15 october au 27 november 2023
1st part - North Island
We wanted to go to New Zealand for several years. With the covid "years", we had to postpone this project. With New Zealand reopening its borders around November 2022, we decided to look again at this travel project.
Our jobs allowed us to accumulate unused vacation days in a Time Savings Account, so we took advantage of this system to leave for 6 weeks. As soon as our employers agreed in January 2023, we bought the plane tickets in February. Then came the question of transport and accommodation: car-camping? car-hostels? camping-car/campervan? As NZ is a green country with varying degrees of rainfall, we didn't want to go camping in a tent. So we opted to rent a van. First experience for us!
Sunday October 15: a cab picks us up at 4pm, heading for Roissy CDG. We arrive at 6:05pm. Check-in at the kiosks, then queue at the Singapore Airlines counter. More than an hour standing and waiting before baggage drop-off. Through security, the photo bag was "emptied"! Fortunately, it wasn't too crowded. We nibble and wait for boarding. 9.50pm: delay announcement, boarding at 10.35pm instead of 9.40pm. Meanwhile, we watch the Rugby World Cup match between France and South Africa. Boarding begins at 10.50pm. We leave the gate at 11.20pm when France is defeated. Take-off at 11.30pm instead of 10.40pm.
Monday October 16: despite an hour's delay on takeoff, we arrive in Singapore on schedule at 5.30pm (local time). We pass through security fairly quickly. Boarding for Sydney, Australia scheduled for 7.20pm. We board the plane around 7.30pm. Take-off at 8.50pm, 30 minutes late.
Tuesday October 17: we arrive in Sydney on schedule, at 6.55am (local time). We pass through security, still with the photo bag, which doesn't fit on the first try. Departure scheduled for 9.55am. Delay, announcement for 10.20am. Boarding at 10.00am. Take-off at 10.45am. We fill in the NZTD form on the plane. We indicate that we have medication and hiking gear, as recommended by NZ travel organizations. Landing in Auckland at 3.40pm instead of 3.05pm. We go through immigration via automatic terminals. Then at customs, a lady tells us to go to lane 4 to declare our medication, then lane 2 for our hiking boots. Line 4, nobody in front, very fast, the man asks us two questions: if we have a prescription and for which illness, he doesn't ask to open the suitcase. File 2, nobody in front, we show our hiking boots, they're clean, the lady is happy and lets us through. We place our luggage on a conveyor belt to be scanned. And that's it! All this in less than an hour - we expected it to take longer. We buy a SIM card from Vodafone to get a NZ number and 40GB, 200 minutes of calls at NZ€69. No queue either, it goes fast. We order an Uber, which arrives in 4 minutes. Heading for the Ibis Budget on Wyndham Street. We chose this hotel because it's conveniently located in the city center and allows us to walk to the places we want to visit. We arrived at 5.30pm. Our room is on the 17th floor. The room is small, but you can get a view of the Sky Tower by leaning out of the window! After a well-deserved shower, we go out to eat at around 7.30pm. We head for the Sky Tower and enter the casino at its foot. We choose a fish & chips. When we come out, it's dark and raining a little. We head back to the hotel, looking up at the illuminated tower.
We stop to buy water and cereal bars. We leave these in the room and, as it's not raining any more, we go out again, but still with the windbreakers. We go as far as the port and come back.
Wednesday, October 18: up at 8.30am. Noisy night. It's raining cats and dogs. With the hotel, we've taken the breakfast option. But we have to go to a cafe next door, the Koffee Bar. Chocolate coffee granola orange juice. Back to the room. The rain has subsided. We leave at 10.30am. We take the path to Albert Park, a large, beautiful garden in the heart of the city. Trees with huge trunks, flowers, it smells good.
Right next door is the Clock Tower in the university center. Not easy to take a picture of.
The weather's starting to warm up, but it's damp. We then head for the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The building is set in a large green park.
As the weather is just about perfect, we head for Mount Eden. It's a volcano overlooking the city. It's an uphill climb. It's hot and humid, so we're sweating! It's a sacred site for the Maoris. We walk around the volcano and take in the views over Auckland.
