Covid, it just keeps coming huh! Sydney based Kiwi Si Hayward and his partner Lou Eagleton jumped at the chance to get into NZ while the all too brief bubble existed and do an epic roadie in Casa Rodante, a ’97 Isuzu 4 berth Motorhome. Si and Lou are back in Sydney now, back in a long lockdown. Lou explains…
Si was homesick for his homeland and hadn’t been back to see his family and friends for a couple of years. I’m English, but have lived in Sydney for 27 years now. As soon as the bubble opened, we booked flights back to NZ and planned an epic adventure, a 3 week road trip throughout the North and South Island, catching up with family and old friends along the way. As it happened, another reason came about, my mum had lived and worked in Taranaki in the 60’s. She recently passed away in the UK with very little ceremony due to COVID, so it seemed fitting to take her ashes back to Taranaki to give her a good Kiwi send off, something she would have loved given her long lasting love and connection with the country. I had never been to New Zealand so the trip was multi faceted, an overdue reunion with family and friends, an awesome personal Kiwi adventure tour for a newbie to NZ and a beautiful, unique service to say goodbye at a Tapu Maori burial site at Mangahume Stream.
Si’s Uncle Bri owns the mobile home and is a legend for lending it to us. The motorhome’s nickname is “Casa Rodante” meaning Rolling House, and he loves for the Casa to get out and about so he was more than happy for us to take it on our adventure. Timing worked out in-between his own trip up to Auckland, so away we went.
The motorhome is an 1997 Isuzu NPR that sleep up to 4 people. The interior is comfortable with a double bed up top which is super cozy. There is a shower and toilet on board but we managed to use the facilities along the way and washed in chilly rivers, creeks and the ocean at every opportunity. This was an exciting and invigorating way to start the day at very chilly temperatures! We had clothing, a warm shower and the heater on ready for our speedy exit from the water! We spent most of our evenings at the ‘dining table’ playing a compendium of card games that turned into a monumental battle over the course of our trip with tense moments playing Gin Rummy and Klag, accompanied with a few (many!) of New Zealand’s finest local craft ales, pinot noirs and other local produce!
We were on a pretty strict schedule in places as we had people that we wanted to catch up with and needed to lock in dates with them. We left it loose on the road trip in between so we could follow our noses and end up where we ended up without too much planning. We loved this feeling that there was no plan and agenda and the sense of adventure, having no clue where we would end the day and what the view would be for breakfast.
We spent a few days with Si’s whanau and school buddies in Whanganui, before heading East to Hawkes Bay to catch up with old friends at their gorgeous farmhouse in Otane. At this point we decided to go “old school”, switching off google maps and navigating with the marvels of a map made of paper and a tiny driftwood stick in the shape of a scythe that made the perfect mini calliper to calculate distance! Calculations matched our ETA to Siri’s to within a minute when we tested it! We decided to skip the tourist spots, sticking to rugged coastlines and off the beaten tracks, although we barely saw another soul on the majority our travels. Any other mobile homes were mostly Kiwis doing the same thing. We absolutely loved Mahia, stopping on the beach there for a couple of nights and spent our days scouring the beaches for treasure, walking and spending a rainy afternoon at the hot springs at Morere. We treated ourselves to a lively night with the jukebox at the Mahia pub, drinking beer and planning our next moves, laughing at the fact we were parked down the road from RocketLab where one can book online and send a satellite into space….Mind boggling!
We detoured up to Mount Maunganui to see more friends via the beautiful Waioeka gorge (that links Gisborne and Opotiki) for a fabulous 2 hour tramp over the historical, Tauranga Bridge and through the Tauranga Loop Track. We camped at a secluded river side campsite beside the Manganuku Bridge which was stunning. The evening mist through the valley and the mountains surrounding us were beautiful and two excruciatingly chilly washes in the freezing river ruined the peace and quiet momentarily!
We then had another week to head to Raglan, Taranaki and back to Whanganui for a couple of nights before heading to the South Island on the ferry from Wellington. We then drove around Queen Charlotte Sounds to Si’s Dads place in Riwaka at the base of Takaka Hill, the adventure only continued from there.
