We were sleeping in a car park.
Aimless wondering is an odd sensation. We set off at the beginning of our road trip completely high on the fumes of freedom, deciding to stop off whenever we liked for whatever reason we liked. But it is a strange and slightly unnerving feeling to not know where you are going to sleep that night. That’s where the wonderfully helpful camping apps came in which suggested great camping in your car spots for cheap or free. Our one problem though was that we were still in Auckland and these sites don’t exist so close to the capital.
We drove around growing more and more concerned that we wouldn’t find anywhere as each and every sign we passed stated “no camping!” Eventually Peter struck gold and we found a car park to set up base for the night. It wasn’t surrounded by beautifully dramatic mountains or awash with the spray of the nearby ocean – it was literally just tarmac but that was all we needed. Our first night sleeping in Nessie wasn’t exactly glamorous but it was full of that cosy feeling one gets when one is living in ones car with ones significant other, Thankfully Nessie is big enough that claustrophobia is just about kept at bay and Peter had an organisational grasp on the ins and outs of the car that left me full of thanks and praise! We are also joined by our ever faithful Australian friends who we leave on guard duty at night. Batty and Platty (Pete named them and it stuck unfortunately) are our mascots from down under. A curious Platypus and a one-eyed Wombat eagerly look out of the window anticipating our next destination and making sure the car is well looked after as we go on adventures. No road trip would be complete without them.
After surviving our first night we decided to be a little adventurous and head for a campsite that was very cheap and had great reviews. After winding through many kilometres of roads fringed with forest and idyllic beaches along one side we eventually reached the wonderful Whatipu. It had caves, beaches and a nice campsite with a friendly owner – what more could we ask for.
The caves were demanding to be explored at once so we donned our head torches and travelled down the track with the intense buzzing of native insects growing ever louder in our ears. Along the track we came across several smaller caves until I rounded a corner and realised this one was “it.” I shouted over to Pete who was exploring another smaller one and walked towards the massive gaping hole in the rock. The Maori people used to hold dances in this cave and I could see why, it was so big you could easily fit a multitude of brightly dressed people inside.
There were a few narrow passageways which we explored, Peter resembling Gollum in every way as he crawled and slithered his way even deeper into the dark tunnels. It was a fascinating place but now that we had explored under the ground it was time to see the area from above. We headed in the opposite direction towards “The Lookout” which lead us up a steep and rocky track, slightly reminiscent of Spain with the startlingly bright beige rocks and searing sunshine. However the ferns and pine trees gave it that Jurassic exotic edge that is so typical of the land and as we reached the top the dark green was accentuated by the most fearsomely BLUE ocean I had ever seen. It was rough and wild, pounding against the rocks as the wind churned up more waves out at a nearby reef. But the sparkling topaz was difficult to take my eyes off and i just gaped in wonder for a long time.
Peter on the other hand decided sleep was a necessity instead so had a nap whilst I contemplated the possibility of climbing back up here at sunrise the next day. Deciding that it was not practical given our penchant for lie-ins we headed downwards and on to the beach track to enjoy the beach that evening. The sun was setting over the craggy outline of the “cutter rock” and the stark difference between the sea and the sand was highlighted in the low light.
For this was not just any beach – the was a black sand beach.
I had never walked on one in my life and the beauty of it was as fierce as it’s magnetism. The sand grains are actually magnetic! It was one of those idyllic evenings you wish you could hold on to forever (despite me falling into a small stream and getting a boot full of water) but the sun had said it’s fiery goodbye for the evening and so we returned to the campsite and Nessie.
At around 2am Peter and I awoke to answer the call of nature (we’re getting old now after all) and as we crept quietly out of the car I was instructed to look up. The stars in this place were truly magical! Not only was every sparking light glowing with an effervescent shine but the milky way galaxy was also visible. (Peter would like it to be noted that although we did see the milky way we didn’t see Mars…..or Dairy Milk. And if that doesn’t highlight the kind of terrible jokes I have to live with then i don’t know what will!)
We returned to the beach the next day, this time bare foot to enjoy the sand and the surf. What we hadn’t banked on was the searing heat! I have never partaken in a fire walk before but I can imagine that this was what it felt like. Each step on the black sand felt like an ember of brightest red was pushing its way into the very insides of your feet. We had to plan our route based on quick dashes to the next piece of sparse shade or hobble about on the prickly grass away from the dark sand. Once the beach was reached it was wonderful, and we even found a dune to ski down too but the journey back on that black sand path was nothing short of hellish! I have never been quite so relieved to don my walking boots again.
Before we left we had a slight problem with Nessie in that we couldn’t open the boot. My rucksack with its endless array of straps had gotten caught in the locking mechanism. This was amusing until we realised how difficult it actually was to free it and get into our boot. In the end Peter had to remove all our stuff from underneath the bed and then slither underneath with his knife whilst I was on the outside tugging at the boot and continually locking and unlocking the car. Finally we managed to free it at which point my bag was unceremoniously dumped right at the far end of the car, as far from the boot as humanly possible!
We filled the next couple of days in search of free campsites as we meandered our way from the west coast to the east. There was surprisingly little music so far in this road trip which saddened me but the combination of navigational necessity and our frequent discussions about which Harry Potter character most resembles each other meant that we travelled great distances bereft of a musical interlude. However Peter did insist in purchasing the most random assortment of tapes for our journey (despite the fact that we can use my mp3 players). I think it is the nostalgia he is after more than anything else.
We were heading east because, since the early stages of New Zealand planning (what little of it we had done) I had wanted to get to the Coromandel peninsula with its stunning beaches, river studded forests and outdoor activities. Once again without a real plan we drove our way towards it to see what adventures might befall us next.