We head back down and stop off at the site's little restaurant, Whau. We eat ham and tomato quiches accompanied by a Coke. The waitress immediately spots our French accent. She's Belgian. We then take the opposite route. We take a break on a bench in Albert Park. It's hot! We rest for a quarter of an hour. Then we set off again, passing by the port. We buy some cold drinks and get back to the room at 4.35pm. We've walked 15 km. We leave at 6.15pm. We check the ferry timetable to go to Northcote Wharf on the other side of Auckland to take night photos of the Sky Tower with the sea in front. There's a boat there, but the guy says there isn't one for the return trip. David insists on going, so we order an Uber, which isn't much more expensive than the boat. We arrive at the foot of the bridge at 6.50pm. We take a few daytime photos and wait for the sunset. The sky turns a light shade of pink. A lovely sight. Then a few more night shots with the city lights,
before calling an Uber to take us back to the hotel. We go for lunch at a Denny's, just like in the United States, at 9.30pm. Well, it's not as good as in the US!
Thursday, October 19: up at 7am. Big blue sky this morning. We have breakfast and then head for the port. We take the 9.30am ferry to Rangitoto Island (booked this morning on the internet for 104 $NZ for the two of us).
It's a small volcanic island. We arrive at 10am. We combine three trails, starting with the Summit Track, which climbs to the top of the volcano. It climbs 259 m over 2.4 km. There are a few volcanic lava flows. The crater is overgrown and barely visible.
From up here, you can see Auckland. Then we take the Summit Road trail to McKenzie Bay. It's not very interesting, we find it long. At the bay, there's a small red-and-white lighthouse. Then we take the McKenzie Bay Road back to the boat dock. This path runs along the coast and offers nice views of Auckland Bay, with contrasting black rock, blue sky and turquoise sea.
It's a bit long too, but at least we're out in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Before reaching the boarding pier, we make a detour to Kowhai Grove, a tree that produces yellow flowers in spring. But no flowers here! After 11.8 km, we complete the loop at 1:45pm. We then wait for the 2.20pm boat. Back to the port and hotel by 3.15pm. We pack again. Around 6pm, we go out to see St Patrick's Cathedral, right next to the hotel.
Then we pick up tickets to climb the Sky Tower (76 $NZ for two). Beforehand, we dine at the tower's restaurant. We then go up to level 60 at 7pm, Sky Desk 220 m high. The view is pretty good in the late evening light. Rangitoto Island can be seen in the background at the top of the photo:
However, this level closes at 7.45pm, so there's no night view. Level 51 isn't as good, with lots of reflections from the lamps inside. It's a bit expensive for what it is. Back to the room and we finish packing.
Friday, October 20: up at 6.45am. The weather is fine with a few clouds. Breakfast and packing. Depart with an Uber at 8.30am to pick up the campervan. We arrive at Travellers Autobarn. The guy introduces us to the van and we drop off our luggage. The van has 196,033 km on the odometer.
We go shopping at the nearby Park'n Save. Make sure you drive on the left! We stow the groceries, making the most of the space available in the compartment above the driver/passenger seats and in the fridge. Time for adventure! We leave Auckland at 11am. We decided not to visit the Cape Reinga peninsula in the far north, as this would have required 2 or 3 days of driving time. We also eliminated the Coromandel Peninsula from the program, and Cathedral Cove in particular, as it was visibly damaged by the last storm. So we're heading south towards Hunua Falls. Get used to driving on the left! We arrive at the parking lot around noon. First we have to clean our shoes on a roller and in a kind of foot bath. The waterfall is 50 m away, first visible from the bridge over the river and then at its foot.
