January 31, 2012
After the Tongariro Trek, we decided to move on.
When we were here 3 years ago, we learned late in our trip the wonderful flexibility of campervans. Last time we visited here, we read that December and January (summer here in the Southern hemisphere) were extremely busy and that camping families should make reservations at camper parks. Also, it frankly never occurred to us that we could simply park almost anywhere and make that place home. Kiwis are fantastically supportive of nature lovers and provide access to almost all public property (about 1/3rd of the country).
There are some limitations with camping in the wild (or at least, not in a camper park). You cannot add water to the tanks or dispose of waste. You also do not have electricity except what is in a large battery, so the microwave and TV are not available. Also, the parks have good showers and large kitchens. You CAN cook inside this thing, but it is hard, especially if you get a lot of “help” from loving children that roam all around.
For comfort the parks are nice, but they do not take advantage of the freedom provided by the campervan.
After spending our first 3 nights in camper van parks, we decided to wing it after our hike. We would divide our drive to Wellington (5+ hours) over two days and also provide a little fun. We had no plan. No location or time limit.
We ended up driving for over 4 hours with several stops along the way. We saw lovely landscapes
and a majestic waterfall.
In short, another day in New Zealand. We did not even have a target city in mind. We learned that the beautiful spots near cities are either for-fee camper parks or restricted from camping. Here is one scenic park that was not available to us, but still was fun to see.
We would need to find a place in the country. Susie saw a river on the map with a road on either side. That was all the clues we had, so we drove.
We drove to Bulls. That is the name of the village. A sign on the way in declared “Bulls, a Town Like No Udder”. This sign foreshadowed a swarm of puns.
I am surprised that we did not see a sign saying “To Err is Human. To Graze, Bovine”
We drove about for a while looking for a good spot. Our first foray into the side-roads was unsuccessful. We found many corn fields. We also came upon a military airfield. We thought this quaint. New Zealand is not known for its military prowess. The fact that an airfield sat in the middle of 8 corn fields struck us as amusing.
Our derision would soon be answered [note – foreshadowing].
Coming back into town, we found a sign that promised “River Access”. We found it and drove for about a mile over a sandy, pot-holed, one-laned road. I sensed a great deal of doubt from the troops.
Have you ever been looking for the right restaurant with people that are 1) more hungry and 2) less picky than you are. This can create a tension as you are striving to find the “right” place while they are voting for the “right now” place.
This was what was happening as I drove this road.
Happily, I was saved as the road opened onto a flat, sandy shoreline next to the river.
This would be our home tonight. It was more than accepti-Bull.
When we arrived at the river, a retired British Air Force man was out playing with his two dogs, Oakley (the young, huge guy) and Willow (the 6 year-old smaller gal). Once again, the Fenway-lovers went crazy playing with these dogs.
He explained that there are only 3 military airfields in all of NZ and they are mostly for helicopters. Given the wide-variation of topography and the historically low level of conflict, the Air Force has become as much about Search and Rescue as attck techniques. [Note: more foreshadowing.]
We cooked our meal, played in the river
and went to bed.
2:00 AM. Time for river maneuvers. Yep, our cute Kiwi Air Force suddenly spent an hour running test sorties up and down the river.
Not so cute now. Susie declared it almost intolera-Bull.
The maneuvers ended and we got a decent night’s sleep once the Apocalypse Now moment was over.
In the morning, we woke and three of us decided to shampoo in the river. This felt a lot like camp, like home. This was very comforta-Bull for us.
[Note on child congeniality (without cow puns). For reasons I cannot fully explain, our children generally get along better in a 180 square foot campervan than a 3000 square foot home. This defies all logic. You would think that forced proximity would result in frequent conflict while separation would be the ally of peace.
Not so. They play cards, listen to music and look out the window as we drive. When parked, they do their chores (sweep floor, do dishes, prepare dinner, setup or breakdown bedding, etc) with minimal turmoil. They even play well outside together. But I have no doubt that when we return, we will have a barrage of senseless spats. I feel sure there is a lesson on human behavior here that simply misses me. Perhaps it speaks to the mind adapting to situations that it cannot effect. In the same way that you can tolerate a 4 hour layover in an airport, but not a 3-second delay at a stoplight. In the latter case, a horn might wake the person ahead of you (or, at the least, you can “think” them to see the green light), but nothing can make the plane leave sooner. Perhaps they have no expectation of personal space, so there is no need to defend it. At home, small concessions can become permanent ones (“this is my place on the couch – I have done my homework here everyday for a week”) so territory is ceded reluctantly.
In any event, it is a mystery that I hope to develop more insight into.
I should add that this proximity-enabled peace does evaporate at a predictable moment: whenever we are within 15-25 minutes of our destination. You know, the destination that is not clearly marked on the map that requires clear and patient communication between driver (me) and navigator (Susie). At these moments, our well-behaved brood suddenly channels their inner Middle East and the conflicts erupt. Where our children sat, suddenly Isreal, Syria, Iran and the Palestinians appear.
I like to think that they are helping build our character. Having decided that driving a tall and wide campervan on the wrong side of (very narrow and wholly ill-marked) roads, they want to challenge us with some bonus cacophony.
Much appreciated guys!