- Day 32/33? -
After 4 weeks travelling via coach in South America, we were ecstatic to be under our own steam and incredibly grateful to have won Coco and take her on the longest but not necessarily hottest date; circumnavigating New Zealand’s sub tropical north over 8 days and 1000Km. Although the mixed weather stifled some beach fun, we made the most of it and fell in love with her charms. Saying goodbye was tough but we know we’ll be back as we’ve only just scratched the service of our Kiwi affair.
Crossing the international dateline mid-air was a little mind-boggling. We touched down just 15 hours - but two dates later than we’d left Santiago. One thing was for sure, we needed some R & R. The second mind boggling moment of the day was meeting Coco. Having never been in a campervan before, Cass’ first thought was, with such a slim figure, where does Coco tuck away all her trimmings? But within moments we were whisked on a tour of the no-frills-spared lady in purple . Cass quickly came to the realisation that this week, she’d be sharing her man with a lady who was far better endowed than she. With SatNav poised, a digital camera at the ready, an iPad connected to on-board WIFI and a dressing up box, she was ready to roll. Ian was particularly impressed, given this was not his maiden voyage in a Jucy lady.
We had no set plans or destinations and decided to ‘do’ a brown sign a day. Aware this could not only throw up some beautiful sights, but some unusual ones too, we arrived at our first – The Honey Centre. It was incredible to see the bees busy at work making honey behind the safety of a perspex viewing pane. After tasting a variety of New Zealand’s finest honey, we drove away with a big pot of Manuka honey, famed for it’s antibiotic healing qualities.
Next was the Goat Island Marine Reserve. As Ian swam out amongst the inquisitive snapper fish in the (freezing) water, Cass lay out and applied SPF30 in the scorching heat. But within minutes, out of nowhere the sky blackened and there was a mass exodus from the beach, so we too scurried toward Coco, sensing impending doom. Just as we’d finished preparing lunch the heavens opened but we sat happy and dry, dining at Coco’s pop-up table.
A little further North after a frolic in Coco’s dressing up attire at the wild Pakiri beach, we got to our campsite Waipu cove cottages. Coco’s stove was fired up and we feasted on some hearty burgers, they too looked like Jucy provided them with the green avocado, red tomato and purple onion.
As darkness fell we got to experience another of Coco’s fab features; transformer style, the back seats folded out into a comfy double bed, complete with a fluffy duvet and pillows. Heaven.
- Day 34 -
With an early dawn rise to surreal silvery light, Cass whipped up our healthy breakfast of muesli and coffee. Prepared in Coco’s compact but fully fitted boot kitchen, we then scampered down to the beach to watch the sunrise and a paddle in the surprisingly warm sea.
Soon enough the morning dew burnt off and with the sun high overhead, we were easily tempted to check out today’s brown sign diversion at Whangarei falls. The gushing triple waterfall spills dramatically down a rocky 50ft drop and leads into a lush scenic forest walk. Taking advantage of the quiet clearing at the base, Cass re-enacted the Timotei shampoo advert, a classic 80s bit of cheese and an activity we’d joked with in Brazil’s many waterfalls.
The winding roads around the heads, although easy to drive in Coco’s nimble body, made us feel a bit queasy and so we were too easily convinced to explore the straighter tourist route out to Marsden point. Suffice to say the oil refinery discovery centre didn’t spark our imagination, so we instead headed out to Whale Bay after being recommended a safe parking spot by the great team at Dive! Tutukaka. They advised diving was off the agenda for the next few days due to impending storms, so we consoled ourselves on Whale Bay’s secluded tree fronded beach and tranquil lapping waves, complete with a backing beat of clicking cicadas.
Pulling into the panoramic view of the bay at Oakura Beach holiday park for sunset, we feasted on a tasty tuna niçoise before bedding down in Coco’s cosy interior.
- Day 35 -
Awaking to squally sullen skies, our plans for an early morning canoe trip were literally blasted out of the water. This weather called for breakfast in bed, and even grey skies couldn’t spoil the serene bay view from our bedside window.
We navigated the winding but scenic route to Russell, a quaint little town with a colourful history, and New Zealand’s first sea port and European settlement. Coco tightly hugged the roads, but she was clearly more used to it than us, as we had to invest in some motion sickness wristbands on our arrival!
We put Coco on the ferry to Paihia, and were lucky to have crossed the water at all, as we later found out all boats out around the Bay of Islands had been cancelled due to bad weather. Not allowing our spirits to be dampened, and determined to go on a boat, we boarded Shippey’s, a fish and chip restaurant in a dry docked old sail ship. Tucking into battered bluenose and chunky chips we were thankful for our timing as once again the heavens opened. Because of the rain, in hindsight we wished we’d also visited the Kawiti glow worm caves nearby.
