Road and Trail Tales [1]

… or how to traverse the North Island in a campervan with two bikes, a piano and a travelmate. True to the style of travelling that I had developed on the South Island, this would be another criss cross journey northbound to eventually reach our winter destinations.

Mission 1: The Great Lake

For quite some time the idea of visiting Taupo had been intriguing me. Tempting were those natural hot pools, the supposedly epic MTB trails, and of course the big bad lake itself. On top of a dormant supervolcano they do just about everything to get your adrenaline flowing there, reminding me a bit of Queenstown. We skipped the bungee, jetboat and skydiving offers this time, simply enjoying ourselves on bikes again. Now, packhouse season doesn’t particularly boost fitness and the trail towards the famous Huka Falls got us panting easily, up and down and up again. The falls itself were the typical tourist trap, barely worth the hype. Instead, the highlight of our First Day of Freedom after the Longest Month turned out to be the MTB park. Pure joy to cruise the flowing trails, so smooth and with fun curvy sections, all worth the trip. Short winter days mean early and cold nights and we made it back to town just for sunset.

The next day required some recovery, natural hot pools providing just that. A short ride took us back to Spa Park where we shared the geothermally heated stream pouring over us into the Waikato River with a few more tourists and locals alike.

Mission 2: How to get wheels

The idea behind that week’s travels was to get Daniel to Auckland airport, and me to Northland, our winter domiciles respectively. Initial problem: how to get our stuff around and still have a good time on the way? Checking buses and accommodation options made it seem way too complicated so we ended up renting a campervan. Which meant we first had to pick it up in Wellington. A long day on buses and some – not unexpected – complications at the rental station led to us being stuck in the capital’s rush hour. Great experience for the driver to start with, driving on the left! Instead of returning all the way to Napier, 250km to go at night, we spontaneously opted for a free campsite in a little recreation reserve by a stream. A surprisingly relaxing first night of Campervan Life!

With a full week on wheels we didn’t rush it, just picked up our bags, bikes and Daniel’s piano that nobody had wanted to buy, in Napier. A very last time returning to this city that didn’t give us the best time, at least we now made most of it with a visit to the oceanside swimming pools in the evening. The free campsite on the beach provided a good night’s sleep before heading west.

Mission 3: Adventure Time

Through farmland, more farmland, crossing the Tararua mountains, more farmland and, you wouldn’t guess it – farmland! – we made it to Wanganui that day. A less frequented destination yet charming, we had a blast discovering the riverside town.

In the golden evening light we checked out Wanganui’s landmark towers. Thanks to impressive engineering the hilltop lookout can be accessed by elevator. That is, walking a 200m tunnel carved through the hill and then calling the oldest elevator you might ever ride. Bit sketchy itself, it was accompanied by the conductor/cashier, providing some trust in the tech from 1920.

Then, from the hill we enjoyed the views over the town and the river all the way to the beach. After hanging out in a hostel (they let you use facilities for a fee), we headed to another beach campground. Almost by ourselves there, Wai-Inu beach was one of the prettier places to spend the night and my expections for sunrise weren’t failed. Waking up to a beautiful beach, waves breaking all along, was to start another roadtrip day in style. Now the mountains were calling again.

to be continued: Missions 3, 4 & 5 ~ Volcanoes, the endless forest and the sea.

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