Tl;dr – world’s most expensivetaxi, 13 hours of planes with an Aussie stopover, new taxi app
If you’ve used Uber before you will know that during busy times prices get multiplied wity surge pricing. You will probably remember a time when you could get notified when prices dropped. Uber helpfully updated their app to drop this feature during our trip and so when the surge price was 2x and we had plenty of time I thought I’d wait but had to keep checking myself. It was steadily rising so we were going to call a regular taxi until I found a new prebook feature that quoted us a base fare ($42 – $55 without surge) for ten minutes time, with the promise of notification if the price increased. Sounded too good to be true!
So the taxi turned up with no notice of a surge and as the taxi arrived (and whilst I still had wifi) I checked to see if the price had increased. Apparently not, so we happily jumped in. At this time of day the 20km journey took 50 minutes due to epic traffic so we slept most of the way there. When we awoke we thanked our Uber driver and walked into the airport. As soon as the free wifi was signed into we got our Uber receipt. $162. Oh.
I emailed Uber and we had a few exchanges back and forth but apparently what happened was impossible and the “excellent improvements with the app” have included a price quote so things are now simpler. “No Math and No Surprises!” I couldn’t believe their arrogance. I’m sure it looked to them like I was a customer who had regretted paying £90 for a taxi, but when I was sold it for £20-£30 I felt a bit hard done by. I once bought something that was on offer in Asda but was charged full price. They gave me a full refund and a £2 voucher which I bought two easter eggs with. I left Asda very happy. Instead Kate and I have deleted our Uber apps and have started our boycotts.
We checked-in and boarded our flight, although there was an issue with another passenger after I was let through and Kate had to wait for five minutes or so before she was let on. It was probably something to do with that time she did in the prison she told immigration about.
We were seperated by an aisle but I was wearing my Sabah proboscis monkey t-shirt and a bloke from Sabah was very impressed and moved us to two seats together. With a window!
We landed in the Gold Coast a short while later where we had to disembark, down the waters we’d bought for the trip to go through security and re-embark.
We flew onwards, separated by the aisle once more and actually got a good sleep on this one.
Although we landed at 4:41 local time we had flown 5 hours into the past so we felt relatively refreshed. Nevertheless we had booked an extra night at our hostel so we could get in and go straight to sleep!
We tried out our new taxi app (Grab) that was apparently cheaper than both the airport taxis and Uber. And although we couldn’t find him and he had given up on us and left, when we discovered he had been on level 2 we went up and he came back for us. And we had a great trip to our hostel for a good old post-overnight-flight nap.
17:34 (GMT +13) – taxi from Uenuku Backpackers to Auckland International Airport: NZ$161.86 (£91.45), 52 minutes
20:24 (4 minutes late) – flight to Kuala Lumpur: NZ$545 (£307.91), 13 hours 17 minutes (11 minutes late)
05:53 (GMT +8) – Grab car to Explorer’s Guesthouse: 73 MYR (£13.10), 52 minutes
Our Uber from the rental office dropped us into the centre of Auckland so Kate could do some shopping. Our hostel was a fair walk from the centre in a neighbourhood called Ponsonby but luckily there was a nice bar en route.
Back at the hostel we got ourselves a take-away from across the road and tried to make our way through the supplies we had amassed over the previous couple of weeks as we would be flying out of Auckland a couple of days later and would have to leave most of it.
The next day we had booked a Hobbiton tour and a cheapy rental car to get us there and back. We got ourselves an Uber to the rental office and were told we had been upgraded to a brand new Toyota Yaris.
This car had Bluetooth connectivity and therefore we able to play the Lord of the Rings soundtrack all the way back to Hamilton. Having enjoyed ourselves so much the first time we went back for brunch at Hayes Common before heading onwards to Matamata where you can find Hobbiton.
In case you don’t know what Hobbiton is about, in 2001 a film came out called Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. It was a three hour epic from an unknown director called Peter Jackson and everyone in the whole world saw it. Before filming started, Peter Jackson and his location scout needed a spot to base the set for The Shire, the home of the hobbits. He found the rolling hills of this chaps farm in Matamata and begged him to let them film there. They built a few bits and bobs around the place and one hobbit hole (house for hobbits). Between shoots some of farmer Russel Alexander’s mates begged him to let them see the set and the idea for tours was born. Unfortunately as the success of the films had not been foreseen the small set was temporary and so, after the three films had been shot the set was torn down and the farm went back to normal. But the films were such an enormous success that PJ then went on to make a trilogy of Hobbit films. For this the set was built properly as a permanent exhibit.
