Travelling through New Zealand
with Happy Bussy
Arriving in New Zealand
All the customs formalities have been completed and Happy is moored in Opua Marina in New Zealand. After having spent nearly a year in the tropical area around the equator, we are now wearing sweaters and pants. In the evening it is so cold, we even have to dig up our warm fleeces from the fore-cabin. We throw away the mouldy sweaters we find, but we still have enough left. We didn't know we had brought this many. We are addressed in Dutch at the harbour office, so that's easy. The toilets and showers are clean and toilet paper is provided, which we haven't always taken for granted lately. For the first time in a long time we are in a shower, which really is a lot better than washing yourself in the water around the boat. Everything reminds us of the fact that we are now in a western country.
After a few days of rest, it is time to make plans, because a lot needs to be done on Happy. But every day, more than ten boats arrive here and like us, they all have long lists of chores to be completed. Since we are going to stay here for six months, we decide to go on holiday first, after which the rush will be over and the companies in the marina will surely have time for us. While we are in the Blue Water Cafe, we get talking to Matthew, the owner of the cosy restaurant. We tell him about our plans to travel around the country with our backpacks and a tent, but Matthew has a much better idea: buy a van, put a mattress in it and sleep in the van. Wild camping is allowed here, it is cheap and everybody does it.
We are on the bus to Whangarei, the biggest city in Northland, the area to the north of Auckland. We are driving on the SH1, a beautiful road across hills and valleys; it's like the Ardennes, simply stunning. We had to ponder the idea of buying a car for a few days, but we have made our decision. We haven't been here a week and we are already going to buy a car, wow! You do need a car here, by the way, because in this part of New Zealand public transport is so expensive, we had to pay 25 dollar per person for a single trip to Whangarei. That is more than 25 euros for two persons to spend an hour on the bus, which was more than an hour late to boot. Once we arrive in Whangarei, we first find a shoemaker to have the soles of Dory's trainers repaired. Next, we visit several car dealers while it's pouring with rain and in the end a Ford dealer gives us an address where we find our "Happy Bussy". A friendly lady at the Ford dealer's even dropped us off there so we didn't have to walk there in the rain. Our "Happy Bussy" is a 1991 Nissan Serena and after having paid around 1300 euros we become the proud owners on the very same day. Then we buy a SIM card for our mobile phone, which we bought in the Netherlands a long time ago, and we feel very much at home in New Zealand. Even the weather is cooperative, because it has been raining all day.
In the next few weeks, we have a great time with the other sailors who crossed from Tonga at the same time as we did and we start on a few chores. The boiler is attached more firmly, so it will no longer wobble and we apply new sound insulation to the engine room. The old insulation material is decaying and leaves a lot of waste. The new material has a nice shiny layer. We make appointments with the rigger to repair the cracks in the mast and then it is time to leave. On 10 December we fold down the chairs in our Happy Bussy, load everything we think we'll need and leave Opua in the pouring rain.
On the road
On the first day, we drive to Whangarei where friends of ours are waiting for us with their yacht. We have dinner on board their yacht and then we spend the night in our Bussy for the first time, but after two hours of tossing and turning and sore backs we decide that we really need an air mattress in addition to the folded back chairs. Dory was clever enough to already put it on top of the chairs, so we only need to inflate it. It's raining, so we don't want to have to get out and we struggle and climb over each other while we inflate the mattress and after half an hour it's hard enough and we can both sleep comfortably.
The North Island is beautiful and the rolling hills with alternating pasture and forest strongly remind us of the Ardennes. We drive along winding roads and this brings us in a vacation mood. Travelling by car is so much easier than travelling by sailing boat; just being able to stop at a supermarket to do our grocery shopping is a luxury. We walk through one of the kauri forests which have become rare. The kauri tree is a huge, upright tree which can have a huge diameter. It's extremely suitable for building canoes and masts for sailing boats. This is why many kauri forests have disappeared and therefore the areas where they still grow are now protected.
The first two days we camp on camping sites, but once we are past Auckland, we find a spot along a river near the village of Arapuri. We camp at a picnic site along with Graham and Gabrielle and their camper van. They tell us where to find cheap or free camping sites and we spend an enjoyable evening with them. The next morning, we hike in the area around Arapuri, nature is beautiful, the water is clear and the fern trees give nature a fairy-like touch.
