have known but I am not sure more research would have told me this information ahead of time. I do stop at one winery cellar door for a quick tasting before grocery shopping – Patrick’s of Coonawarra – and I am the only one in the tasting room during my time there.
I head back to the campsite with my groceries and try to find room in one of the two refrigerators for my groceries in the camp kitchen (side note – finding room in shared refrigerators becomes a frequent activity I participate in while van camping in NZ but more about that later).
My tent is now ready and the air conditioner works on cooling the tent. In time I find it is way too hot to lounge inside the tent with the sun during the day; there is an air condition unit and wine chiller but they are no match for the heat. The bubble tents are really more appropriate during cooler months, not in the middle of an Australian heat wave.
There are vineyards next to me and I have a nice view of the sunset. The top of the bubble gives me an semi-obstructed view of the stars and moon.
There are privacy curtains but they don’t seem to work well. I use my hairclips to try to hold them together.
Things get fun when the sun sets. There are mood lights in the tent. Luckily it cools down without the sun. Between the darkness and air conditioning it becomes comfortable to sleep. The previous generation of tents were held up by pressure inside but these are held up by inflation of the pentagon shapes into a sphere. The AC combined with the outside air did still cause some pressurization and some of the Velcro sections would frequently come detached as a result (like the door on the “privacy room”). Despite the inconveniences it is a fun and unique experience and I would do it again sans heat.
The next morning I cook breakfast on the camp grill. the food I cook is included in the package deal I had booked.
The rational for staying in this region is for the Coonawarra Wine Trail. The wine trail is group of wineries that are all in walking distance of each other. The camp site I am staying at is supposed to have a van that will drop me off at parking at one of the wineries and pick me up later in the day. I organize a ride in advance but when it is time for me to leave the driver is no where to be found. I wait for a while for the driver who seems to be off doing errands but I am getting very hungry so I head out to get lunch. The first restaurant I stop at is closed. I am not sure if I missed opening hours or it is closed for the day since there is no sign stating the status, just a person inside who motions for me to leave because they are closed. I am disappointed because it is one of only couple choices in the area. I additionally try the nearby general store which advertises to-go lunches. The gentleman working looks at me like I have two heads when I ask for a take away lunch since they have nothing appropriate for that.
My last hope is buying a fancy lunch at a winery ten minutes away. I am crossing my fingers it is available.
From there I move onto the wine tastings at the wine walk but I have to be super careful and discriminatory about what I taste since I will have to drive myself back eventually. I know there are wine tours because I see wine vans it’s just they are not heavily advertised like one would expect in a wine region. I have no idea how I could have booked one of them.
Finally I get to the wine walk and the first winery I try to visit Brand’s Laira is unexpectedly closed for the day and it’s not even 2 PM – This is the second time I get hit with “it is the slow season so we’ll just close when we want”. They do have a small wine history path on site where I get a little history lesson of the area.
But I am here to sample wines so I move on to the next winery in the wine walk
It is hot by the way. It isn’t a cool comfortable stroll.
I head to Wynns where I get to try some Pedro Ximenez. I spend some time chatting with the very friendly lady providing the wine samples. I am a fan of this winery, too bad I already have too many bottles to travel with or I would buy more.
They have a nice exhibit on the history of the winemaker, the area, and winemaking in the area. I learn about local soil conditions.
Finally I make quick stops at both the DiGiorgio and Rymill wineries. I try a limited amount of those since it is getting late in the afternoon and I want to make it back to my campsite.
Rymill has a chardonnay I don’t mind the taste of.
I head back to the campsite where I find the air conditioning unit in my tent does nothing to fight the sun. I feel my body cooking in the tent. I’m pretty much stuck outside waiting for the sun to disappear which isn’t until close to 8:00 PM or later. I’m hanging out out in the covered lounge area at the campsite drinking some wine, planning future travels, and catching up on family and friends back home. It was a dumb decision to book a bubble tent during the hottest time of year. By the way yesterday was the hottest day on record for Australia so I have impeccable timing.
I think that if I come back to South Australia it won’t be during their summer and I’ll probably give McLaren Vale a chance instead.