How would you spend 10 days of travel in another country? Would you see as much as possible or dissolve in the one place?
Ashleigh and I contemplated this as the plane docked. We waited for the eager passengers to vacate, rustled about for our carry on luggage, then meandered out of Auckland airport like two lost children.
Travellers Autobarn depot, is about a 20 minute taxi ride from the airport. Walking through the door we were welcomed like family. Peter, the Auckland manager was helpful and super informative, running a tight ship in a gracious and natural manner. The office space was clean and filled with maps and brochures of many trips to appeal to everyone. Time passed and within the hour he had us buckled up and on our merry way. North New Zealand is just over 100,00 sq Kms. Ashleigh and I decided to head North of Auckland for a few days and explore.
There is only a couple of things vanlifers need, fresh produce, a bakery and some coffee. Luckily for us, we were in a country that prides itself on all of these necessities. Pulling over we filled our fridge and imaginings of the nights cooking adventures to come. We agreed upon staying south of Marsden Point near the beach, we ogled at the Manaia Mountains, sun dipping and waves sweeping up the shore, tomatoes glistened and popping in the pan. The van set up was perfect for cooking especially when you have the sweet tunes of Chet Baker to swoon the senses. We sat at the table, the magic of evening flavours, savoured with the starry night creeping in.
On waking, a fresh brew of coffee, fruit and muesli we put some kilometers behind us and pushed ever northward, stopping for free range eggs on the roadside before our bellies began grumbling. Just before lunch we cruised into the Bay of Islands. The Bay is spectacular and looked like a giant had tossed furry hats into the ocean. We took a swim in the water, wandered the markets and decided on watching the sun set on the west coast.
Wiamamaku Beach, a gorgeous free camp spot on the Wiamamaku River just south of Opapere. For the next couple of days we swam and hiked, exploring the region. One afternoon we rounded the mouth of the river to face out into the Tasman sea with the tide was running out. A local had told us of a place where we could find mussels on a rock we could eat. We played in the sand until the sun began its daily dive. collected some wood and started a little fire. Ashleigh disappeared as the tide yawned and returned with a little bucket full of green lipped mussels, fresh off a rock. Luckily we had packed some white wine, parsley, chilli and some sourdough. Flames licked the pan as the mussels were shuffled around in the steaming broth. We left feeling old salty sea dogs.
I honestly say, that in that moment I felt incredibly fortunate and overwhelmingly lucky to be alive. Being able to experience the tastes, smells, views and people on these journeys, so easily taken for granted. Tattooing memories. Why do we sit in a hotels worrying about wifi? It took roughly three days for me to unwind and stop. Stop being compulsive about trying to get online and watch what's happening in front me.
The following morning we ventured back to the rock at low tide and Ocean Girl did her thing again. Packing the van, we filled up, then picked up some hitchhikers and headed south to Coromandel.
Tairua, is a sleepy town roughly 100kms East of Auckland. We dropped our new found friends off and tuckered in for the night at Mary Beach Reserve.
As the sun peered over the Pacific I awoke and drove a little further north to Sailors Grave Beach. Wound out the top widows and crawled back into the warm bed, the breeze danced across the waters and over our wanting skin. We lay there with the door open for what seemed a lifetime, waves spilling into ears and dream like state. Venturing around the headland we scoured the coast looking for more of natures delicious wonders but it wasn't to be.
The following days we combed the Coromandel Peninsula. Tasting the food and taking in the remarkable landscapes. We watched some local music at a fundraiser, took the 309 back over to Whitianga. Ashleigh cradled a piglet before we scaled Castle Rock. Winding back toward the coast, we found a spot to call home for the night named Egan Park Reserve. A stunning creek upstream from the Mahakirau River. After a swim and another tasty dinner we watched the sky turn inside out and large specs of light pierce the thick blue velvet night sky.
Heading back to Auckland. Ahh... It's hard to consider how much time can be spent in a place like New Zealand and still feel like you haven't gone close to scratching the surface. What a vast and incredible beautiful country. Words are inadequate. Experience is the only way to discover the unique land, people and history of the Nation's first people, the Maori.
Arriving home I couldn't help but wonder how soon we will return. Until then New Zealand. Don't change.
Big thanks to Travellers Autobarn for making this trip possible.
Written by Jared Melrose Campbell