On our way to Wellington
Following Graham's advice we leave the main road at Paekakariki (it takes a bit of practice to be able to say it without stammering) on our way to a cheap camping site. It's a windy road with scary chasms on one side and rock faces on the other side. Fortunately, Hans manages to drive us safely to the top where we are rewarded with beautiful views. The camping site wasn't easy to find and when we arrive we see a field full of sheep. A farmer in overalls and muddy boots explains where we can camp, the sheep are in a lower field. This is where we hear and see the tui for the first time, the bird our favourite beer is named after. It's an inconspicuous black bird with an unusual double whistle. We ask the sheep farmer several times whether we can pay and he keeps saying he will return later, but when we want to leave the next morning, we can't find him and we leave without paying. We would have gladly paid the ten dollars for this spot among the sheep.
In the early afternoon we arrive in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, a large, busy city, but clearly signposted, so we manage to drive straight to the "Te Papa" museum right in the centre of the city. In this museum, you can find everything about the short history of the country. Here we learn for example that the Maori population only arrived here 800 years ago from French Polynesia. The museum is huge and admission is free, so for two days we come and go as we please. We enjoy the city and with the help of our Lonely Planet guide we find the best restaurants and bars. The Matterhorn for example is a trendy bar you would never enter based on its exterior. After 6 in the afternoon we can park for free at the Te Papa museum and we sleep in our Bussy in the parking lot, among other camper vans. The only toilet in the area is in a petrol station on the other side of a busy road and it feels a bit weird to powder your nose there when you have just got out of bed in the morning. Apart from that, it's ideal to be able to camp in the middle of the city. Wellington really is as windy as people told us and when we are going to look for work in New Zealand next year, we don't want to moor in a windy, turbulent marina here. It's summer now and rather chilly, it doesn't bear thinking about what it's like here in winter.
Arrival on the South Island
Our ferry to the South Island leaves Wellington in the middle of the night. Around sunrise we arrive in Picton and we drive off the ferry in the pouring rain. We park our Bussy somewhere along the side of the road to get some sleep and then we are on our way to the Marlborough Sounds. The road winds along the water and the view is supposed to be fantastic, but everything is covered in rain and fog. When we realise we don't have enough diesel to go all the way to the end and back, we decide to postpone a further visit to this beautiful area until later. We change our plans and take the Takaka pass to Nelson.
On our way there, we find one of the many locations where the Lord of the Rings films have been shot, a forest with trees covered in green. We walk around, climb up to a huge cave and from a viewpoint we can see the area down below us in the valley through the clouds. After the village of Takaka we visit the Waikoropupu springs, where every minute thousands of litres of pure, clear water well up out of the ground. This water flows straight into the sea via a river and is not used, because it's a holy place for the Maori. This is something we cannot understand, in the Netherlands we would give a lot for so much beautifully clear and clean water. We let Bussy climb back over the Takaka pass and drive in the direction of the west coast.
The west coast
At an i-site, a tourist information office, we receive an information leaflet about Oparara Bassin and we decide to turn north at Westport. Via a long gravel road we finally arrive at a parking lot with brand new toilets and lean-tos under which information signs still need to be set up. There are about four walking trails and we discover again that beautiful footpaths have been built in the forests which always lead to a magnificent natural phenomenon. The first trail led to a stunning reflecting lake, the other two we followed led to limestone caves in which a river, with infinite patience, had cut out a huge hole.
We camp on the parking lot with the brand new toilets in the middle of nowhere and have the place all to ourselves. The sandflies try to bite us everywhere, but we manage to fight them off by wearing long pants and sweaters with long sleeves. We cover the parts of our bodies which are not covered with mosquito repellent which nearly dissolves our skin because of the high levels of DEET. The wekas, cheeky flightless birds, potter about and try to steal our pancakes.
When we turn back south along the west coast in rainy weather, we arrive at the Franz Josef Glacier. Fortunately, the weather clears up, so it's nice hiking weather. First we walk to Pete's Pool, a small lake in which the glacier is magically reflected; just watching it reduces you to silence. We walk on to a glacier river which has ice on its banks. Finally, a long walk along the rocky river bed and past waterfalls takes us close to the snow. Unfortunately, walking in the snow is only allowed if you are accompanied by a guide. Never mind, because we have a wonderful view of the glacier and you can see tiny little people walking on it in the distance. That's when you realise how huge the glacier is.
Later in the afternoon we drive on to Fox glacier, but we have had enough exercise for the day so we limit ourselves to watching the glacier en taking a few pictures from a nice viewpoint. Then it's time to find a place to camp for the night and we spend the night at Lake Paringa.
To be continued
Our eight-week trip with Happy Bussy is too long to describe in one story. We will try to share the rest of our camping adventure with you as soon as possible.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)