We found quiet, private secluded freedom camp spots, usually on the rugged coastline. We were keen to be off grid and have the place to ourselves which was not difficult with the current COVID situation. We literally landed 2 weeks before the bubble was paused again, so all the Aussies who had planned their winter ski trips and road trips were sadly stranded back at home, so we had the run of the place with not many Kiwis traveling to the spots we were headed. We enjoyed the wintery, rocky coastlines and the freedom to be able to park up right on the beach and listen to the waves at night.
We were lucky enough to score a few nights in a friend’s bach in Raglan which was a luxury treat as the rain hit hard that weekend. We had an incredible spot, situated high in the hills, overlooking the waves at Manu Bay. We had a few surfs at Manu, but our most memorable moment was the double rainbow at sunset. Had a great night out in Raggs, with an amazing dinner at ULO’s Japanese (Go there, and their vintage clothing store across the road, with cool artwork here too!) followed by some dancing to a super talented, Kiwi tech house DJ at the renowned YOT club which was an eye opener to say the least, and exceedingly fun!! Aye!
We had a stunning night at Patarau beach at the top of the South Island, camped right on the beach with the most incredible moon that was so bright we were taking photos as if it was daylight, even seeing the details in the rocks and grass. This was the only night we had a fire as it had been too damp for firewood, and we amused ourselves with starry, night time photography.
The facilities were good along the way, everything was clean and accessible. It’s been a long time since camping like that in Aus so it’s hard to compare. Each place was unique and special in its own way and the weather kind of dictated the pros and cons too. We were lucky enough to dodge most of the bad weather, but hit a few wet spots along the way which made certain places less enjoyable had they been dry and warm. Every spot was memorable though but probably we were most excited at Cape Palliser, waking up to the most incredible sunrise that we were both literally scrambled out of bed, running outside in our pyjamas in a mad flurry to take photographs.
Probably my absolute favourite camp-spot was Pungarehu Road in Taranaki. We arrived just in time to see the most magnificent sunset, again, we were the only souls there and then found a secluded, grassy spot on the beach which felt a million miles from everything. The Milky Way was out in full force and we drank whiskey under the stars and played with torchlight writing and long exposures and listened to the waves crashing. We found endless treasures in rocks and driftwood, creating mini sculptures and collections on the dashboard of the Casa.
It doesn’t seem like a fair question to ask for one place! I was going to reply with, impossible to say, however that’s a cop out. If I had to pick (almost) one, I’m going to combine Farewell Spit and Whaririki Beach as they’re close on the map but really two entirely different experiences. I can’t speak for Si, but both these places brought us so much wonder and excitement!
Whaririki Beach was a complete surprise to us, arriving at a barren, windy beach after a walk over rolling hills dotted with sheep. We arrived in the midst of an incredible, beautiful sand storm blowing in slow motion across the dunes and huge, caves that bared their age with fossilised, layered, rock beds. We had a picnic in the cave sheltering from the intense wind and left with a surprise visit from a seal as he came in at dusk and popped his head up to say goodbye.
We landed a private tour of Farewell Spit (top of the South Island) which was a full day exploring the 34km sandspit, one of the longest in the world. We encountered random seal pups along the beach, fossilised rocks and the impressive, historical lighthouse built in 1869. There were endless bird varieties being a bird sanctuary and summer home to migrating Godwits, knots and curlews with a gannet colony there too. The grand finale was sitting in the vast sand dunes spotting blue whales spouting off the coastline. An amazing and humbling experience.
Our flights home out of Wellington were cancelled due to COVID, so we scored an extra week and had a few days at the Wairarapa Wineries and explored Castlepoint. It was a strange experience heading back in to lockdown in Sydney, feeling like we’d landed in the middle of a sci-fi movie. We are beyond lucky to have had such an incredible adventure and holiday, when so many others haven’t been so lucky and who knows when things will change. Thank you Kiwis, you are friendly, fun and fabulous people, with amazing food and drink, and your beautiful country is a never-ending wonder to behold! Chur!
Check out Si’s instagram HERE
And Lou’s Instagram HERE