The New Zealand Campervan Chronicles Part 2: Glowworms, Blacksand Freedom, and the Christening of Faith
Leaving Auckland a bit late due to the post celebratory sleeping, our campervan experience began in earnest. Our destination was the fabled Waitomo caves with their fascinating glowworms, but as we set out we realized we weren’t going to make it there in time. Thus, our first “freedom camping” experience was a hilarious stopover in a residential neighborhood outside of Hamilton. Just imagine us furtively looking out of our curtains as we slept under the street lights of a cul-de-sac. We made a beeline out of there at the crack of dawn and made a bunch of minor fixes to the van to prepare her for the journey. Our road trip began with a string of fresh local fruit and veggie shops on the road, and we could hardly move a few kilometers before we kept pulling over for succulent kiwis, bags of zucchini, broccolis the size of Neda’s head, and heaps of avocados (mm, guacamole galore, miss you Austin!).
Before we knew it, we were in Waitomo, though the hyper commercialized and uber expensive cave tours left us searching for the right way to tackle the area. Our answer came in the form of the godsend New Zealand Frenzy guidebook series by Scott Cook. The books focus on campervan travel throughout New Zealand, with a focus on DYI adventures and off the beaten path treasures. In Waitomo, Scott recommended Ruakuri Bushwalk twice – during the day the walk is a pleasant stroll through the area of the caves and the native bush, but at night it really shines! We were mesmerized by the thousands of little azure colored lights throughout the woods and along the limestone walls. The little critters have evolved this beautiful glow to attract small insects for them to feed on. As we walked in the dark, it became hard to distinguish where the glow of the worms ended and where the glitter of the stars began (the night sky is crystal clear here). How amazing that from this perspective the tiniest of worms were indistinguishable from the enormous gas giants burning far away from us. It was truly an experience of the finite merging with the infinite - the heart of the Soto Zen teaching.
Next, we decided to head out to the relatively isolated West Coast of the Central North Island with a couple of tramps (what kiwis call hikes) along the way. Our first stop was the Tawarau Falls off of Appletree Road. Turns out this road is an unpaved overgrown forest road that leads to a small hill parking lot from where the tramp to the waterfall begins. Let’s just say that the Estima’s low frame height didn’t agree with the road. Clinking and thumping noises accompanied our every turn as our anxiety grew that the car would fall apart as the trip had begun. With rain approaching and our fears of not being able to get out before dark, we skipped the trek and headed back to the main road. This time, the car really did tear some pieces off as we got back to the main road with plastic and metal dragging ominously on the ground. With the help of a few friendly locals, we were able to get the pieces off and got a piece of mind, that the only damage was to the unnecessary safety guards at the bottom of a car. We brought the pieces to a mechanic later, who assured us that they were Japanese add-ons not necessary and we can drive. As the noises reverberated in our ears and Jeff continued to push on the gas, hoping for minimal damage, the car earned her name. We called her Faith. The rest of the road was more peaceful as we wooed under the Mangapohue Natural Bridge and ahhed in the personal rainbow that Jeff created standing in the mist of the stunning Marokopa Falls.
Our night would end riding a locals only gravel road to the Kiritehere Beach, a beautiful black sanded cove backed by the pastoral farmlands and rolling hills common to the region. The only other camper there for the night was a local from Raglan, who offered us a beer and other Kiwi hospitality that made for some far out conversations! Lying in bed that night, listening to the waves rock us to sleep - does it get any better?
Through the tunnel
The isolated beach theme continued as Scott led us next to Waikawau Tunnel Beach. Accessible at low tide only, this beautiful spot can only be reached via an 80 meter long manmade tunnel (built so that shepards could get their sheep out for sea pickup) through the sandstone cliffs. Emerging through the gusting winds of the tunnel, the beach provided a brilliant walk along colorful bluffs, cute waterfalls surrounded by verdant moss, and fascinating forms that the rippling eddies created in the sand. To top it all off, we were completely alone.
That sweet remoteness would continue as we bedded down at our destination of the evening, Mokau beach. This sweet spot on Scott’s itinerary saw us literally opening our van door to the sparkling black sand beach littered with picturesque white driftwood. Being more than just beautiful, the wood provided for a warm fire in a nook carved out of a beach cliff. We felt like kings of the world, drinking beers, eating homemade guacamole and curried chickpeas in front of the warm fire gazing out at the never-ending ocean.
Sure, there were some bumps along the road but our first week of the campervan chronicles was a smashing success. Next, we would tackle Mount Egmont and see the birth place of the Hobbit in Windy Welly.
For the beautiful pics from this leg of the trip, click here.