Hihi, a small bay at the base of the peninsula was our final stop for the night. We arrived to bright skies; somehow it hadn’t even been raining here! A large group of ex-Hell’s Angels greeted us at the campsite, surrounded by hundreds of empty beer bottles and a boombox blaring old school rock anthems. Awesome. We cooked up some juicy green lipped mussels, cracked open a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and sauntered across the road with Coco’s wig & parasol to perch on driftwood and soak up the sunset over the bay.
- Day 36 -
The drum of heavy rain on Coco’s roof awoke us and we cautiously rolled back the curtains to reveal a grey sky, but this hadn’t deterred the campsite rockers who were up early and powering up to rock on – Ian hopes he has their energy when he becomes a grey nomad.
The sub tropical climate and shelter of the shower block had brought in some giant cicadas, and although slightly gross, they are incredible to see and listen to up close while they generate their booming clicks – although perhaps not what you want when taking a shower!
The last time Ian was in New Zealand a huge storm had prevented him from reaching Cape Reinga at the northern most tip. This time we pressed on upwards from Hihi with the land transforming into Africa-like open plains and with the weather clearing up, we had a lunchtime stop and skimmed stones at the breathtakingly prehistoric looking Henderson Bay.
The lighthouse and supposedly some incredible cliff top views called us to the end of the Cape but as we approached, ghostly fog poured in over the hilly terrain and we were guided blindly by Coco’s GPS. Not ones to be deterred we continued on and with comic results, trundling down the “scenic” path, only finding the lighthouse when we practically walked in to it. Even the bright yellow distance signpost pointed blankly in the mist, marking out world capitals and our former home London, some 19271 Km away.
Again it seems the Maori spirits didn’t want Ian to capture the crashing waves with his camera and so keeping our own spirits high, we headed back down the peninsula on the west coast to Te Paki and its giant sand dunes. Amazingly the sun burst through and energised us to take up the sand board challenge from the somewhat intense master of the dunes. After bartering a $20 fee for Cass and I to override his very clearly signed “NO SHARING” policy, we hit the slopes. Now Cass is a bit of a scaredy-cat and took on the baby slope with trepidation, digging her toes in to inch the board down, while Ian practised at full pelt before climbing the “PSYCHO” slope. On reflection, Ian should have perhaps examined what looked like soft shrubs more closely, because when he hit them at 30mph after plummeting down the practically vertical gradient, the barrel roll he had to do to almost avoid them scrapped his feet. He was luckier than the next challenger though who somersaulted, head over heels when he struck a root – ouch! This didn’t deter either of the silly boys from a second attempt though, although not before a rest to explore the Sahara-esque untouched snaking dunes.
Our evening pitch at Waganer Houhora Heads holiday park provided some much needed relaxation as Coco’s Jucy charms earned us free use of the Jacuzzi spa. The sheltered bay composed of millions of crushed seashells, offered the perfect spot to stretch out in the heat, read and idly watch the fisherman cast out their lines.
- Day 37 -
Ninety Mile Beach beckoned as sunshine burst through the clouds for the first time in days! We turned onto a tree lined gravel road, bizarrely (and disturbingly) passing a dead horse in the middle of a roundabout. Luckily the breathtaking beach shunted this image from our minds; a beach so long it disappeared infinitely in both directions. It is hard therefore to believe the name is a misnomer, the beach is only 55 miles long and the name originated by misinterpretation by explorers. Golden sand, a gentle but continuous swell, and not a soul in sight… bliss. The best part was that you can drive on the beach! We gave Coco a short spin over the sand for a photo op, but we were slightly unnerved by the incoming tide, so parked her safely and returned to the shelter of the dunes to catch up on some rays and reading.
Reluctantly we left the beach and drove on to catch another ferry over the Hokianga Harbour. We stopped in Kohokoho village for a picnic on the pier and a browse in the local art gallery. Then to Opononi with it’s tale of Oro the friendly dolphin who made home in the estuary, becoming so tame the village children used to ride on its back! Our ‘brown sign of the day’ was Arai Te Uru. As you can see, the Maori name gave little away. It was to be the most stunning view on our trip so far. We trundled along the manicured path of the Southern headland to overlook the mouth of the estuary. Giant rolling sand dunes opposite created north headland, turquoise waters swirled beneath us and the prehistoric rocky coastline took our breath away. We weren’t the only ones who thought so; a photographer and couple were rehearsing their wedding photo shoot alongside us.