It's a pretty one. The path leads to another viewpoint higher up in 5 minutes. The view is less pleasant. We're back on the road by 1pm. We stop at Otorohanga to book a camping pitch around 4pm. The check-in is done alone with online booking but it doesn't work. Another couple is there too and they call the manager, who tells us we can go and set up. We take down the table and chairs to keep the pitch. In the campsite, there's a fully-equipped kitchen and a communal dining room in the style of a youth hostel. Then at 4.20pm, we set off for Waitomo Caves, 15km away. Tickets are 150$NZ for both of us. Next visit at 5pm. We start on foot, the guide showing us some beautiful formations. Then we arrive in a large hall, the "cathedral". The guide sings a song to help us hear the resonance. We then go to the back of the cellar and see some glow-worms with dangling threads.
Then we climb into a boat and sail off into the darkness and complete silence. On the ceiling, thousands of glow-worms. It's superb. It's like a starry sky. Too bad we can't take any photos. The tour ends with the boat docking under the exit arch after 50 minutes. It's a bit expensive for what it is, though. The only attraction is the glow-worm sky. Back to the campsite at 6.20pm. Dinner in the open air.
Saturday, October 21: up at 7am. Fine weather. We try to book Hobbiton Movie Set but it's already full for this morning, so we take it for 4.40pm (178 $NZ for both of us). The campsites in Tauranga are all full. Damn, we should have booked earlier, as it's a national holiday on Monday. We book a campsite in Waikato, the Opal Hot Springs & Holiday Park next to Matamata. We also book a 2-night stay at the Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park in Rotorua. We then have breakfast in the open air. We leave the campsite and head for Bridalveil Falls at 10am. We make a few photo stops along the way, the green hills looking very pretty under the blue sky.
Rhaaa Waze drove us to an unpaved road, so we drove an hour for nothing. What a waste of time! It's already 11.30am. Half turn. As a result, we don't have time to go to the waterfall. We head straight for the Opal Hot Springs & Holiday Park campsite. We settle in and nibble. The sky is getting heavy, and we're afraid of a storm. Then it's off to Hobbiton Movie Set for the 4.40pm visit. On the way, we take a few photos of the hills with the sheep. Finally, it's sunny again. We arrive at Hobbiton Movie Set at 3.50pm - we're wide open! We're the last group on the tour, just 13 people, which is cool. Even if you're not a fan, it's a very pleasant ride. The backdrops in the green hills are really well done, and make you want to live there!
The flowers smell wonderful. The tour lasts 2 hours but you can't see them go by and ends at the Green Dragon tavern with a glass of local beer or cider.
A mug bearing the Green Dragon logo is offered at the exit. Back to the parking lot at 6.30pm. Then off to the campsite.
Sunday, October 22: up at 6.15am. It's overcast. We leave immediately at 6.45, after a short trip to the bathroom. Breakfast on the road. Direction Tauranga on the east coast. We drive over a pass in mist, then on the other side it's sunny with a few clouds. On the road, we enter a toll road. Don't forget to pay online. We arrive in Tauranga at 7.45am. Breakfast on the beach after having been lucky enough to find a parking space. There are lots of people. We leave the van at 8.30am to climb Mount Maunganui, an extinct volcano.
It's a steep climb, 233m ascent. The view from up there is nice, but not at this hour.
The weather is fine and warm. Roundtrip from the van it's a 4.8 km walk. Back to the van at 10am. We then head for Kaiate Falls, some 20 km to the south. We arrive at 11.15am. The parking lot is small. We have to descend 200m for about 1km. We see 3 successive waterfalls, then a large one with a pool at the foot. Nice.
Back to the van at 12.15pm. We then head for Te Puke, the "world capital" of the Zespri kiwi. Photo stop in front of a giant yellow kiwi.
We love the yellow this variety of kiwi, and in France we eat one every morning in winter. But here, strangely enough, they're not as good, not sweet enough. We head for Rotorua, famous for its geothermal sites, a mini Yellowstone. We start our tour with Te Puia. The guided tour costs 92 $NZ per person (no self-guided tour). It starts at 3pm. The guide talks a lot, but there aren't many geysers! In fact, there are 2 or 3, a mud pool, 2 blue pools and that's about it.
