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New Zealand North Island

Our arrival in Auckland was heralded by a dire warning from the campervan hirer:

“Take great care where you leave the van, tourists are a magnet for break-ins, especially in campervans, but don’t worry, we’ve only had one recent hijacking at gun point.”

 

We guessed she wasn’t exaggerating - our van has marks on the door where a previous break-in was attempted.  

Notices about thefts from cars are prevalent in the North – something not seen on the South Island.

Auckland, early morning, the police are checking over a stolen car. It happens all the time, BMWs being the favourite. The joy riders are so hot they now carry motorised saws to cut through crook locks. Welcome to the North Island!

It’s certainly different from the South. Auckland has a population of 1.2 million out of a total 4 million in New Zealand. The roads are busy in the north in sharp contrast to the south where we could go for miles and see no one except in other camper vans.

Mongrel Mob and the Black Power.

These gangs are big in the Rotorua and Hawkes Bay area. Their reason for being is to fight each other but the public rarely get caught up in it. They own whole areas of some towns which are naturally no-go areas. Gang members are mostly Maori. Since there are few Maoris on the South Island, these problems are mainly on the North. I guess the problem is the same in all countries where there is a social underclass, or where a group of people see themselves as the underclass. The police don’t intervene and many of them are said to be in the gang members’ pockets. 

We have seen nothing of this and most places seem safe and ordinary. In fact everywhere shuts down at 8.30 except in Auckland.

 

 Above - Auckland Harbour

In Auckland the upmarket centre of nightlife is the harbour which is full of expensive floating gin palaces and sleek racing yachts used for the Americas Cup challenge.

 

We mentioned before this place is like England 20 or 30 years ago. Perhaps the best example is the teenage boys. Here, instead of grunting or looking shifty in their hoodies, they will  give a cheery hello and a smile. It takes some getting used to. 

The school run is markedly different from England. There are no Chelsea Tractors (4 x 4s) here as all children seem to walk or cycle to school. The secret weapon to fight the traffic is a bossy 10 year old lollipop lady. Usually a girl, she stands at every major road crossing dressed in fluorescent orange and can be seen imperiously stopping traffic with one raised arm and launching small children across the road. She also has a road barrier which she can raise and lower in case the traffic fail to heed her arm. 

Places visited in the North include Rotorua, an area of intense geothermal activity. Much of the town smells of sulphur, with the odd spout of boiling water being emitted in car parks.

 

Many of the geothermal areas are Maori. Now the various water spouts and hot mud baths give a ready source of income via the cost of an entry ticket, but in the past they have been a source of boiling water for cooking. For good measures, the odd Maori ceremony and culture tour are thrown in to the entry cost.

 

 

We thought you would want to see a picture of yet another waterfall. This one was at the end of a 4 hour well signposted walk.

 

Want to save a few inches on your waistline? Try a Kiwi breakfast for size!

 

 

 


Our last week in NZ before moving onto Vanuatu. As you may have read, we hired campervans for our transport and accommodation. On the South Island, every 2nd vehicle was a camper van, but they are rarer on the North. Out of season, they are cheap to hire (approx NZ$70 per day / 26 / US$52) and diesel cost is cheap, approx 0.38 per litre (US$3 per US gallon). However, it is pot luck whether they are newly minted or ready for the grave yard. We had one of each – new on the south Island and very old on the North. The North one has an accelerator that sticks on and 2 tyres with the metal braiding showing.  Filling stations can be up to 100 miles apart, so if you are like Helen who wishes to wait until the last moment before filling – beware. She managed to fill a 60 litre tank with 61litres after a traumatic search for fuel!  Speed limits are 62MPH max, so travelling can take a long time.

New Zealand was formed by the meeting of two plates – the same 2 plates that created Vanuatu, Fiji, and Hawaii and is causing all the disruption in San Francisco. Consequently the landscape is sculpted by volcanic activities and earthquakes. Napier was destroyed by a large earthquake in 1931 with great loss of life and underwent a large rebuilding in 1932-1935. It now has one of the largest groups of 1930s art-deco buildings. Why do people rebuild in earthquake zones?

The one day walk of Tongariro crossing navigates many active and dormant volcanoes, including Mordor’s Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. This 6-8 hour walk is one of NZ’s most popular, with car parks and a coach service from each end. Unfortunately the car parks are also magnets for local thieves, who know they have a number of clear hours.

No narrative would be complete without another waterfall picture, this one being at Hururu falls near the Bay of Islands.

 

The bay of islands is one of the gems of the North, and has a gross of islands (144 for those not used to old English quantities), one apparently owned by R. Murdock. They have some interesting aquatic life forms.

So, if we came again, would we do North, South or both? If time was limited, say 2 weeks or less, then South only, unless it was the middle of winter when you may want to consider the North for warmth. For more than 2 weeks, then probably some of both. Most international flights are to and from Auckland in the North, so it is extra effort to go South.

Now for some Kiwi humour: