1/30 – 2/1/17
Our flight plan was chaotic to say the least. 7:00 am out of Bangkok, 3 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, 10 hour layover in Malaysia, 8 hour flight to the Gold Coast, 4 hour layover in Australia and finally a 3 hour flight to Auckland. All flights were booked on Air Asia which provided zero food, drink or entertainment. At each leg of our flight, rather than checking our bags all the way to our destination, we had to exit the terminal, get our passports stamped on entry, get our bags, go through customs, wait in line at ticketing, re-check our bags, get exit stamped and go through security. In the case of Malaysia, they wouldn’t let us check in until 4 hours before our flight so we hung out at various restaurants with our packs for 6 hours (due to a laughably short supply of chairs). On the plus side, I did get to try some Malaysian randaang and it was pretty tasty. No matter how you spin it, 36 plus hours of traveling sucks but Air Asia made it especially miserable. It’s on the very short list of airlines that I hope to never fly again, joining only Frontier as the worst of the worst. Thankfully we didn’t need visas for Malaysia or Australia, otherwise our travel experience would’ve been significantly worse. As a side note, the Gold Coast may have some of the nicest and most helpful security and customs officers ever.
Due to an extreme lack of sleep and general malaise, we decided it would be irresponsible and impractical to pick up our rental car after landing. Instead we opted for a hotel close to the airport that offered a free shuttle service (Oakwood Manor). Excited as we were about being in New Zealand, sleep was our first priority. After all, tomorrow would be a busy day of running errands in the biggest city these islands have, while adjusting to driving on the left side of the road.
Tuesday was our work day, we had to grab the rental car and bounce around Auckland gathering everything that we’d need for 6 weeks or more of camping. The most popular way to see New Zealand is by camper vans. However, renting a camper can run anywhere from 60-120 New Zealand dollars a day and though there are some free parking lots for camper vans, a lot of the free sites only allowed the ones that are certified self contained and those were on the higher end of the price spectrum. Also, you’d still have to stay at pay sites once every 3 or 4 days to pump the toilet, take a shower and charge your gadgets. Instead, we opted for the compact car option. Even though we’d have to stay almost entirely at pay campsites the $31.50/day (USD) for a car that gets 51 miles per gallon in a country where gas can get over $8 a gallon, I’m fairly confident we’ll save in the long run. (We’re posting this a month after the fact and we have found a few free sites that allow tents – bonus!) The other option was buying a used camper van but with only 6 weeks here it might not be worth the risks of buying a lemon, or trying to sell a camper van at the beginning of winter. That, and the hassle of buying and selling, insurances, shitty gas mileage, etc.
So we picked up our Fiat Punta and went shopping for used gear. We got about as lucky as lucky gets. In a pawn shop we found a never before used tent, a cooler, a cooking pot and a flannel shirt (for McKayla). Then at a thrift store we found the rest of our “kitchenware”, pillows and some CDs (lots of drive time). From a camper van rental place we got our food bin, skillet, thermos (for coffee) and tiny camping chairs. We also grabbed a nice new camping stove and propane gas from a funny old vet at Tent City. Since we’d been carrying our sleeping bags throughout SE Asia, we’re good there and McKayla also has her sleeping pad in tow. Now we just needed to do some grocery shopping for the first time in months. Again, everything lined out just right. We were even out of the city before rush hour and on to our first campground of the trip.
Our first site was only 45 minutes or so out of Auckland but there were already great coastal views dotted with small islands. We were basically in a large park between two fairly large towns but it was quiet, we got to cook our own food and we were camping. Ahhhh, it felt so good to feel like we knew exactly what we were doing.
Wednesday was spent cruising around the north coast at our own pace, stopping when we felt like it, enjoying the views and stopping for an attempt to gather cockles. The limit was 50 a day but with further research we found low tide was the time to gather those elusive cockles and it was currently high tide. We stopped in Thames for some last odds and ends then made our way into Coromandel National Forest where we would be lined up for our first of many hikes here in New Zealand.