Now the expansive set has 37 hobbit holes, a combination of real and fake trees, a professionally untended vegetable patch, a working pub and a proper stone bridge.
The only way to see it is by a rather expensive guided tour but Mike, our guide with the great name, gave us a splendid tour around the set. We saw a bunch of notable hobbit holes including Bag End (Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ residence), but only the outside as the interior scenes were filmed elsewhere in a big studio. The holes are all in varying sizes, for purposes of perspective, and we were stunned by the detail that went into it. They were all so cute as well, we were ready to move in.
Our last stop on the tour was the Green Dragon Pub for a drop of hobbit beer and hobbit cider that had been brewed exclusively for Hobbiton by the Good George Brewery in in Hamilton.
Despite the expense it was definitely worth the trip. We gunned back to the rental office to get our car back before the rental office shut at 7 and got an Uber back to the hostel. That evening we walked a little further than the take-away across the road, to a burger place three minutes down the road. Our first time in Hayes Common the guy there had recommended a couple of places, one being the imaginatively named Burger Burger. We took our burgers to go though because we had beer supplies at the hostel to deplete.
We ate our burgers, consolidated our luggage into an airplane suitable load and shared some beers with our fellow backpackers (we needed some help to finish them).
The next day we checked out of our room and dropped our luggage in the lounge before heading off in yet another Uber to the cinema. After one movie franchise dominating our NZ trip it was time to delve into another and see the new Harry Potter franchise film Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. We bought tickets at a cinema in the centre and went and had a coffee before our screening.
We got yet another Uber back to Ponsonby to have a farewell drink in NZ before we picked up our bags and ordered a final Auckland Uber to get us to the airport.
Uenuku Backpackers was not our first choice but did the job. When we were booking it we were told we would have a discount rate because our double room was small but it was bigger than half the rooms we’d had before. It was also in our own private outbuilding which was different. The manager let us pay with credit card for no additional charge too because we had been talking and it turned out she had spent 3 years studying in Leeds. The kitchen and other public facilities were a little grubby and the bathrooms were oddly situated in dorms but overall we were pretty pleased with it.
From Hayes Common we set off to get to Auckland. We had heard horrendous stories of the traffic in Auckland but because we couldn’t go to Hobbiton we had bags of time. We hoped we would have time to drop all our stuff in the hostel before driving back towards the airport but were ready to change tack if traffic was too bad.
Thankfully traffic was a dream and we had hours of spare time by the time we got to our hostel. We checked-in, dropped all of our stuff off and headed back south towards the airport. I had rung Mr Eddie in the rental office in Auckland as I had been asked and he had informed me we needed to bring back the camper by 16:35. When I enquired why the time was so specific he informed me that if he says 16:30 people show up at 5 or 6 but if he gives a specific time people tend to be on time. Well we were early, so it worked this time I guess.
Eddie was great! I gather he covers a few rental companies or he owns his own as he was very keen on informing us it wasn’t his company and made a few deprecating jokes about our rental company. He asked if we had any problems with it and signed off our sheet to say there was no damage without even setting eyes on it. He then told us how to get back to Auckland (turns out Uber is cheaper than the airport bus) and we bid Eddie and our beautiful motorhome a fond farewell.
Once we’d paid our elusive host we were off, to a dump station. If you’ve never driven a motorhome before (like us) it turns out that to stop your human exports and dirty water being leaked out onto the roads, they put various dump stations around the country that are basically holes in the ground with taps next to them (in case a little bit gets on you) that you drain everything in to. With that achieved and the fresh water tank full we were back on the road.
After driving past Mount Doom…
…we made it to the south of Lake Taupo just in time for lunch. The campsite lady had advised us that there are ao many little parking spots around the lake that you can just pull in right up to the lake and gaze at the incredible views of NZ’s largest lake. We thought it was the perfect time for lunch.
We spent an hour or so there aggrevating the local swans and gulls by not giving them any of our sandwiches. I decided I should take a dip. I probably should have guessed, what with it being flanked by snowy mountains and all, but it was crazy cold! After having managed the plunge pools in Japan though, I was ready. Once I was in it was lovely and refreshinh, and the water was so clear you could see right to the bottom all the way out.
