2001 – Traveling New Zealand Alone
In 2001 I returned from London and traveled New Zealand alone from January to May. Taking advantage of the freedom of traveling solo, I was determined to see the New Zealand in its entirety. I look back fondly on this serendipitous trip; in many unexpected ways it set the course for the future.
The story begins in late 2000, when I was sitting in the western Sahara, contemplating what direction my life should take. An eight year relationship was coming to a close and so too was my reason for being based in the United Kingdom. As a single man I wanted some time alone so decided to travel solo somewhere.
I considered Africa and the Middle East before buying the Let’s Go guide to India and Nepal. Visions of finding inspiration in a remote Ashram were briefly entertained before the idea of returning to New Zealand to travel the country alone from top-to-bottom started to appeal.
At the time Godzone was a static site and developing it into a travelog presented an interesting challenge. Travel blogging was still a relatively novel concept, so I bought a laptop small enough to fit into my backpack and a 3-megapixel digital camera with 64MB memory sticks to create content and try my hand at travel writing.
In those days WIFI was almost unheard of, coin-operated booths were the most common way of accessing the internet. I often had to unplug the booth late at night, borrow the telephone line and wait for quite some time as the latest post was uploaded.
Transport, Route & Accommodation
The car I used over the entire journey cost NZD$500 and was sold again at the end of the journey. Small, relatively fuel-efficient and old enough that I could do my own repairs, I drove carefully and only once had to fix brakes that had seized after crossing a ford.
Accommodation was a mix of camping, back-packers, B&Bs, motels and occasional hotels. I mostly roughed it at Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites, occasionally splurging on a place with a hot shower, spa or sauna to appreciate the relative luxury.
The route (see map on this page) started in Auckland and looped north. I then headed to the Coromandel and East Cape, before moving inland to Rotorua, Taupo, looping Tongariro National Park and eventually out to Napier and south to Wellington.
Using the Cook Strait ferry, I headed to Nelson and Tasman before driving down the West Coast to Queenstown. Heading towards Canterbury I passed Mount Cook before driving to the coast and south to Dunedin. There was a lot of visiting of old University friends in Otago and Southland before I left my car in Bluff and visited Stewart Island. Beginning to run out of time, from there it was a straight drive back to Auckland via the Catlins, Canterbury, Marlborough and the North Island’s western side.
In retrospect, the highlight of the journey was meeting Gitte, a Dutch girl, in Whitianga. We shared an interest in photography and traveled around the East Cape together before dropping her off in Ruatahuna. By chance I bumped into her again weeks later in Wellington and again on Franz Josef Glacier. We traveled together again through Haast, Wanaka, Mount Cook and Dunedin before parting in Queenstown. We had many exciting, even scary experiences, and visiting her in Amsterdam months later influenced my move there.
I’d often find historical sites by chance and spent time learning their stories. Ruapekapeka Pa in Northland, Te Kooti’s Pa at Te Porere, the wreck site of the Boyd at Whangaroa, French Pass, the Jackson Bay settlement, Gabriel’s Gully (Otago), Clifden suspension bridge in Southland or even the abandoned meat works at Waipaoa all had interesting stories to tell. A former French Catholic Mission, Pompellier House in the Bay of Islands was possibly the most informative guided experience.
Small, local museums were also interesting to visit. While the exhibits are not as immediately impressive as The Auckland Museum or Te Papa in Wellington, the people who run them, often volunteers and descendants of the original settlers, have interesting, personal and sometime quirky stories to tell. From Puhoi Bohemian Museum north of Auckland to the Tuapeka Goldfields Museum in Lawrence; I lost myself for hours in their tales.
Visiting wineries to the extent I did on this trip also started a new interest in the art of wine-making. Much of my diet on this trip was wine, cheese and bread; I’d often drop into a winery, followed by a cheese producer or farmer’s market to get dinner organised, and then cook it on a portable gas burner or available barbecue and eat looking out to amazing views at a remote campsite.
My personal interest in travel photography grew during the journey. New Zealand is a landscape photographer’s paradise, however I also started documenting experiences like volunteering with DOC in the Urewera or fishing for Blue Cod in Foveaux Strait. Occasionally I’d get a little more creative; a series around Waipaoa (Gisborne), Moeraki Boulders and Tunnel Beach (Dunedin) were a lot of fun.
The 3MP digital camera proved to be handy, only being new technology it suffered from shutter-lag, close-up views are grainy, and the low-capacity memory sticks meant frequent deleting or copying to the laptop. This proved an issue when hiking through the bush or in exciting situations; “memory card full” messages and miss-timed shots were common.
Rounding East Cape was a first-time experience. On the way, together with Gitte, I was invited to stay the night at the house of a local artist. The night evolved into an impromptu party with many locals filling the house. It was a delicate experience in unfamiliar territory and I was happy to move on in one piece. We saw the sun come up at East Cape, tasted wines in Gisborne, and made our way through the mystical Urewera past Lake Waikaremoana, soaking up the scenery as we went.
When I reached the Tararua and northern Wairarapa I went a little crazy exploring. I first wanted to visit the place with the longest name in the world, Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauo-tamateaturipukakapikimaunga-horonukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, which I have hyphenated here so it doesn’t run off the page! That done I visited Norsewood and Dannevirke, Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre and Castlepoint. In one of those lucky moments I arrived at Masterton during the Hot Air Balloon Festival and watched it into the night.
Years earlier, when the road over the Haast Pass was still an unsealed gravel road, I had driven my car onto the sands of Haast Beach where it became stuck and needed hours of digging to get it out. Driving past that spot, I carried on down the road and ended up at Jackson Bay. I spent the night camping on a reserve opposite the wharf and visited the nearby graves telling the story of the hardships of the failed settlement. I am always intrigued by ruins and like to feel the ghosts of those who came before us; a reminder of the temporary and ultimately insignificant nature of our time here.
Stewart Island lived up to its Maori name of Rakiura when I visited, deep purple and yellow skies greeting me each morning at evening. A trip to the wildlife sanctuary of Ulva Island was a relaxing day out; fishing for Blue Cod was more exciting. I took soy sauce and a tube of wasabi out on the boat; eating raw fish straight from the sea is something you must try, a day later the fish has already taken on a different flavour. Don’t miss the oysters from nearby Bluff on the mainland…