The rest is a presentation of Maori culture and the sculptures they make. They have 2 kiwis which they preserve in glassed-in rooms where they recreate the alternation of day and night. And so that we can "see" them in "activity", they are plunged into darkness during tourist visits. We saw one. The visit lasts an hour and a half. We didn't enjoy it. On to the Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park. We arrive at 5pm. We settle behind another camping car, they are oddly made the sites! Ham and puff pastry in the van because it's so cold outside.
Monday, October 23: up at 7am. It was cold last night. Breakfast in the van. Departure at 9.30am. We begin the morning by going towards Blue & Green Lakes to see the point of view. One follows a way but it goes down towards Blue Lake. We follow another path but it leads nowhere. On the way back to the parking lot, we see some small steps on the opposite side of the path. This is the viewpoint! The Blue Lake is beautiful, with its palm trees in the foreground. It's navigable and accessible, but not the Green Lake, which is sacred to the Maories.
Then back to Rotorua. We go shopping and buy a blanket. Off we go to Kuirau Park. In fact, it's a large free public garden built around geothermal springs.
The park is well planted with trees and flowers; it's spring and everything is in full bloom. It smells good near the flowerbeds, but rotten around the bubbling pools (like Yellowstone).
It's much nicer than Te Puia. We leave at 1.30pm. We then go to Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland, another geothermal zone. Admission is 65 $NZ for the two of us. We're told to bring water, as it's hot. It's a self-guided tour. There are 3 one-way circuits, so you don't run into other people. We start at 2.30pm. There are steaming holes, bubbling mud pools, colored pools including Champagne Pool, which is orange, another sky-blue, and the last one neon green.
It's a beautiful site, better than Te Puia, cheaper and less populated. We finish at 4.30pm with the rangers on our asses, as the park closes at this hour. We covered 3.9 km. Just outside the park, we stop off at Mud Pool, a large pool of bubbling mud that makes you gobble!
Back to the campsite by 5.20pm. Dinner in the van. We then back up the photos.
Tuesday, October 24: up at 6.30am. This morning, it's misty and raining. Breakfast in the van. We drain the van and fill the water tank. We leave the campsite at 8.30am for Orakei Korako Cave & Geothermal Park, hoping for better weather. It's raining less. We arrive at 9.50am. By the time we get the tickets (94 $NZ for two), the rain has stopped. To see the hot springs, we have to cross the river. A small boat takes us to the other side. There are three circuits. We do all three in an hour and 40 minutes, 2.6 km. It's a bit like Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone.
It's white with fluorescent yellow and green bacteria, it smokes, it gurgles.
But it's not sunny enough. We set out again around midday. Picnic stop on the shores of Lake Taupo with a view of the Tongariro range under a very heavy sky. We set off again at 2pm, heading for Whakapapa Village in the Tongariro National Park. It's still very overcast, but it's stopped raining. We arrive at 3.15pm. We go to the Visitor Center to ask about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike for tomorrow. The lady tells us a big no, the weather is rotten: strong wind, rain, freezing temperatures and no improvement until Friday. What's more, the conditions for getting there have recently become very difficult: advance registration on the Internet (free), compulsory shuttle bus as the hike is one way, paying 60 $NZ per person. We drop off our car at the trailhead and a shuttle bus takes us to the start of the hike. It's no longer possible to park at the start, go up to the Emerald Lakes and back again, as parking time is limited to 4 hours. So that's it for the wow effect on the emerald lakes at the top of Tongariro. At around 4pm, before the bad weather arrives, we head off to see Tawhai Falls, also known as Gollum Falls, where a scene for The Lord of the Rings was filmed. A very pretty waterfall, we spend almost an hour there taking long exposure photos.
Finally, we reach our campsite, Whakapapa Holiday Park, at 5.30pm. The pitches are well separated from each other by trees.
Not hot. Dinner in the van.
Wednesday, October 25: it rained all night and it is still windy. Up slowly at 8am. Breakfast in the campsite's communal kitchen. There are quite a few French people. One tells us that the Alpine Crossing trail is closed. Given the weather, we're not sure what to do. Around 10.50am, we head for National Park Village, 10km away. We do some shopping. Back to Whakapapa. The rain having eased, we go for the Taranaki Falls hike. We still get a few showers on our heads!
