All set for the next chapter of our round-the-world adventure, we set off on the open road in our little campervan, a Toyota Hiace. This badboy is equipped with all the mod cons ie bed,windows,curtains and even though the facilites are the size of those you'd find in a dolls' house we were excited to be entirely self-sufficient in our little mobile home. Opting out of the insurance protection (at 500 dollars we decided to give it a miss) we set off to Foodtown to stock up on supplies, and were met by the local police, who politely advised us not to leave anything of value in the van and warned us that the driving age in New Zealand is only 15, and that insurance is optional here. Great, maybe we should have taken that no-claims protection after all. Well, we figured, there are only about 5 million people inhabiting the entire country so if we can drive around London in the rush hour without coming unstuck then we should be fine.
Having loaded up the wagon with enough food to feed an army we headed North from Auckland to Waiwera, for no other reason than the fact that the Lonely Planet raved about it's hot springs and naturally-heated outdoor pool with cinema screens you can watch while you have a hot soak. To people who hadn't washed for 3 days, this was music to our ears and we set off over hill and dale, singing along to the old tunes on the radio, thoroughly enjoying the fresh air and green, lush countryside.
Arriving in Waiwera several hours later, we found a campsite, paid for our pitch and got into our swimsuits. The hot springs were only a few minutes along the beachfront, and we luxuriated in the 40 degree pool, as steam rose from the surface and watched a film on the big screen. Unfortunately our skin was prune-like long before Ewan McGregor and Nicole kidman had finished high-kicking their way through Moulin Rouge, so we dried off and headed back to the van to catch some zeds, tired from the many flights we'd taken over the last few days.
Jet lag meant we awoke at the same time at around 4am, and we had a sleepy chat whilst listening to the ocean outside, before Liam lifted the curtain over the rear window to reveal a gorgeous view of the moonlit beach with gentle waves rolling softly up onto the sand. The idyllic scene was short-lived however as Liam soon drifted back into a deep sleep, the thunderous roar of his earth-shattering snores filling the air, completely blocking out the peaceful sound of the waves.
The next morning we washed and dressed (thank God I had just about had enough coins for the shower, I wasn't used to this campsite living lark with rationed water supplies) and I painstakingly dried and straightened my hair and applied my make-up. Well, we were visiting Liam's friends who had worked with him at AddisonLee several years ago before returning to their home town of Tauranga and I didn't want to look like a traveller did I? All the locals we had met had been really friendly towards us, including the campsite maintenance man, a really funny old expat called Harry, who I befriended to help fix my hairdryer and who then spent the best part of an hour telling me his life story. He looked like a cross between Crocodile Dundee and Hulk Hogan with long wispy yellow hair and was clearly partial to a morning whisky. He cracked me up as he regaled me with tales of his youth growing up in Belfast before moving to New Zealand in his teens.
We drove through Auckland, stopping in the city centre to go to the viewing platform of the Skytower building, the highest in the Southern hemisphere, to take in the sights of the city. We toyed with the idea of doing a bungee jump from here, but figured if we were going to do a jump it'd be better to do it over water rather than concrete.
The main thing that struck us about the landscape of New Zealand was that everywhere is immaculately groomed and maintained. A bit like the opening credits of Desperate Housewives, it's all perfectly manicured lawns and oiled decks, with not a chip in the paintwork or a single piece of litter. It is, quite simply, perfect. This was a refreshing change from South America for about a day or two, but then it began to feel a little characterless and samey, and we almost longed for a bit of chaos again.
Don't get me wrong, the scenery is breathtaking, but in a safe, green way,with none of the gritty, edgy excitement we had come to love about South America.
We continued on our way to Tauranga, which is on the north coast of the North Island in the Bay of Plenty and dropped in to visit our friends Guido and Suzie, who since we last saw them out clubbing in London, had had two adorable children called Blake and Ella. They kindly cooked us dinner on the barbie whilst we caught up on what we'd all been upto since we last saw each other, sitting out on the deck (getting eaten alive by bugs) with a glass of wine.
We didn't go to bed too late though, as we had an action-packed day of Zorbing ahead of us....