Lately I’ve been day dreaming about a good road trip. There’s something enticing about jumping in a car with a friend or two and letting the scenery roll by at the pace you want it to. My last road trip was with Erin to her cousin’s wedding in the Okanagan. It was a great trip, and I wrote about it, but I do believe one of my most memorable road trips was to Cape Reinga in New Zealand.
I landed in Auckland, New Zealand at about 10 am local time and Erin met me at the air port. We then went to the hostel and checked my luggage into their little storage closet. I was exhausted but we couldn’t check into our room until about 3 pm. Currently, I hadn’t slept for about 24 hours, which was also somehow 3 days ago thanks to the time zones that I still cant do the math on. Despite being exhausted, we decided to burn up the hours before my afternoon nap by going for a scenic walk around the city and checking out the museum, I highly recommend both of these things. Afterward I finally got to go to bed, and it was everything I hoped it would be. The next morning I woke up early, because sleeping patterns dont travel with you I find.
Once Erin and I had some breakfast we decided that the first thing we should do on our trip is go to Cape Reinga, the northern most tip of New Zealand. We weighed the pros and cons of taking a bus vs renting a vehicle and staying in hostels vs renting a camper van. It was a quick and easy decision. I really wanted to try driving on the left side of the road, because I’m a man child, also Erin and I both enjoy camping. Camper van it is! We called the rental agency and asked if we met the age and licence requirements to rent a camper van. They said we had to be 18… Check! The driver also had to have a standard drivers licence… kinda check, maybe.. Erin and I at the time both had what is known as a GDL (graduated drivers licence) which meant that we had completed the road test, the only difference between it and the full licence is that with a GDL there’s half the demerits allowed, you can’t teach someone to drive, and there’s zero alcohol tolerance. I wasn’t sure if it was acceptable, which meant I wasn’t sure they would let us rent a camper van. This left me in a weird way, I didn’t want to ask and point it out but I also didn’t want to break the rules. I thought about it a bit and realized that I was comfortable bending the rules a bit if it was for the sake of adventure.
The following morning we walked into the rental facility, picked out the sweet van we were going to rent and filled out the paperwork. The entire time I was sweaty and nervous, it probably looked mighty suspicious. Eventually they gave us the keys and sent us on our way. We had gotten the van for just a few days, and pre-purchased the last tank of gas. Basically we didn’t have to refill it before we returned it, it ended up saving us money if we returned it with less than half a tank of gas… supposedly. I carefully climbed into the ultra compact van, first I sat sideways on the seat then spun around and carefully wedged my left leg under the steering wheel and against the dash, then rammed my right knee into the corner of the door and the dash. Over the next few days I would learn to do this at a much faster rate. This van clearly wasn’t built for a man of my height and throughout the entire trip I had this fear of getting in a slight fender bender and breaking both my legs. Luckily that never happened. After my contortionist routine, we pulled out of the garage went a block east and then headed north on the freeway.
Let me just make a side note here and talk about driving on the opposite side of the road you are used to. Most vehicles in New Zealand have a manual transmission, which is fine, I actually prefer a manual. The part that fouled me up was that I was shifting with my left hand, it just felt unnatural. They also have the wiper switch and the signal switch on opposite sides that I’m used to, every time I pulled up to an intersection I turned the windshield wipers on. You’d think that eventually it would stop startling me, but you’d be wrong. Driving on the opposite side isn’t too bad because all of the traffic is doing it so it feels a little less weird. The real problem I had was in parking lots when passing oncoming traffic my instinct is to pass on the right hand side, naturally I got some funny looks until they saw the side of the van displaying the fact that I was a tourist. Also coming out of lots onto the road, I tended to hug the right side of the entrance/exit which again led to strange looks. Lucky for me New Zealanders tend to be a friendly people with a sense of humor.
Shortly after escaping the city we crossed a bridge with a beautiful river underneath it. I decided I wanted to get a few pictures so I pulled the van over onto the shoulder and climbed out. Erin and I each grabbed some nice photos and jumped back into the van. I went to take off and the tires just spun on the wet grass I had parked on. Immediately I started to worry and wonder how the hell I was going to explain to the rental company that I got their van stuck. Luckily, as I am a pretty typical Canadian, I know a thing or two about driving on slick surfaces. I put the van into reverse and was able to get enough traction to back up a few inches. I then was able to get a bit of forward momentum to get me a few more inches forward. I eventually rocked the van back and forth and eventually off of the slippery grass. My blood pressure dropped dramatically once all the wheels were back on pavement. Erin of course thought it was all kinda funny, she doesn’t seem to worry quite as easily as I do.
Late that day we made it to Cape Reinga. We had done the drive from Auckland to the cape in one day. Normally its only a five and half hour drive, but I might have gotten lost a few times. Luckily I’m the one telling the story so I can leave stuff like that out.
I parked the van in what was maybe a camping spot, either way it was relatively level and under a nice tree so it worked for me. We then ran down to the beach just in time to see the sunset.
Once it was dark out we headed back to the camper and had some ham sandwiches. We then went and got some water. There was a lovely sign hanging saying something along the lines of “boil water before consuming”. We headed back to the camper and pulled out the little stove and pot that came with it to prepare our drinking water. For the life of me I could not find anything to light that stove with. We tore the van apart looking for matches or a lighter. Erin and I were debating what the risks were of drinking the water as is vs not having any water when two guys walked passed our camper. I walked up and started a conversation, in my usual friendly way. Turns out they were also Canadian and more important to the story, they had a lighter they were willing to lend us. We boiled a bunch of water and put it in my, then new, stainless steel water bottle and left it to cool.
The next morning we actually got to see Cape Reinga. The main attraction was a beautiful lighthouse that overlooked where the Tasman sea and the Pacific ocean mixed. It was very scenic, but also very windy.
We then hopped back into the little van for the trip home. It ended up being far more noteworthy than the ride there, which was mainly used to determine where we wanted to stop on the way back. But this story’s getting a little long, I’ll tell you the rest next week.
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