The Tongariro view is completely blocked. It's windy. The waterfall is beautiful.
We continue the trail to make a loop, which is 6.2 km. Back at the campsite at 2.45pm. We try to dry the clothes. We start a laundry, while drinking hot chocolate in the communal kitchen. Then "moulage" as some would say, or "glandouille"! Dinner in the kitchen. Back to the van, it's 11° inside at 8pm.
Thursday, October 26: up at 7am. More fog and rain. Breakfast in the campsite kitchen. Departure at 9 am for New Plymouth and Egmont National Park. We take the Forgotten World Highway (road 43) to Stratford. It's very beautiful, with all its green hills. But there aren't many places to stop and take photos. At one point, the road is closed for roadworks. A camper van is parked and the guy tells us the road will reopen in ¾ of an hour. We wait. At 11.45am, the road opens and we're off! Part of this road is unpaved. It's all gravel and potholes! Our old van has a hard time of it on the hills. At 1.50pm, we arrive at Strathmore Saddle at the viewpoint of the Mount Taranaki volcano, also known as Mount Egmont. But the overcast sky doesn't let us see it. Furthermore, it's quite windy, and the van is getting jostled about. We drive on to New Plymouth. On the way, we stop at Mangamahoe Lake to see if we can camp there. Well, no! The site closes at 8.30pm. At 3.30pm, we arrive at the Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park. We take a pitch with a sea view.
It's blowing and the van is moving. We go for a walk on the Coastal Walkway, 4 km AR. Back at the campsite by 6pm. Dinner in the van.
Friday, October 27: up at 7.45am. It was very windy last night and raining intermittently. We leave the campsite at 9.30am. The weather's improving, but it's still windy. We're off to see the famous fishbone-shaped Te Rewa Rewa Bridge.
Then we go shopping. At 10.40am, we head for North Egmont to the Visitor Center. From the parking lot, Mount Taranaki is shrouded in fog, its base just visible. While we're looking at the hikes we have to do, hail and then a few snowflakes fall. It doesn't last long, but the wind is freezing. We take 15 minutes to complete the 855m Nature Walk. We don't know what to expect with the weather changing every 5 minutes. We decide to return to the coast at Tongaporutu to see the Three Sisters rock formation. The viewpoint is at the top of the cliff, 230m from the parking lot. It's pretty, but a bit remote. And there are only two rocks left.
And as the tide hasn't gone out, we can't go on the beach, which is black sand. We nibble and head back to New Plymouth around 3pm. We set up camp at the Freedom Camping on Lake Rotomanu, close to the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. Then we walk to the black-sand Fitzroy Beach.
5.8 km AR. Back to the van by 6.30pm. Dinner in the van. The sky is almost completely clear now. We return to the bridge to see if Taranaki is clear too. But no, still under the clouds. It's sunnier on the other side of the bridge.
Saturday, October 28: up at 6am. A bit cold last night. This morning, the sky is blue and Mount Taranaki shows off its snow-capped peak. Departure at 7.10am. We head off to Lake Mangamahoe to take photos of Taranaki's reflection. Well, no reflection, it's a bit windy.
But there's a nice view of the mountain. We hit the road again to get to the start of the Mangorei trailhead. We start the hike to Pouakai Tarns at around 8.30am, in 5°C. The trail is entirely on wooden footbridges, with 3,000 steps of varying lengths.
I can't take it anymore! We're warming up fast! As far as Pouakai Hut, a refuge, everything is undergrowth, it's monotonous. There's still some frost in places. After the hut, where it's now 9°C, we reach a plateau in 10 minutes, with our first superb view of Mount Taranaki.
After 10 minutes, we reach Pouakai Tarns, a small waterhole sacred to the Maoris. The main attraction of this pond is its reflection of the volcano.