Once dry we set off again to Taupo township. I’m sure it makes a great base for exploring the huge lake on its doorstep but it was just a lot of streets of chain restaurants and shops and not much going on. I think perhaps because the weather was so good people had decided to head to the lake instead but when we were wondering around it, it was empty. The two things we did appreciate were our first taste of some delicious hokey pokey ice cream (vanilla and honeycomb) and the fact that McDonalds has a plane.
After Taupo we were heading for Hamilton but on the way we saw one of the many green signs pointing us in the direction of an interesting natural sight. This one turned out to be Huka Falls, one of NZ’s biggest falls by volume with 220,000 litres of water flowing over it every second.
It only took a few minutes to get to the viewpoint so ten minutes later we were off again.
We arrived into Hamilton and parked up around 8ish. We got changed and ordered a taxi to meet up with a few buddies from uni that now live in Hamilton. We had arranged to meet at Good George so we got our taxi to drop us off outside and we headed on in expecting to find my friend Euan and his partner inside. After doing a quick lap of the establishment we found no Euan. I rang him and the conversation went a little like this:
Me: Hello, where are you?
Euan: Good George, where are you?
Me: Good George. Are you outside?
Euan: No we’re inside. Are you sure you’re in Good George?
Me: Yes, are you?
Euan: Yes, hang on… (to bartender) excuse me, is this Good George? No? Oh… Turns out we’re in Little George. Stay there, we’ll come and get you!
So Hamilton has a brewery called Good George with two establishments and we had been sent to the wrong one. But a short while later we were picked up and whisked off to Little George.
We met Kerry, Euan’s partner, had beers, pizza and chats about the good old days, and the bad new ones. Later on Eleanor, another friend from uni that’s moved out to Hamilton, joined us. After the evening had rolled to a close we were kindly dropped off at our motorhome.
The next day we had hoped to be able to go to Hobbiton on the way to Auckland but had found the earliest available tour would have meant we would have been too late to drop off our camper so we made do with brunch at a place called Hayes Common by the river. Once we’d ordered and started tucking in we suddenly weren’t so disapointed we couldn’t get to Hobbiton that day, it was a good brunch!
Brunch demolished it was back on the road for our final NZ stop.
The campsite (car park)
A lot of the free camping spots that allow freedom camping around NZ are simply car parks and this one happened to be for the Hamilton Classic Car Museum.
It did absolutely everything it needed to do. It was a slice of tarmac a short drive to the centre of Hamilton and it was free. No complaints whatsoever.
Distance Travelled: 325 km (229 km driving, 96 km ferry)
Total Road Trip Distance: 809 km
21st – 22nd Nov
We arrived at Picton ferry terminal nice and early for our 8am ferry. We ate some cereal in the queue before driving our beasting motorhome up onto the ferry. Up on deck we got ourselves a table and I went and took some photos of our journey.
It was a pleasant and smooth crossing. I was told sometimes you can see seals and dolphins but I saw neither. But it got us there did our trusty boat.
On the north island we drove round Oriental Bay to Roseneath and found ourselves a beautiful parking spot for some lunch.
We walked back around the bay to get to the centre. We grabbed some coffee in Red Rabbit Coffee on Leeds Street of all places before doing a spot of window shopping in Wellington’s many independent traders.
Afterwards we went to absorb some Maori and NZ history from the fantastic free museum, Te Papa. Split into multiple exhibits we learnt about Maori history from the treaty exhibit before heading to their most famous exhibit…
Being a country that knows its natural disasters well, it has a lot of information about volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. The piece de resistance is the earthquake house.
Having experienced a real one, it was harrowing to see the damage that can be done. You walk into this small mock-up house and they show you a video of people describing their experience of an earthquake in Edgecumbe in 1987. Then the house shakes. It’s all rather terrifying knowing a large proportion of the population have experienced something like it in some manner. There’s a sign at the entrance advising those that lived through the Christchurch quakes may find it brings back painful memories, and that sends home how real this is in NZ.
On the roof of Te Papa you can see out across Wellington. It is often known as Windy Welly and, although it may look like it’s a lovely day, it certainly lived up to its name.
We went back into the centre to grab sone supplies before finding a happy hour for a drink and some snacks. Then we walked back round the bay to our motorhome.
We set off north to get to our campsite for the night. I had used my app and found a campsite in a place a few hours north called Mangaweka, not too far from Lake Taupo. It had two sites but the draw was the fact thar in the secondary one they had the cheapest powered site we could find.
We arrived in the pitch black and found a sign saying to go to the main campsite across a bridge to the other side of the river. We did this and found no-one. There was a sign saying to pitch up and they would collect the money in the morning. Probably could’ve done with putting that sign the other side of the bridge.
