Ahh, New Zealand. I never thought I’d say “ah, New Zealand” like that. I didn’t think New Zealand was an “ah” sort of place.
Partly because I’d never been. Yes, in that specially idiotic way characteristic of millennial’s, I found myself guilty of having an opinion of a place I’d never actually set foot in. My extensive knowledge extended as far as Frodo Baggins and ended somewhere around fesh and cheps, Mel Gibson and sheep. It’s not that I didn’t think it merited a visit. I knew the day would come when I would feel like climbing something. Hell, it was a mere 3 hours away. I guess that was the problem. NZ was too close to Australia. Too close to be exotic. And for that reason, it had maintained residency in the ‘maybe later’ compartment of my brain. Didn’t a holiday mean a 14-hour flight, palm trees, and an overpriced beach chair?
Nevertheless, as we flew into Queenstown, descending over an eye-widening expanse of rolling hills dusted with marigold blossoms (which I later realized were just weeds. Yes, even your weeds are impressive), the thought of Katut feeding me grapes faded into the abyss. As early as touchdown, it was decided. NZ was a paradise and what it lacked for in coconuts it made up with all the road tripping potential a Corona Journey could ask for.
Didn’t a holiday mean a 14-hour flight, palm trees, and an overpriced beach chair?
The plan was to weasel our way from South to North Island, starting in Queenstown and ending in Auckland, all in a matter of 15 days. It was an ambitious itinerary. Greedy even. And as we looked at our mapped-out route, looking like a tangled scar up the country, a look of ‘oh S**T’ was fleetingly shared. Any flame of concern, however, was quickly extinguished when we picked up our camper. As we hit the open road, our bodies tingled with the sense of adventure that only the beginning of a roadie can ignite. We were officially off to find out which island did it better. North or South?
I soon worked out Queenstown was stupidly good looking. I also worked out, every man, woman, cat, and dog had the same plan as us, with more camper vans than people crowding the quaint cabin lined streets. Feeling unoriginal but adventurous, Linc and I decided to climb our first mountain. With a banana in hand and one water bottle, we set off for the Tiki Trails. As Linc set the pace, I quickly came to the crushing realization that I was about as fit as a Phys Ed school teacher. The track was steep and barely mapped. Slithers of light trickled through the canopy of trees, giving the trail a near ethereal charm and an hour later we were spat out of the leafy underbelly that had so effortlessly swallowed us whole.
We were officially off to find out which island did it better. North or South?
On top of the Tiki Trails was the base of Ben Loman. Ben Loman was an even more impressive mountain that sat imperiously over Queenstown. Feeling like Olympians after our first hike, we embarked on the next without so much as a glance at the supply store. One might say this was a mistake. One might also say we had no idea that this would take us 6 hours to complete with one banana and half a bottle of water between us. One might also say, ‘lol, you idiots’.
In our defense, Ben Loman was a beast of a mountain. It rose and fell and then rose some more. The sun had also decided to show up to the party and was beating its fist on the top of our heads like bongos. Somewhere along the line, we went into auto pilot. Adopting a dull ache in our shins and maintaining a steady stream of complaints (me), we took as many photos of the mind-blowing scenery as we could. The view stretched for miles as 50 shades of blue and yellow combined to form a national geographic dream below us. Verdict? Worth it. Our Coronas at the end of the day? Well bloody deserved.
As Linc set the pace, I quickly came to the crushing realization that I was about as fit as a Phys Ed school teacher. The track was steep and barely mapped.
It’s fair to say we laid off the hikes for a bit after that. Instead, we kept up the tourist momentum with a boat ride through Milford Sound. Having heard it was the 8th Wonder of the World, I was all jazzed up to be wonder-ed. I wasn’t expecting, however, to be more impressed by the drive into Milford Sound than the actual cruise through the Fiord itself. As we drove through the valley, stoic mountains with shaggy rock faces shot up all around us. Waterfalls gushed down their sides, warping and splitting the cliff line into jagged shards of earth. It was a vision so otherworldly, that we ceased to feel human. Instead, we became ants, our van a toy car and the road ahead, the black steak of a Sharpie. Birds too became bigger, scalier. Clearly, we had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Jurassic Park.