Quite a few people are here to take The photo! I must say, the view is pretty nice, even nicer than at Mangamahoe Lake. It's a bit windy, so we change our wet clothes for dry ones. We stay a while to admire the view. As we start to feel a bit cold, we return to the plateau and have a snack in front of Taranaki. We come back down the same way. We've done 13.4 km there and back, with an ascent of 712 m. Back to the van at 2pm. On to Opunake. We stop off at the Cape Egmont Ligthouse: a photogenic lighthouse with its base and red door next to Mount Taranaki.
At 4.45pm, we arrive at the Opunake Beach Holiday Park campsite. The campsite is almost empty, so we set up wherever we like, on the lawn in the sun. Dinner outside on our camping table. We go to see the sunset on the beach, it's so pretty!
Sunday, October 29: up at 7am. The weather's fine, but it's 8°C in the van. It's the Rugby World Cup final with the All Blacks, but there's no broadcast in the campsite. No fervor in the villages, it's dead, weird. Departure from the campsite at 8.50am. We stop in the next village, not a single café! We watch the second half on the phone. It's lost for the New Zealanders, too bad. 10.10am, we're back on the road to Dawson Falls Visitor Center. We set off on the Wilkies Pools Loop, a 2 km walk in the woods leading to miniature waterfalls.
Then the trail continues along the river. River we have to cross on rocks at one point from where the view on Mount Taranaki is great.
We continue on the short walk (1km) to the 18m-high Dawson Falls. It's pretty, but against the light.
We eat a little and leave the Taranaki area to reach the east coast at Castlepoint. We'll be doing the route in two stages. Tonight, we stop in Whanganui at the Seaside Holiday Park. We start by dumping the van and settling into our spot. It's windy. Dinner in the van.
Monday, October 30: up at 7.45am. Breakfast outside, which is rare, sunny despite heavy clouds and a bit of wind. Departure at 9.40am. Shopping. Back on the road to Castlepoint. At midday, we cross Palmerston North. We stop for Baconator at Wendy's. Around 2.00pm, we take a break at the Kaka Cafe. We arrive at 4pm at the Delivrance Cove parking lot and Freedom campsite. It's foggy and raining. But it stops in 5 minutes, so we head off to see the lighthouse. We cross the beach and climb up to the Castlepoint lighthouse.
The view of the bay is nice with an arm of land and the sea on either side, but again, it would be better with sunshine.
After the lighthouse, a few steps lead up to a promontory overlooking the beaches, and the path descends to the edge of the cliff. It's windy, so take care. Back to the van by 5.45pm. Dinner in the van. The lighthouse is lit up at night. We'd have gone out to take photos, but it's starting to rain and wind again.
Tuesday, October 31: didn't sleep well last night, we were hot and the phone rang twice. Wind and rain all night. We had set the alarm for 5am in the hope of seeing the sunrise, but it was blocked. We go back to sleep at 6.15am. Breakfast in the van. Departure at 8am. Heavy fog and rain. After Martinborough, the sky clears, although it's still pretty heavy. We head south to the Putangirua Pinnacles. We arrive around 11am, and the hike follows the riverbed to the bottom of the canyon. It's all rock, and a real pain to walk on. You have to find your own path and cross the river several times. It gets hot very quickly, even if you catch a few drops of water. The views don't give much away from below. Once again, this is a set from The Lord of the Rings, Episode 3, The Return of the King.
We go back the way we came and follow the trail to the Lookout. The climb is very steep. The view from up there is a little nicer, though limited.
In all, it took us 2 hours to cover 5.6 km, with an ascent of 319 m. We continue along the Cape Palliser Road to the lighthouse on the southern tip of the North Island. The sun is shining! We stop from time to time to take photos.
The sea is so beautiful with its turquoise water.
We go up to the Cape Palliser lighthouse while the sun is shining, and it climbs grey behind us. There are 253 steps up to the foot of the lighthouse. At 18m high, it's the only red-and-white-striped lighthouse in NZ.
Heading back in the opposite direction, we stop to see a colony of fur seals at a place called Sea Lions Viewpoint, the largest breeding area on the North Island. They're everywhere, on the rocks, on the lawns, under the bushes.
