After a long flight from Hawaii to Auckland we arrived at midnight and checked into the airport hotel. Not particularly exciting but it is notable as this would be the last time we would sleep in a nice big bed and have an en suite bathroom for quite a while.
The next day we picked up or campervan and headed north to the Bay of Islands. Driving in NZ is great! Most roads are just one lane each way with lots of twists and turns through mountains with stunning views of forests and so many rivers and waterfalls - and sheep!
Our first campsite was right next to a river looking out on to Haruru Falls where we kayaked up to the waterfalls and then along the river. Along the river we saw lots of fish, jellyfish and cormorants. There is also a bird in NZ that sounds exactly like R2-D2.
From the nearby town of Paihia we took a boat tour around the bay to see all of the islands and a stop off at Urupukapuka island where we walked up to the lookout point. It was a sunny hot day and the water was very blue, and we felt very lucky to see this beautiful area, and we can see why New Zealanders holiday here.
As soon as we got out into the bay a large pod of dolphins swam up to our boat. It was great to see and we were very lucky as another Dolphin tour boat had been out for about an hour looking for some dolphins. Our boat took us out to the Hole in the Rock which is a former cave which has eroded through to the other side of the island, the skipper drove us through wich was quite exciting. It was a narrow fit and on the other side was the Pacific Ocean so it was quite bumpy too.
The following day we got back in our campervan and did the 8hr drive to Rotorua. As we arrived a strange smell began to waft around the van but this time it was not Gary. The source of the offending odour was the sulphur from the thermal geysers and mud pools. We held our noses and went into town for some Fush & Chups!
Our tour of Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao park (know locally as Whaka) got us up close to the impressive active geysers (Price of Wales Feathers and Pohutu), mud pools and boiling pots, but by this time we had grown used to the smell.
Back in the campervan again and ahead warp factor six to Lake Taupo where we watched the hydro-electic dam open for 30 minutes and send 90,000 litres of water per second thundering down a gorge and creating some awesome rapids and waterfalls.
A few drops of rain began to fall in Taupo so we got back aboard the van, engaged thrusters and drove to Tongariro National Park (where much of The Lord of the Rings was filmed) but when we arrived the rain was so hard and it was so foggy that we could not see much past the front of our van. The forecast for the next few days was much more of the same, so unfortunately we didn't get to see 'Mount Doom' so we decided to move on down to Wellington.
Vicki's map reading had been "fairly good" up to this stage of the trip, but her navigation onto a short cut which appeared to be fairly straight on the map turned out to be a wrong move. We drove 50km along Akatarawa Road, a seriously twisty and narrow road over a mountain where passing points were rare and sheer drops plentiful! There was no where to turn around so on we went, it all added to the adventure and at the end we were still friends. But after this Gary employed a new navigator.
In windy Wellington we met some Payne relatives, my grandad Bill's brother Arthur's grandson David and his wife Sarah and 3 children Hannah, Samuel and new born Katy. And 5 rabbits, 3 cats, 2 dogs, 2 chickens and frogs - quite a collection. We had a wonderful evening getting to know each other, sharing stories about family and a lovely meal. We would have liked to have spent more time with David, Sarah and family but our schedule is too packed, so hopefully our paths will cross again, maybe in sunny Sittingbourne.
The last morning in the North Island we hiked along a disused railway track and through a long railway tunnel, before taking the interisland ferry over to Picton on the South Island.
We throroughly enjoyed our time in the North Island and hope the South Island is as good.