For the sake of Lincoln’s sanity, we headed for the coast. Water, it was agreed would serve two purposes. One, to get a first surf in. And two, to address our new signature scents that were blossoming into their own under our tees. As we rolled around a lush bend dotted with sheep, an epic view of The Catlins was revealed. The sky was turquoise, the camping freedom enviable and the water spectacularly – flat. Poor Linc. He dealt with this tragedy the only way he knew how – by moving the camper a gazillion times until we had what he decided was ‘The Perfect View’. I’ll admit, we did find perfection that day. The Catlin’s was an odd blend of country meets coast. It was lush and green then suddenly rugged and ominous in a way coastlines were not back home.
Birds too became bigger, scalier. Clearly, we had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Jurassic Park.
The next morning, we woke to a family of sheep staring at us and took that as our cue to leave. Next on our itinerary was Wanaka, a quaint but quirky town with an ambiguous energy. We met up with Corona Contributor and drinking fountain enthusiast, Nick Rapley, who turned out to be the best/loosest host in the history of hosts. There was a lake swim, a liquid dinner, and a 50-year-old man named Johno with a phobia of green-eyed women. From Wanaka, we ventured to Aoraki with the hopes of stargazing. The stars, however, had zero intentions to be seen and we traded in activities for a trek to the Hooker Glacier. While the iconic glacier had partially melted (classic stitch up), the trek was saved by the epic Pride Rock situation happening on the other side of the valley.
The next morning, we woke to a family of sheep staring at us and took that as our cue to leave.
After what felt like a month of travel, our time in the South ran out. We made one last push for Picton and caught the ferry to Wellington. This voyage was made forever memorable by Lincoln’s explosive attack of sea lice 3000 miles out at sea. Can confirm, Hell hath no fury like a sea lice’s scorn in a damp tee.
The first thought that struck me upon entering the North was the sudden abundance of things. There were shops and people and traffic lights and supermarkets and more than one petrol station. Basic observations that alone meant nothing but together marked a transition back into civilization. We were back in the concrete jungle, and there was an unspoken consensus we couldn’t pee on the side of the road anymore (sad face).
We were back in the concrete jungle, and there was an unspoken consensus we couldn’t pee on the side of the road anymore (sad face).
Our itinerary had us pegged to skim the east peninsular and we fled Wellington for Napier. After our long drive from the South, we sought comfort in the form of a cheeseboard at the Mission Estate Winery in Napier. I honestly believe this cheeseboard could save lives, abolish world hunger and put your kids through college (I’m not dramatic, you are), it was that good. Blacks Beach rolled into view the next day and held with it all the promise of a quality surf and a happy boyfriend. Apparently, Blacks was “always pumping”, so when we got there and saw it was flat, Linc was convinced he had acquired some hectic bad surf juju (he still got a paddle in).
We travelled up the coastline and stopped at Mahia Beach for the night. It was a beautiful stretch of surf, with only a few other travellers littering the sand. After Napier, we felt back in the minority of nature and it calmed our salty bones. One look at the arvo sky told us a sunset was coming, and by the time it dropped we were ready with a bonfire, some new friends, and an esky of Coronas. It felt good to swap stories with strangers and watch the sky slip into all its colours before finally retiring into darkness. From Mahia, we ventured further north to Gisborne. There’s not much to say about Gisborne except that the coast is stunning and the food sitch dire. We sought culinary redemption in the form of (packet) butter chicken that night and let the sun unfold around our camper.
One look at the arvo sky told us a sunset was coming, and by the time it dropped we were ready with a bonfire, some new friends, and an esky of Coronas. It felt good to swap stories with strangers and watch the sky slip into all its colours before finally retiring into darkness.