Back over the bridge we found a plug, plugged in, cooked, ate and slept. The next morning we awoke to some fantastic views that had passed us by completely in the dark.
We showered and got ready and I had a wonder around. We filled our motorhome with water, found the lady over the bridge (after we’d phoned her four times, she clearly didn’t want our money) and headed off once more.
The campsite is sat in a valley on a bend in the Rangitikei River with those steep white cliffs surrounding it. It was really quite a sight. With cheap rates, gorgeous views (pun intended) and all the facilities you need it was a great find. They run rafting and kayaking excursions that would have been great if we’d had more time but we had to plough on.
So we arrived at the rental shop bright and early. We had been informed we would be getting a 4 berth camper with toilet and shower, and we had been given the length to book the ferry. In NZ a lot of campervans are converted people carriers or estate cars but we knew it has to be better than that. When we were directed to our home and transport for the next four days we were both in awe. It was a biggun.
We drove back to Rangiora to pack up our stuff and say goodbye to Callum (and the pets). Danielle had left for work early so we said our farewells the previous night.
Our drive to our first stop in Picton was solely to await the overnight ferry. Due to the earthquake damage to the usual route the only way to get there was a snaking 7-8 hour route across Lewis Pass, before cutting back to the east. Google Maps has it as 5 hours 24 minutes. 457 km on narrow winding roads in a motorhome that is legally only allowed to travel at 90kmh is incredibly optimistic.
We had previously hoped it would be possible to get the evening ferry but it was too much of a risk. We took our time and stopped in a town called Culverden for lunch and again at a waterfall called Maruia Falls.
Many hours in we reached Blenheim where we stocked up on supplies of food and diesel before making the last run up to Picton. I had downloaded a rather helpful app detailing all the campsites around NZ and we saw there was a free campsite just south of Picton. Unfortunately all eight of the spaces were full so instead we headed into Picton to stay at a paid site but with toilets and power (which we needed to charge our phones).
We had a cooked dinner in our motorhome and decided to sleep in the bed above the cab. Big mistake! It was cramped, the roof gathered condensation and it was really far from the heater. We learned our lesson.
The next morning we headed off early for our ferry.
Picton caravan park was just what we needed. A powered site three minutes drive from the ferry terminal. The lady behind the counter was great, Kate asked if they had room and she ummed and ahhed before saying she might have one… Then she burst out laughing and said “of course! We have loads!”
From Pavlova Palace we drove off to the Otago peninsula to find NZ’s only castle. We drove up to the gates and paid our entry to the bloke at the gate. He asked where we were from and on finding out we were from the UK he said “Ah so you have proper castles!”.
Despite the gatekeeper’s deprecating view of Larnach Castle, it was actually quite a specimen, and a little bit different than the proper ones we have in the UK. It was built by a rich Scottish chap called William Larnach in 1871 and was to be his family castle, until his 3rd wife allegedly had an affair with his son and he committed suicide. After the rest of his kids died the castle fell into disrepair until, in the 60s, a young couple snapped it up and restored it to keep those precious memories alive. It remains their family home to this day and currently houses three generations.
They allow guests into a few of the rooms which contain some of the original furniture and paintings. The finale of the inside portion of the tour is the view from the top of the tower out across the peninsula.
After the inside comes the outside and the well cared for grounds can be explored on a number of different routes. The current owners really have put a lot of money and effort into getting it back to its former glory and keeping it there.
From the castle we made our way around the peninsula to grab lunch at Penguin Cafe before continuing to the tip, where they house the Royal Albatross Centre. One of the only mainland albatross colonies in the world, it is cordoned off and only accessible on extortionate guided tours so we made do looking at some gulls instead.
From the car park at the albatross centre you can walk down a large flight of steps to a small bay that is home to penguins (that hide in the daytime unfortunately) and a seal colony.
I stood on an old ruined rampart (the albatross centre sits on an old UK military base) to take a photo across the water and heard an almighty splash as a seal came out of the water and ungracefully wobbled its way up the rocky beach. I had quite a fright and took the advice from our previous seal encounters to keep a safe distance as they can give you a nasty bite, which can transmit all sorts of horrible diseases. Thankfully all he did was flop down and fall asleep.
From the peninsula we started our huge drive up the coast to our final stop, Rangiora. On our way we saw a sign for a place called shag point. I knew very little about it but the name alone was enough for me to investigate further. Up a gravely track we came to a car park for a viewing point. At the end of the track was a rocky island covered in shags, and a couple of seals.
