Wake up at 5:45am. The driver from the camper company (Pacific Horizon) comes at 6am to pick us (Isabelle and I) up to go and take the campervan that I rented for the next 11 days (to visit the North Island, until Wellington).
The handing-over is very smooth. The camper has the same dimensions as the previous one (same Mercedes “model”) but a different configuration; the main differences being a smaller bathroom – no separate shower; it is in the same “room” as the toilet (and the tiny sink) –, a (much) larger double bed for the parents (great!), a larger (and nice) living area but a smaller fridge and fewer storage areas. Difficult to fit all our stuff in the small closet that we each have…
We come back home at 8am; kids are still sleeping. We wake them up, take breakfast and load everything in the new camper, which kids love.
We leave around 10:30am. We first go to the Countdown to buy food for the next few days. Kids also fill more than 10 bags at the nearby GoodFor Wholefoods Refillery’, mostly with healthy things (the one that Isabelle and I went to yesterday); they love it.
We then go to the city centre (at ‘Unity Books’ bookstore) to buy the Lonely Planet’s ‘New Zealand’s Best (road) Trip’. I had ordered it on Amazon.co.uk, to be delivered at DetourNZ (the travel agency where I booked the 2 campers) but it hasn’t arrived yet; Amazon nicely accept to refund my order; great customer service, as usual. .
After that, we go to DetourNZ, outside the city, to get back all the stuff (mainly clothes) that we sent from Australia (Rainbow Beach) to NZ. Kids are happy to get some of their stuff back (sweater for Ludivine and Jules). The team of Detour NZ is a dynamic team of 6, including 3 Belgian guys. They give us good advice for our trip.
It’s already 1pm. We leave Auckland in direction of Thames, a town at the southwestern end of the Coromandel Peninsula. En route, we stop at a Mc Donald’s along the highway. Not bad actually; they now offer “premium” Angus burgers, which are better (they even contain beetroot!). Isabelle, Ludivine and I even test these premium burgers without bread (replaced by extra lettuce). Good evolution. But they still have those stupid toys in the Kids’ menus, which end up almost always immediately in the bin of the restaurant.
Isabelle drives so I can not only give her directions but also keep on preparing the trip. I had prepared quite well NZ before leaving (in spring last year) but I didn’t book anything yet. I “book” our camping site for tonight (see below) and the bike ride for tomorrow. I’m so happy that I eventually managed to find 5 bikes for the ‘Hauraki Rail Trail’ bike ride. I had tried several companies before but they were all running out of bikes… I didn’t know what to do. The trip in the North Island is indeed very much based on a few activities, and then the drives between these locations. But I haven’t prepared anything else than these activities. So if we cannot do them, I don’t really know what to do. We have basically, in the next 10 days (between Auckland and Wellington) the following main highlights (each taking nearly a full day): 2 bike rides, a caving experience, and 2 (one-day) treks; it means one highlight every 2 days and in between a day of travel and homeschooling / preparation.
We arrive in Thames around 4pm. We stop for 15’, just the time to walk a bit on the main street (where all the shops are concentrated).
We then go to our camping site of today: the Cheese Barn, in Matatoki, 10 km from Thames. They are part of the ‘okay2stay’ network, which is a unique taste and travel experience for motorhome travellers who want to enjoy New Zealand’s food and wine. Small local producers such as vineyards, olive growers, artisan cheese makers, boutique breweries, berry and lavender growers and many more, welcome okay2stay members to park overnight on their properties – safely, legally and free of charge. When I read their target customers on their website, I immediately registered (it only costs 45 $ per year to become member and have access to the network of hosts). It was indeed mentioned that it was “great for folks who are passionate about local food and products, who want flexibility to plan as their trip unfolds, who want to meet local people, who don’t always want to stay in noisy, expensive holiday parks and who love exploring and have a sense of adventure (but want to be secure, safe and legal)”.
We test this service the very first day of our 11-day road trip in the North Island. In this case, The Cheese Barn is a local family business making organic cheese and yoghurt. The shop is unfortunately closed when we arrive (around 5pm), so we won’t be able to try their products. We put the camper in the parking lot (there’s only one other camper). We go and see the animals of the farm (with even some alpacas). Florence and Jules enjoy. We then take the aperitif outside. The weather is good.
While the rest of the family prepares a nice salad, I work on the organization of the trip. As usual, I want everything to be “perfect”. I have so high expectations for this country (probably the one I prepared the most).
We eat outside.
I continue working on the trip while everybody else reads quietly.
I slept less than 10 hours in the last 2 nights so I’m a bit tired (and we need to be in good shape for the 55km bike ride of tomorrow…). I go to bed at 11pm. We all sleep in the camper tonight.