The Great New Zealand Road Trip
DAY ONE: AUCKLAND TO WELLINGTON
After a late start out of Auckland, I made it to Tirau in time for lunch. I felt that I deserved my (rather good) chicken and camembert sandwich, having made it safely through Hamilton and the northern part of the Waikato. The drive down to the Tron was one I knew all too well from a strange month living there a few years earlier (just imagine ten actors co-habitating in three rooms), but from there on out, everything would be new.
Soon after my discovery of South Waikato’s obsession with corrugated iron, I noticed a sulphurous smell in the air. For those of you who have never spent any time in an active geothermal site, the tip-off is someone asking if you farted. Since it was only me and ole Betsy the car, I was pretty sure that we had entered the aptly named ‘Thermal Highway’.
According to a sign, Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park were just off to the left ahead; of course I had to check it out. Orakei Korako - full of hot pools, mud pools, and geysers - is separated from the mainland by a small lake, but the good people there will ferry you across for a reasonable fee. Unfortunately, I was already running behind and didn’t trust Betsy too much in the dark, so just had a splash around in a warm, thigh-deep pool next to the carpark (about as glamorous as it sounds, but also just as fun).
There’s not too much to say about State Highway 1 south of here, except that it’s exceptionally beautiful. The road winds around the edge of Lake Taupo, through the desert road and down past Palmerston North, and can be terrifying in the rainy dark with Betsy’s crappy windscreen wipers. It was 8.30 before I arrived at some old friends’ flat in Newton and grabbed a few beers to celebrate having survived my first ten hours of driving.
DAY TWO: WELLINGTON TO BLENHEIM
Happily, all I had to do on Day Two was take the car ferry from Wellington to Picton, then drive thirty minutes to the house I was staying at just out of Blenheim. This meant I had a whole morning to kill in the capital, which I spent doing the pile of dishes moldering in these friends’ sink, taking three second videos of Wellingtonian skaters in their natural habitat, and feeling very luxurious brunching at Floridita’s. The Cuba Street eatery is always my first breakfast stop in Wellington due to their unimaginably good scrambled eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice (though if I wasn’t driving I think the mimosas would have swayed me on that day). Lucky I had a great morning, because the ferry journey (three hours!) was less than thrilling. By the time I arrived in Blenheim it was dark, and I was certainly in need of nourishment, a shower, and entertainment.
DAY THREE: BLENHEIM TO CHRISTCHURCH
On Day Three, waking up to a beautiful view of Marlborough vineyards was quite the pleasant surprise after arriving in the dark. I bid goodbye to the kind friends who had fed, showered, and entertained me, and headed on my way. The pretty terraced hills continue for about an hour out of Blenheim on SH1, up until the moment when you summit a hill and suddenly the ocean appears in front of you. Not long after that moment, I took an unmarked road off to the left in the hopes of reaching that ocean.
An old sign let me know that this was no longer a tipping area, and after navigating the massive potholes in the carpark and stumbling out onto the beach, I wondered at the fact that it ever was. The long unnamed beach was easily one of the most beautiful I’d ever visited, and not another soul was to be seen anywhere along the coast. Although New Zealand has a lot of famous (and often crowded) beaches, it is these hidden coastal spots that are often the most breathtaking.
Eventually I was able to force myself to leave and begin the quest for a crayfish lunch. That was the whole reason for following the east coast down - the crayfish places just before you get to Kaikoura. And what a lunch it was, from a little hut with a giant crayfish sculpture on top. I got a whole tail to myself, lovingly prepared with edible flowers by the matronly crayfish-stand-lady. At least, I ate the flowers and haven’t noticed any severe consequences. But maybe that was the settling effect of the beer and chips at the Speights Ale House next to the hostel I slept at in Christchurch. After staying with friends in Wellington and Blenheim, a twelve-person dorm was a bit shock of a shock to the system, but I survived the smelly men nevertheless.
DAY FOUR: CHRISTCHURCH TO WANAKA
Despite the English guy in my dorm Skyping his grandad about the Brexit vote for what felt like hours, I managed to get in a decent few hours of sleep before heading out early the next morning. The first hour of the drive between Christchurch and Wanaka is pretty boring by New Zealand standards, made worse in my case by wasting half an hour getting lost in Geraldine. “But, Indie, Geraldine only has three roads - how could you possibly get lost there?”, I hear you ask. It is an excellent question, and one that I have no answer to.
Finally out, and on to Fairlie, I picked up Jean-Pierre (not his real name, but should have been), a French hitchhiker heading to Wanaka. We did the usual touristy ohh-ing and ahh-ing at Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki, and the usual traveller “ so how many siblings do you have and what are your parents like” chatter, and by the time we got to Tarras, the turn-off for Wanaka, we each had a pretty good idea of the other’s life story. I dropped him off by the information centre across from the lake, and he bought me a thank-you salmon cake from Wanaka favourite Kai Whaka Pai (I accept thank yous in various edible forms).
I was finally where I needed to be, and it felt pretty damn good to take a deep breath of air that didn’t smell like rental car (no offence, Betsy). Sure, there were times when I was pretty certain that I was going to die on the slick New Zealand roads, and times when I thought I would never escape from Geraldine (a fate possibly worse than death?), and I had spent four days sitting in a car. Despite all of that, there was nothing that could make me want to get on the plane back up to Auckland in two week’s time, rather than climbing back into my little Nissan’s belly.
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