Two days in New Zealand are, of course, not even close to doing it justice, but since it wasn’t originally on our country list and we only ended up there due to our plane itinerary, it was great to be able to see even such a tiny part. In our time there we managed to squeeze in a visit to Rangitoto, a beautiful volcanic island about 40 minutes’ ferry ride from Auckland harbour, and a walk out to Mission Bay, as well as restocking our electronic goods (the NZ economy did well from us!).
It was also very relaxing; after five weeks in South America it was great not to have to remember Spanish words and to be able to savour a proper coffee. The security in NZ is markedly different too – instead of 9 foot barbed wire fences and guards, our hostel in Auckland left the door unlocked for our 5am arrival. We loved Auckland and we loved the Kiwis – it’s definitely on our “to go back to” list.
As soon as we landed in Cairns the heat was noticeable, racking up from the cool 16 we’d left in Auckland to a very sunny 30. S immediately stripped to his shorts and didn’t take them off til we got back to the UK 7 weeks later!
One of the highlights of the entire trip took place in Cairns – a day out snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef. As soon as we slipped off the boat and put our face below the water, a whole new world was revealed. Hours passed in a flash as we swam above coral, fish of every shape and hue and the biggest clam I’ve ever seen.
We picked up our camper van the next day, which was to be our home for the next ten days as we drove down the east coast to Sydney. It was a “Hippie” branded one which meant it was covered in brightly coloured flower and butterfly stickers – meaning it was easy to spot in a car park but would lead to us getting several stares and comments from ockers along the route. We promptly nicknamed the van Dwayne, because of his overbite.
If you ever plan to travel this route I would highly recommend going north to south, as we did – since most people go south to north, there are a glut of camper vans that need to be driven back to Sydney as a “reloc”, meaning they’re available to you at a ridiculously cheap rate – we had Dwayne for $1 a day for half the trip.
Life on the road was so much fun. Again, we didn’t have as much time as we’d have liked, but you work with what you’ve got and we managed to cram a lot in! Every day we stopped at a different beach for lunch, making up sandwiches in the back of Dwayne and then enjoying the most amazing views while we ate.
Finding campsites was never an issue, with the best ones being attached to national parks – in Alligator Creek, just outside of Mackay in Queensland, wallabies greeted us in the morning and a cheeky brush turkey stole fruit from our picnic bench.
During our time on the road we swam in waterfalls, explored a set of caves, travelled across the water to Fraser Island, sampled Byron Bay’s local beer and visited a koala hospital (sadly, the only sightings of these beasties that we had).
For our final night in Dwayne we stopped at a place called Smoky Cape, north of Port Macquarrie. We pitched our camp in the middle of the woods and then just a minute’s walk brought us to the most beautiful beach ever – soft icing sugar sand, a purple-mauve-pink sunset and glorious solitude.
That evening we cooked steaks over our campstove and drank delicious red wine, while trying to fend off the advances of a curious possum who was determined to eat our fried onions.
After 10 days and over 1500 miles we made it to Sydney, to spend a glorious week with Z and her family. A proper bed and staying in the same place were a novelty that we thoroughly enjoyed, as was having access to a washing machine! Z made sure we experienced all of the Sydney highlights, from visiting Palm Beach (I kept a close eye out for Marilyn & Co) and North Head, to seeing turtles in Manly Aquarium and enjoying a proper Aussie barbecue.
We also enjoyed a trip out to the gorgeous Blue Mountains, with their smoky eucalyptus haze and stunning rock formations.
Our second wedding anniversary fell on a day when both Z and her husband had to be at work, so we had the day with just the two of us exploring the city; visiting the Rocks, enjoying coffee and muffins in the Wharf Theatre cafe which overlooked the harbour, walking around the Botanical Gardens and toasting the occasion with a bottle of cava at the Opera House bar.
We went back across the water to the North Shore on the famous Manly ferry as the sun set – the perfect end to a perfect day.
It was so lovely to be able to see the little details of Z’s day to day life in Australia, and to now be able to picture places when she talks about them. It was also fantastic to finally meet her little boy, who is such a joy to be around.
During our three weeks there we fell in love with Australia. Despite being brought up on a diet of Neighbours and Home and Away, I never really had a yen to visit the country and we only included it in the itinerary so we could spend time with Z and her family. But I take it back: I absolutely adored Australia – the landscape, the people, the food, the wine. It was at once familiar and different, homely yet foreign, and I can’t wait to explore more of it.