New Zealand roadtrippin p5. From freedom to lockdown
After the busy period of guestspots and tattooconventions, we woke up a bit under the weather (don’t worry no corona). Luckily, we didn’t have too much planned for the day. We received more and more news about the upcoming corona pandemic so we started to think up backup plans. With the whole world slowly going into lockdown we didn’t really know if all our travelplans could still be done. For the moment it all seemed fine but better be safe than sorry. I myself had a holiday working visa that lets me stay and work in NZ for one year, but Haythim only had a 3 month tourist visa. So we attempted to extend his... Which of course brought some IT-problems with it. There’s always so much paperwork and other stuff that needs to be in check when applying for an extension. Keeping in mind the batterylife of our devices, and the usual problems on government websites, getting stuff done never goes without a frequent ‘Ah for hecks sake!!!’.
So after that stressful moment we took off with the campervan and enjoyed a peaceful trip towards Kawerau. At the previous tattoo convention in Rotorua we met an awesome Dutch couple and their son who had made the move to NZ, Kawerau. And they were so kind to invite us over! Just an hour South of us, so we happily made our way to their beautiful house! Once arrived we were welcomed wholeheartedly and had a superfun evening exchanging stories, tips, hints and odd gaming banter (FF7 fans unite!). It was so lovely to meet and enjoy the company of a likeminded family!
The following day we departed too late for any of the plans we hoped to do. We wanted to visit the Kawerau waterfalls but decided to visit those another time. With the corona epidemic growing worldwide, people became noticeably more nervous. We knew people had started hamstering so as we were dependent on our food storage in the campervan, we restocked on pastas, fruit, noodles, other things to keep us good for another two weeks. After that we set off for a new target: The republic of Whangamomona. Yes you read that correctly. For some reason ( look it up ) there is a state here in NZ that is a republic with a president and you can go and get your passport stamped over there!!!! Even better: it lies on a road that is called the forgotten world highway. And if your sense for adventure isn’t tingling right now… then honey, you have a condition.
The first part took us through familiar areas like Rotorua and the surrounding area of lake Taupo. But after some 150km we made it at Taumarunui. It is here where state highway 43, aka the forgotten world highway starts. And forgotten it was. We had little or no traffic during our whole trip and there were amazing sceneries after every corner. When the road suddenly turned into a gravel road full of potholes, we felt like we were really leaving everything behind us. Turn after turn the road climbed and descended. It was peaceful and thrilling at the same time. Halfway our drive, we had to go through a tunnel basically dug out in the mountain and barely big enough for the campervan to squeeze through . No lights, no smooth concrete wall. Just asphalt to drive on, and dirt/ rock walls. Eventually, around 6 in the afternoon we made it to the town of Wanghamomona.
The town center had a ‘big’ total of about 10 houses and a hotel that also served as a bar, restaurant, relax area, where you could get your passport stamped for 2NZD. As it got really cold and windy, we quickly went inside to warm ourselves (and get the passports stamped). If anything, it looked as if time had stopped here. By the black and white pictures and newspaper scraps on the walls, the house cat sitting on the carpet cleaning her paws, and the locals enjoying their usual grub and gossip together. Too bad the fireplace wasn’t lit. No use trying to blend in here. It was obvious that we were the tourists! We tasted a pint of the local brew, ate a delicious local speciality and went on our way again. By now it was night and we really hoped to make it to Stratford before stopping for the night. For those considering to travel this road: be sure to have enough petrol since there is none for the whole length of the highway, which is about 150km! We barely made it to a campsite and turned in for the night.
Our next stop was the Putangirua Pinnacles. Most people have already seen a flash of these, because the setting was used in the Lord of the Rings movies as the Dimholt road. We were a little weary since the last location (Rivendel, see previous post) was a bit of a letdown. Not only that, but the pinnacles were still a good 4 hours drive away. We packed up at the crack of dawn and headed down south once again! With a small break, it took us about 5 hours to get there and luckily it was soooo worth it! The last segment towards the pinnacles has you driving down some very steep and winding roads with the most beautiful views of the ocean and its incredible vastness. The last couple of hundred meters up to the carpark are magical. A drive right next to the ocean as if you could almost feel the waves crashing upon the rocks below. We turned into the carpark and readied ourselves for a short hike towards the pinnacles (2 hours up and back).
We checked the different hikes but opted for the riverbed walk. In hopes of getting the best views and a less straining walk than the overlook track. The path itself was not that hard but we do recommend a good pair of hiking shoes. the rocks, pebbles and boulders are in numerous amounts. Some big, some small, some round and some sharp. They slow you down significantly. The first part gave us gorgeous views of the area and the landscape. The further in we went, the more weird and sinister the area became. I say sinister because that was really how it felt. Further in the maze of pinnacles we heard almost no sounds of the sea, birds or other animals. No sound except for our own breathing and footsteps. When a rock or pebble fell down, the sound clattered and rebounded all around us making it impossible to know where it came from.
After a while we made it deep into the pinnacles and took our time diving into the different rock formations. We were amazed by how these thing still stood straight. They were but a mixture of clay with stones stuck in them and felt really fragile. Still, they stood there up to this day so they must be somewhat resilient. We took our time taking pictures but with the sun slowly setting and the temperature dropping (we didn’t feel like going down these hills during night time), we made our way back to the campervan. We had a ferry to catch the next morning and as we checked how long the drive was, we realised we would still need to drive a good bit. There is no direct road going from the pinnacles to Wellington so we had no choice but to make a 80km detour. When we finally made it to the campsite it was already pitch black outside and time for bed.
