Sunday, 29 June 2014

On the other side of the world

Getting into Japan. Easy. Getting out, however, is a little more problematic… We had been warned that Japan would require outgoing flights before we were let into Japan so we begrudgingly bought them. Ironically, when we get to Japan no one is is even vaguely interested in these and we sail through feeling a little miffed.

Fast forward six weeks and 50 minutes before we are due to leave Japan and the airline's check in lady tracked us down in an airport café to ask when we would be flying out of NZ because she forgot to ask 2 hours previously. A little confused, because this is all happening in Japan, we say we don't know. And, as soon as she establishes we have no outward flight (from the country that isn't hers), she rushes off to find a supervisor because her rule book says that, technically, they are supposed to check that people leaving their country to go to another country have flights out of that country to someplace else. Irrespective of whether nobody else in the world gives a flying fuck!.

We argued every which way right down to the fact that we were BRITISH! I even signed their disclaimer waiving any rights to sue anyone in Japan if they fined us in NZ but still they insisted we booked a flight or missed ours. So with everyone now boarded and are bags stowed and the plane sitting on the tarmac having missed our slot we try to book something which we would cancel later. But, believe it or not, the land of technology has the slowest free wi-fi in the world at their airport and we are getting nowhere one of the inscrutable ones cracked and, contrary to everything that is inherently Japanese, made up a flight number and made us promise (squibsies) to book a proper flight during our stopover in China.

We of course didn't, braved the consequences and, surprise, surprise! Nothing happened. Customs were more interested in our declared half jar of Marmite we were bringing into the country than when we would be getting ourselves out!!!

So  here we are in New Zealand. After getting a good night’s sleep we collect our camper van. We had seen this part of our travels as the “Dirty Camping” bit even though we had gone a little up market and got a van with a sleeping bay above the drivers cab. We were therefore a little surprised to be given an upgrade to a huge camper with satellite tv, toilet, shower, four hob cooker etc. that was 4 times the price of the one we had paid for. To put that into appreciable terms we will be travelling in style for the next month or two in this behemoth of a van for £18 a day! That’s accommodation, transportation and ability to cook all our own meals. Who said NZ was expensive!!!

We headed off straight down to Banks Peninsula and are immediately entranced with the beautiful scenery. The rolling green, grass covered hills dotted with sheep, cattle, rock clusters and small knolls of pine trees lie beneath a unique shade of blue sky. A rich, warm blue that I have not seen elsewhere and in itself is a backdrop for ribbons of long white clouds (Mauri’s called this the land of the long white cloud and it's easy to see why). It’s instagram but in real life. Incredible! I am writing this 8 or 9 days into the journey and there are truly not enough superlatives to match the glory that we see not only daily but minute by minute.

We are intending to freedom camp as often as is possible. First night, however, is in a campsite so we can figure out how to work everything. Because we got up graded and didn't get a run through by anyone we don't quite know what we are doing. We spend our first hour pushing buttons, pulling levers, re-configuring seating layouts and learning how to work the tourist gps radio, the internal gps, gas bottles and water reservoirs and waste disposal systems.

We are taking pictures of the views we are presented with first thing every morning and as a record of camping sites they are a great advertisement for New Zealand. The country is ideal for a road trip and the campsites are numerous. Paid for private ones (about $34) with all the whistles and bells, Department of Conservation ones (about $12 )that range from a portaloo to shower blocks, toilets and communal kitchens and, for those like us who are self contained, freedom camping (Sweet F.A) which means you can stop most places as long as you are considerate.Consequently we have already stayed in some  beautiful places (and a couple of lovely lay bys).

Akoroa is a beautifully set harbour on the Banks peninsula which looks out on startlingly clear waters and is dotted with Victorian bungalows and houses. From there the windy road go up and over the backbone of the peninsula along summit road to Okain’s Bay where we stayed in a pine forest next to a quiet, deserted bay with the wind rocking the van enough for Rachel to make up the lower double bed for night until in the dim light of morning cold, loneliness and lessening of wind brought her back up to the big bed to cuddle up. The following day is driving through farmland and into the low hills and wooded valleys along the east coast until we stay for the night in a quiet, wooded freedom spot next to the Rakaria Gorge. This Gorge has a wide stony river bed running through it with a fast flowing river roaring along the centre. It’s a scene would normally have Brad Pitt fly fishing as a young man and almost fulfils an image of somewhere I have always dreamed of being. As the sun sets the wind rises again but Rachel is brave this time and we cuddle up and quickly go to sleep in our two duvet nest.

The road trip has so quickly become our life. It’s great. OK the lumbering great van is not causing any big problems with parking and turning and the extra space we have inside make it really comfortable and, dare I say, rather cosy. We have a dining table and effectively two sofas and a chair so we can sprawl out easily. The kitchen is big enough to give us work space and our cupboards are rammed with food so we won’t go short. It’s a real joy driving here as so many of the roads are long and straight and there’s virtually no one on them. Even the towns are easy with wide main thoroughfares and many with parking lanes and bike lanes.

Route 72 is a scenic route we are following and it’s a joy. The weather is glorious and as well as the huge scenery we trundle through little towns of only a few hundred that look like wild west outposts. We have not got enough warm clothes however and have dropped by various 2nd hand shops and charity shops to buy sweaters, a rather fetching old lady felt ensemble for Rachel and two pairs of salopets to wear when we get to the ski slopes. OK we don’t look trendy but we are at least warm when the sun disappears and we bring a little joy to those ladies of charity in the far flung towns of Southern New Zealand. The next few days are wonderfully enjoyable and we see yellow eyed penguins in Oamaru, the huge round boulders of Moeraki  that litter the beach. 

These huge huge marbles of 1 metre plus across resemble footballs with hexagon sections marked off by lighter stone deposits, the seals basking on the rocks at Shag Point and lovely bubbling green pastures of the Catlins where Hobitown was created in the Lord of the Rings Film. Invergargil (most southernly city) and then west into the sunset and Fabulous Fiordlands.

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