After Thailand, New Zealand was a reverse culture shock. Everyone spoke English (kind of) and we had to wear more clothes than we had in months. On top of that, they have dairy products in this country that don't suck!
Now that we're in New Zealand, our trip has changed from a fun only trip to a fun/get a job! bias. Before we left the States, we got a whole bunch of stuff together so that we could apply for residency in New Zealand as skilled migrants. With our background in earth science and IT, it should be a slam dunk. "Should" being the key word of course.
Anyway, we had heard back from NZ Immigration quickly when we filled out the original Expression of Interest. So we went ahead and started working on our application. Wow, talk about a ton of information needed. We had to get physical exams, background checks, fingerprints, and prove that we really did get those degrees we claimed we had. The background check didn't come back before we left on our trip so we couldn't send in the final application for a while. In the end, we had our paperwork sent to us in Thailand so that we could then complete the application and then send that on to London! We sent it in at the end of December and thought we'd hear back fairly quickly. Ha!
Since we were going to be more respectable, I thought it was time to get rid of my goatee. I'd been growing it since we left the US and it was getting pretty long now. Here's a before and after pic of me.
I haven't been clean shaved in years. I did it for a week or so when we were in Hawaii a few years ago, but couldn't keep it up. We'll see how long it lasts now. Reactions have varied on the look.
Lots of people get around New Zealand in a campervan. It's a van that's been converted so that you can sleep in it. There's a huge trade in them, as people leaving New Zealand sell them to folks just starting their holiday. Val and I spent at least 10 days trying to find the right one. We really liked the self contained vans, as you can camp in many more places with one. The simplest definition of a self-contained campervan is that you carry enough water for 3 days and all your own waste away with you. That usually means a little water tank that pumps to a sink and a chemical toilet. There's also a tank to contain the gray (dish) water.
While that's what we would've wanted, we couldn't afford a self-contained van. They were going for something close to $10,000 NZD. Even though the prices dropped as people realized this was coming up on the end of the season, it was still more than we could afford. A Toyota HiAce van would've been really good too, but they were also pricey. They ran about $5000 NZD. We were psyching ourselves up for one, getting our cash supply up and hitting the car fairs and websites like Gumtree or TradeMe. A couple of times, we liked a van, but either didn't buy it quickly enough because we were waiting for the price to drop and someone else got it or else it got a horrible review from a mechanic when we got it checked out.
In the end, we ended up buying a really little 1985 Nissan Vanette from a couple of Israeli hippies.
"Sunny" is only 10 years younger than Val. She has some quirks that have taken a bit of getting used to. For instance, she doesn't like to start on wet mornings. That got us to get our AA membership very quickly. We found out that changing the spark plugs and plug wires fixes that. Also, a shot of WD-40 to the distributor cap gets her to start too. Changing the transmission fluid fixed her inability to stay in gear too. Hm, amazing what a little simple maintenance will do for a car.
Still, we're the slowest car on the road. I can deal with that if it gets us a little better petrol mileage.
On the plus side, Sunny came with all the camping gear we need with a few items already in her pantry. She has a drop down table in the back and the bed inside converts into a couch. Most of our stuff goes under the couch.
Our first trip in Sunny was to head north of Auckland (kinda pronounced like a New Yorker would say Orkland). We had a couple of ideas of where to go from our Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books, but got better info from our new friend George. He gave us a couple of places to check out and into Sunny we went.
After a night at Upiti Beach (and our first call too AA), we headed up to Whangarei (Fan-GAR-eye) so that I could watch the Super Bowl! Dang, the year that I leave California for an extended trip, both of my favorite teams make it to the championships. Well, the Giants won the World Series, but the Niners couldn't overcome the Ravens. No worries though, as we met a really nice couple, Bryce and Martha, who invited us to stay at their farm for a few days. We got to check out Bryce's project. He's digging a little pond on their property that he's going to use for some hydro power.
The highlight of our trip north of Auckland though was when we explored the 90 mile beach at the far north of the island. You can drive on the beach, but we decided to play it safe and book a tour instead. We went with Sand Safaris and had a great time. Our driver didn't just tell us the basic history of the area as she drove us around. Instead, she gave us a bunch of the local gossip too. One farm we passed was owned by a couple of elderly men of Croatian descent (Dallys). Each night, they have dinner prepared for them by their sister, who lives on the next farm.
The tour started at an ancient Kauri tree park, then headed up to the northern cape. We got to see where the South Pacific and Tasman Seas meet
Obligatory sign post picture
The fun really started though, when we got onto the beach. 90 Mile Beach is a misnomer though, as it's really only about 88 km long (~50 miles). You go on the beach at low tide and it's beautiful there. We stopped at some dunes to do some body boarding. We were supposed to lay on the boards and keep our mouths shut. Of course we had to take it up a notch.
That night, we found a nice little beach campsite run by some Maori. Besides being cheap to stay at, they gave us some paua (abalone) and a snapper that went very well with the pipis we dug up. What a feast that night, all gathered locally fresh.