Sometimes, a day just doesn't start too well. We woke up before the first light (awtch) to make it in time for our ferry to Picton. We arrived right on time (being 7am), only to receive news that the ferry was delayed and we only start boarding before 9 o’clock. This sucked. But hey, good part about a campervan is that you can just hop in the back and go back to sleep. We had a nice little nap and woke up feeling a lot better. We boarded the ship quite quickly and inside Haythim arranged us a delicious breakfast. The news about the coronavirus was everywhere on the television/radio/..., and while there were little to no infections at the moment, people were still very careful and wary of one another. We saw people trying to keep a 1m distance between each other and disinfecting their hands often.
The journey to Picton took 3 hours but since we already had a 2 hours delay, we would arrive a lot later than planned. This made us quickly change our plans for the day. Once arrived in Picton we headed straight for the Abel Tasman national Park with only a quick stop at a restaurant along the way we just could not resist stopping at. ‘The captain’s daughter’, built in old big stones, with an old fashioned plaque hanging at the outside wall. I know it’s cliche but we just had to grab some grub in there! (Which for the record, was yummy!).
As it was getting dark soon, we chose a camping spot near Abel Tasman and spend the night there. It was here that we heard from locals the news that New Zealand and Australia were also closing their borders. Well, shit! This was a huge issue for us. We were supposed to go and visit Australia on the 9th of April. We had already made plans and rented a campervan!! My mind was in a turmoil and I didn’t know what to do. Luckily I have an exceptional crisismanager: Haythim! (like for real this should be his job. He can fix nearly anything). The following day , while I was still waking up, he already managed to transfer our Australian campervan booking to a New Zealand campervan and managed to get a 20% discount! At the same time he was calling the NZ immigration service to ask what he should to about his NZeta that would expire on the 27th of april while already filling out the online visitor visa application because you just never know. (What a champ!!). As it turned out this was the correct way to go. This still took us a whole day to finish because we needed to provide a lot of information. Still, after the hard work comes the reward!
The following day we went to a nearby point of interest. Split apple rock beach! It’s a very iconic place at a nearby beach, so we prepped up and took off. While it was a bit chilly when we woke up, we noticed the weather took a turn towards the excellent, so we changed into our swimwear before heading to the beach. The walk was short and easy and the reward plenty!!! There were little to no people at the beach and we had a clear view of this beautiful bay with right in front of us a split apple rock!! We picked out a cozy spot in the sun and kicked back. We soon noticed that while it was technically autumn and the maximum temp for this day was only supposed to be 20 degrees, here in the bay out of the wind it felt more like 30 or higher.
Such luxury! We put on loads of sunscreen to protect us from the New Zealand' deathray (=the sun), and wandered around the beach. The beach wasn’t big but had plenty of treasure. I found a couple of peaces of (Paua) Abalone shell when Haythim pulled my attention to a cave in the rocksurface at the edge of the beach. Adventure called and of course we went in. It was quite dark inside and the cave had 2 pathways. A left corridor which ended in utter darkness after about 5-6 m and a right corridor that, while it was a narrow, lead us to another little gem. It was like cave but the side and top were open. It made for amazing pictures and it was so much fun. Next time we’ll bring our water shoes so we can maybe make it all the way to the split apple rock! We hung around for a while until gojira (being my stomach) was awakening so we went back to the car, drove to another nearby beautiful beach and enjoyed a relaxing meal.
Yesterday was perfect… and today we got hit by a shitstorm. New Zealand was going from covid alert level 2 to 4 within the next 48 hours. This meant that all non-essential travel had to be halted. No roadtripping, no travelling, no adventure. We needed to find a place to stay for the next 4 weeks! Shortly after receiving the lockdown news, we received a call from the campervan company telling us to turn the campervan back in at the Christchurch branch within the next 48 hours. They too would be closing down their business until after the lockdown. This really put the pressure on. We quickly checked the airbnb app and booked one in Christchurch for a couple of weeks (and received a discount in doing so, bless!). As quickly as we booked, we got the confirmation mail from our airbnb, and the owner was friendly enough to let us know that the appartement was already available if we wanted to check in sooner.
The drive from Nelson to Christchurch was a hellish 400km. Here in NZ that meant a 5 hour drive in optimal conditions. Unfortunately, conditions were far from optimal. It was 7pm, getting dark, cloudy with occasional showers. It didn’t feel like a choice... But we decided to just bite the bullet. We’re both good drivers and had experience driving all over the world by now, so we felt confident enough. Now, driving in NZ brings a whole range of extra things you need to be careful about when you're on the road. First, the maximum speed is 100km/h but often you'll drive slower because the conditions won’t allow you to go faster. Gravel roads, no lights/poor visibility, winding roads with sharp curves and deep drops if you make a mistake. On top of that, when driving through a very mountainous area implies irregular or no internet or regular phone service. So best not break down on the road in the middle of the night... Haythim took the first shift and drove the first 150km. By then he was tired (he’s more of a morning person) and I took over. Nighttime is Ninke time so on we went! We arrived in Christchurch about half past midnight. We didn’t even bother emptying the van (that's tomorrow's troubles). We just got out, entered the airbnb, and immediately went to bed.
With but a little time left before lockdown, the next day we went to the store and bought all the provision we thought we would need for the next 2 weeks and settled down for our stay. We only booked the airbnb for 2 weeks because while driving towards Christchurch, we were contacted by Haythim’s wonderful aunt. Through her contacts in New Zealand (because her sons play rugby), she arranged it so that we could stay with some friends of theirs in Christchurch for another 2 weeks!! I’m sometimes a bit jealous of Haythim. Must be great to have so many guardian angels!
And so the lockdown began...