I jumped down to get a closer look but unwittingly jumped right next to two sleeping seals. Thankfully I didn’t disturb them and had more guts to stick around and take their photo this time (after I’d stepped back a little bit…)
From shag point we had a rather long journet north. We had booked a motorhome relocation to start the next day, straight after we dropped our car off. When we stopped somewhere halfway up to switch drivers I checked my emails to discover our relocation had been cancelled, 18 hours before it was due to start. I was outraged and sent a scathing reply (having checked earlier in the week to ensure there were no problems after the earthquake). I felt a little bad when they informed me one of their customers had left a campervan in the quake-hit Kaikoura and flown back to Europe without informing them.
With no wheels, no home and no route to Auckland for our flight out we felt a bit anxious. We therefore decided to stop in a town called Timaru and console ourselves with an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. Having spent 2 months in Asia already I have learnt to appreciate high quality Asian food. This was not that. Although most of it was edible, the beef soup tasted more like brown custard with meat chunks. I left that one.
We were heading back to Rangiora to spend the night with Callum. He had very kindly let us stay the night and offered up their spare room for as long as we needed it, which was both super kind and a great comfort what with us being (motor)homeless otherwise.
The next morning we fired off a bunch of last minute motorhome relocation requests, looked up cs5r rentals, flights, buses, chartered helicopters and how to teleport. We needed to get to Auckland one way or another.
We needed to take the car back for midday so Callum very kindly followed us in (including into a tiny car park when we took a wrong turn) and gave back old Tiida no problems. We had also found out that our motorhome request through a different firm had been accepted for the next day for three nights and four days (instead of the 5 we had been offered previously) but we were pretty pleased. To celebrate we got lunch in Burger King and went to the dog park with Callum’s amazing two dogs.
At the dog park I received three seperate phone calls asking if we could change dates/times and it all sounded a little shaky. On the way back we decided to pop in to the rental shop to get a contract written up as we didn’t want another last minute cancellation. We were told the next day (20th) was now not possible but 21st was fine. So we got it in writing.
It had actually worked out well for us. We had lost a day which was a bummer but the previous deal included only the van, we were financially responsible for all fuel and the ferry between the islands. With this deal we got a full tank of fuel (about $100 worth) and the vehicle ferry cost reimbursed ($220), but we had to pay for our personal tickets for the ferry. I booked us onto a ferry on the 20th and received yet another phone call to give us the wonderful news that after all the to-ing and fro-ing, our original dates were now available. So I rang the ferry company who changed the date no problem and we were set to head off the next day.
That evening we were having a BBQ to utilise some miraculous sunny weather, after so many days of rain. We popped to a roadside grocer where avocados were 40 cents (~25p) and stocked up. Interestingly, bell peppers (or capsicums) were $2 (£1.20) each, on offer!
We then went to the supermarket to get the rest, including a couple of crates of beer. At the till we were all (Kate, Callum and I) ID’ed. Two passports were handed over from the other two and I presented my UK driving licence. I was asked if I had a passport or a NZ driving licence to which I responded negatively. This meant we could not have the booze.
I am 27 year old with a beard I would have killed for when I was underage (I had very low standards…), I had proof of my age which had been accepted for me to rent a car and a motorhome, I was with two people of similar age who had proof and, I wasn’t even buying the alcohol, I was just there watching. I understand the ethos of no ID, no sale and I didn’t complain. I used to work in a petrol garage and we were constsntly reminded if we sold alcohol/cigarettes to minors it was us that would be fined and/or prosecuted, as well as the business. It was also incredibly annoying when people who looked very young shouted “Do I look 17?!” to which I would bite my tongue and apologise that I couldn’t serve them without ID. But this was a case of not-quite-the-right-ID-and-despite-the-chances-of-you-being-even-close-to-underage-being-zero, no sale. To your friend.
So we went down the road and bought it all there.
The BBQ was delicious and the underage drinking made it all the more fun. Danielle arrived back from Auckland, where she’d been to see a concert and we had a lovely evening.
The next day we were dropped off at the rental shop once more by Callum, the hero of our trip, and our next road trip was about to begin.
Callum and Danielle’s spare room was fantastic! Highly recommend! And their two dogs, cat and rabbit were a great addition. It was so nice to stay somewhere we knew we were welcome and we were saved from a bit of a pickle that turned out fine in the end but it really was so reassuring to have them there at that time. Thanks guys!