When I read a map, everything on it seems so accessible. Things are quite close to each other and the roads are nicely connected. When you see a map of New Zealand, it’s quite natural to assume that the two islands that comprise the country are practically connected.
There’s only a tiny bit of blue between them.
The beautiful day was sunny and calm. Hubby and I ate salty fresh fish n chips from greasy newspaper packets on the waterfront in Picton and said goodbye to the south island.
When we drove our camper van into the ferry that takes you to the north island, I was surprised to see personnel chaining the tires to the lower deck. With a shrug we went upstairs.
Once the ferry was under way, we paced the observation deck with our camera. The harbor wanders around islands and past glassy inlets and countless bays.
The minute you exit the Marlborough Sounds you have entered the Cook Strait.
Make no mistake: this is open ocean.
Massive waves began to swamp our huge ferry. Suddenly everyone was in the top glass enclosed cabin, hanging onto brass pillars and trying to brace.
You could not see land in any direction.
You had just enough time to catch your breath and watch the next trough coming.
The ferry surged forward over the trough, dipped straight down into it, and was pushed back skyward, through a white water wall. This lasted almost two hours. Hubby and I were the last men standing, if you know what I mean.
Not that we got our sea legs, but we get a medal for keeping our fish n chips down.
Finally we pulled into the Wellington Harbor. Things were just stabilizing when we got a good look at the town.
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand. Looks benign on the map.
It is, in actual fact, a town built straight up the side of mountains.
We got jelly legs all over again. Because we had been invited this very evening to dine at the home of a lovely couple who lived…we suddenly realized…at the top of this town.
We retrieved our camper van from the bowels of the ferry and began navigating the tiny twisting roads. It was no longer enough to chant, “stay left, stay left”. Now we remained entirely silent as Hubby climbed streets that went almost vertical. Each time we arrived at a level intersection, we took another breath.
And then it happened.
We approached an intersection that had a stop sign. Clinging to the side of the hill, face up to the sky, waiting for the other car to drive through, we could hear our heartbeats.
There was a small car waiting directly behind us, an uphill acceleration to push our camper van through and a clutch to manipulate. Didn’t I mention the van was a manual?
It felt like asking an elephant to climb a tree. And not fall backwards onto the mouse sitting below it.
Our gracious hosts greeted us with wine. I guess they knew.
We went through Wanganui and up through the island center passing Lake Taupo up to Rotorua. The areas here are full of geothermal activity, with geysers and bubbling black mud pits. Lime green and vivid orange and milky blue-yellows marble in steaming flat liquid sheets that you walk over on boardwalks.
They call it Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao.
Whaka for short.
You can soak in your own personal hot springs tub, but you will smell like rotten eggs for hours afterward.
We hiked Mount Maunganui the next day. Driving on to Whitianga and Hahei, we camped at Hot Water Beach. There, you can dig a hole in the powdery sand and hot spring water will fill it. We tramped to Cathedral Cove and saw stunning ocean carved cliffs and ancient twisted trees that stretched over our path.
We ended in Auckland and stayed with a lovely family that toured us around and introduced us to Piha, their own little slice of heaven. They keep a bach there with a long drop, but there was no time left to explore it.
Three patient children were waiting for us at home, cared for by a truly amazing mother-in-law.
And as I felt a bit weepy and homesick it dawned on me.
We were going home with an undeclared customs item.
I was pregnant.