The scenery quickly changed as we drove the winding roads into the Waipoua Forest. We parked Coco and delved under the cool of the canopy; via a tropical pathway we reached the famously enormous Tāne Mahuta Kauri tree. Looking up we swayed in his presence, in awe of the height and thickness of his trunk. We eventually escaped to the safely of Coco, berating ourselves for our lack of insect repellent. Our campsite was also in the midst of the forest, so the bug situation did not improve. Attracted to Coco’s shiny bright lights, she turned into a bloody battleground as we spent most of the evening swatting mosquitoes who’d sneaked in before we shut the doors!
- Day 38 -
Although Coco’s camp stove can’t quite deliver a Michelin star meal, Cass and I are keen foodies, with Heston Blumenthal, the chef/scientist a big favourite after we enjoyed our anniversary at his restaurant Dinner back in London. Therefore when we heard his method to make the perfect boiled egg on a Daily Bacon podcast we’d downloaded via Coco’s Wifi, we tried it out on Coco’s camp stove. We can report that we were rewarded with delicious soft-boiled eggs for breakfast, a welcome change from muesli and a good start for the long day ahead.
Surviving on a drop of petrol out of the Kauri forest, we made it to the Katui Gas station before looking for surf at Bayyls beach. Sadly the blustery onshore wind was killing any possible swell and so we took in the view and greedily tucked in to some double chocolate cookies.
As we’d missed out sailing the bay of islands and with the weather report improving for the following days, we took the chance to cross back over to the eastern coast seeking advice at the excellent Whangarei tourist information centre. They booked us in for the Perfect Day experience for the following day to sail, snorkel and canoe at the Poor Knights islands before directing us to Ocean Beach to enjoy the afternoon sunshine. This wind-swept but magnificent stretch of sand has a decent surf break and also hosted a junior Ultimate Frisbee contest, keeping us entertained as we enjoyed our lunch.
Escaping the beach just before the heavens opened once again, we headed to the superb Tutukaka Holiday park, ideally placed right next to the marina and dive centre, ready for our following day’s aquatic expedition.
- Day 39 -
Bright sunshine awoke us, perfect weather for a boat trip out to the Poor Knights Islands! We eagerly ate our breakfast, in the company of two equally eager ducks waiting for handouts.
The cruise out took about 45 minutes and was pretty choppy (the motion sickness wristbands coming in handy once again!) but once we arrived the conditions were perfect. The calm, glassy aquamarine water was inviting for snorkelling in the shade and caves of the wild cliffs above. Cass (a wimp about cold water) sealed herself into a wetsuit, and Ian donned board shorts to really get in touch with nature! There was so much wildlife under the surface, dozens of species of fish large and small, colourful and camouflaged. They floated and darted beneath us, gathering in the shade, hunting and feeding in the jungles of seaweed. We were exceptionally lucky to see shoals of Starry Toado, a bright blue tropical fish. They arrive at the island on a tropical current, and only live a day or two each year because they’re so tasty, they get eaten by the Snapper, wiping them out. You’d think they’d learn to change course, but I guess none live to send back the message!
After a delicious lunch onboard, we did some paddle boarding and then kayaked into the echoey depths of the largest sea cave in the world, Rikoriko, which only recently became the resting place of a dead floating dead sperm whale. The boat cruised around the islands as the very entertaining skipper recounted the history and tales of the Poor Knights.
Back at base we enjoyed an ice-cold shandy at The Schooner Bar and the last few hours of sunshine before making our way for dinner at the Mac Brew Bar in in Takapuna. In the retro stylish but relaxed atmosphere, we tucked into some delicious scallops and king prawns, savouring our last night and New Zealand’s fantastic seafood.
As we crept back through the holiday park to awaken Coco it was dark, most happy campers were in the land of nod- but Ian nearly awoke them all with his scream as he gashed his toe open on a speed bump, which he insisted had come out of nowhere. Coco’s new role as a mobile hospital came into play as Cass patched him back together again.
- Day 40 -
“And now the end is near…and so I face…” blub blub blub. Our final day in Coco, our Jucy dream machine and Takapuna’s harbour view didn’t disappoint. The sun was up and blazing early and I jealously surveyed a sister of Coco’s parked up, their owner’s just about to begin their own Jucy adventure. Although they may have envied Coco, who cheekily shouts on her side “Don’t you wish your campa was free like me”!
Driving back through Auckland’s urban city felt strange after a week in the rural Northlands, but Coco easily fitted in, drawing admiring looks at her striking outfit. Saying adieu, not goodbye, as we know we’ll be back to see her again, we kept our teary farewell brief and kissed her goodbye. We then quickly popped by the fabulous looking and centrally located Jucy Hotel to see the one and only “Jucy Lucy” and give her the low down of our trip.
It feels like we’ve only just scratched the service of New Zealand’s magnificent scenery, and we are already eager to explore the South Island and take up the Jucy ski4free offer when we return in July.
Coco, you’ve been a dream date, and – no offence – a cheap one at that! xxx
- By Cass & Ian