We smelt we were in Rotorua before we knew we were in Rotorua. I had specifically made us come here for the hot springs and on the first drizzly day of the trip, that’s what we did. Sitting in the warm tepid water, I thought how odd it was that I had actively paid someone to smell like a fart and odder still, that I was enjoying it. Afterwards, our skin adopted a pearly radiance and the smoothness of a babies tookus. The downside was the springs distinctly communal feel, which made it hard not to imagine all the floaty bits that had come before your floaty bits.
We wrapped up the north coast at Mt. Maunganui, dropping in to visit another Corona contributor and Damaged Goods Zine ledge, Jereme ‘Jerry’ Aubertin. It was here in the Mount that I made my big gurfing debut. I was so abnormally good that a crowd formed on the shore and as I stood up, wave after wave after wave like some surfing prodigy, they began to clap and chant and —not really. I sucked. But I was hooked and blabbed on about it all the way up to The Coromandel.
On our final morning, before making the trek to Auckland for departure, I woke in the back of the van at Opoutere to the sound of Linc waxing his board. I watched him race in anticipation through the canopy of pines that peppered the path to the sand. Did he finally score the incredible waves that he lugged two surfboards across the entire nation for? Not exactly. He did score a salty smile and no new sea lice friends, so it was still a win in our book.
It was here in the Mount that I made my big gurfing debut. I was so abnormally good that a crowd formed on the shore and as I stood up, wave after wave after wave like some surfing prodigy, they began to clap and chant and —not really. I sucked.
In 15 days, we had journeyed the South and the North. We had not only stuck to our itinerary but breezed through it, not once feeling the dread of a ticking clock. More importantly, we had let ourselves decide which Island did it better. While there was much left uncharted on both islands, we felt a common alliance to the South. It was the quiet intimacy you felt with nature there. The open roads with no one in sight. The bleeding sunsets and the velvety nights. The silence you listened to instead of fought. The North had its own magic and we found wonder in the string of beaches that strung our days so effortlessly together. Basically, the whole country knows how to do a vaycay.
Here are some tips we prepared earlier to help you check out NZ without a hitch.
Nat & Linc’s 10 Worth-Mentioners
1. Take your time and pick the right van. You’re going to be spending hours in that thing and the wrong sized bed or cabin space could seriously ruin your trip/relationship/life.
2. Bug spray and wet wipes are your friends. Sand flies and drop toilets are not.
3. Don’t be afraid to mingle with other travellers. Most of the time they are sick of talking to each other and usually up for a chinwag.
4. Campermate. Campermate. Campermate. This nifty little app saved our lives more times than we can remember. It’s designed for travellers to find the nearest campsites, grocery stores, petrol stations, basically anything worth finding and it works offline. Technologies alright, aye?
5. Go to New Zealand anytime from November to March. We went November, early December. I’m no expert, but the weather was near perfect, not to mention the days longer and the hotspots less crowded. Thanks to daylight saving, the sun doesn’t set until 10pm (crazy), giving you ample time to cram as much or as little into your day.
6. Be flexible and ditch expectations. Things are always gonna go down that you didn’t see coming. Avoid disappointment by going with the flow.
7. Allow time to be spontaneous. Some of the best photos we got were of places in between the big destinations.
8. Put yo’ phone down. You don’t want to miss something because you were trying to decide if Valencia made you look washed out or not. Be present and engage with #nature.
9. This sounds obvious but bring comfortable walking shoes. I’m talking runners/some sort of sports shoe. There’s something to climb everywhere you look and you don’t want to be 3 hours into a hike, in Connies, hating your life.
10. Roadtrip it. I really can’t imagine doing NZ any other way. The freedom that a camper affords you is priceless and there is an abundance of safe, affordable and picturesque places to stay all over the country.
*(Also don’t eat Indian when camping, for obvious reasons, that were not so obvious to me, at the time).
Check out Lincoln’s North Coast road trip HERE.
Discover more epic Corona Journeys HERE.