David almost stepped on a baby, so much so that he looked like a rock. He's so skinny, and apparently there's no mom around, because we'd have been "yelled at" when we were standing next to him. We get back in the van and head up the coast towards Wellington. We find a campsite on the road. Around 6.15pm, we take a pitch at the Wellington Kiwi Holiday Park in Upper Hutt. We cook dinner in the communal kitchen and eat outside.
Wednesday, November 1: up at 7am. Breakfast outside. The weather's fine, so we've broken out the shorts again. Departure for Wellington at 9am. A few days ago, we'd booked a hotel with parking close to the port, to make it easier for us to visit the capital and catch tomorrow morning's boat to the South Island. We arrived at the Apollo Lodge Motel at 10am. It was easy to get to by walking along the docks. Our room isn't ready, but we wanted to park the van with the manager's permission. We set off on a walking tour of the capital, starting with Mount Victoria. It's very close to the hotel. We made the 2 km ascent with a 181 m positive gradient in 35 minutes. The view over Wellington is fantastic.
We return down another path that passes a film location from The Lord of the Rings. There's just a bench with a line from the film spoken by Sam, "If I take one more step, it will be the furthest away from home I've ever been".
The descent is 1.8 km long and has a negative vertical drop of 175 m. Then we walk to the opposite side of town. We stop to nibble some sort of tartine in a cafe. There are posters and signs written in French, and a waitress speaks French. As we pass St Mary of the Angels Church, we can't help but enter.
The interior is white, which is rare. It's quite beautiful. Then we take the famous Cable Car (6 $NZ one way per person), a little red train that takes us to the heights of the city, including the Botanical Gardens.
We visit some parts of the 25-hectares garden, which slopes down towards the city.
There are lots of Japanese maples, which we love. We finish with the rose garden, but it's too early in the season for them to be in bloom yet. We continue our visit to Wellington by going to the Te Papa Museum.
The tour guides and the agency renting us the van say it's a must-see. Surprisingly, it's free. There are 5 floors on different themes. As indicated in the guidebooks, we saw the giant squid, 4 m long and weighing 495 kg,
experienced an aftershock of a seismic shock, the canoes... We returned to the hotel at 5.15pm to check in. In total, we walked 13.2 km. At 6.30pm, we went to dinner at the Capitol restaurant, very close to the hotel: roast mutton fillet for David and mushroom parmesan risotto for me, for dessert saffron lavender thyme crème brûlée and caramel date and cream pudding, it was very good. It makes a change from meals in the van! Return to the hotel at 8.00pm. We unload the photo cards onto the computer.
Thursday, November 2: up at 5.20am. Fog and drizzle. We leave the hotel at 5.50am to reach the boarding platform on Waterloo Quay. The Bluebridge company takes us by ferry to the South Island. Check-in opens at 6.15am to position vehicles on the 'start lines'.
At 7.10am, the cars board. It's quite long. Once on board, we walk around and settle in with a hot chocolate. The crossing is going well. We climb onto the bridge upon arrival at Picton, the landing stage in the north of the South Island.
We arrive at 11.40am. The weather is nice despite the heavy clouds. We are going to tour the South Island in a counterclockwise direction. We therefore take the road from Nelson to the West via the Queen Charlotte Drive which passes through the mountains and offers views of the fjords of Malborough Sounds. But there are not many stops possible to park the van on the side of the road for a photo.
A few drops of rain fall. Photo stop at the Cullen Point Scenic Reserve viewpoint. New Zealanders are not good at Lookouts, the view is blocked by the trees! We pass through the town of Havelock. Small snack stop around 2.00pm. The fog and rain caught up with us. Around 3pm, we will see Christ Church Cathedral in Nelson. She has a particular style.
Then we're going to do some Countdown shopping. We had planned to go to Marahau near the Abel Tasman National Park but the driving was getting tiring for David. Travel times on mountain and zigzag roads are extended with our “calf van”! Not many straight lines! We stop in Motueka at a Holiday Park at 5.10pm.
Dinner in the van. It rains intermittently.
Copyright Magali and David BELLEC