6.2.16

Settling into New Zealand, the near-death by a thousand details.

Feb. 2, 2016
Lake Taupo, NZ, North Island

It’s 10pm and the cicadas outside our tent have finally settled down. But the kids haven’t; I can hear the giggling through the windows of the van. Their muffled laughter mingles with nearby conversation in a language I can’t decipher and Simon and Garfunkel wafting over from a neighboring site. And the very base note of this sonic perfume is the dull roar of nearby rapids. We’re camping on the banks of the Waikato River. Up here, in Taupo, near Tongariro National Park, the volcanic center of the north island, the river has teeth and draws rafters and kayakers from around the world. We’ve crashed their free campsite and, without a doubt, our family is simultaneously far older and younger than anyone else on these grounds tonight. 

This whole area is so incredible for both its environmental and cultural significance. It is the oldest national park in New Zealand, encompassing three volcanoes. The site is so imbued with meaning for the Maori that it has been designated as an UNESCO cultural and natural World Heritage site. 

Lake Taupo is the big lake in the middle of the North Island. It is a crater lake created over 26,000 years ago in the supereruption of Taupo volcano: a blast that was larger than Mt Saint Helens and Krakatoa combined. The ash cloud was recorded around the world. Roman skies glowed red for days when the eruption occurred.

Leaving our sweet Hamilton hosts with a case of sauvignon blanc to hopefully dull the pain of our prolonged visit, we finally left Hamilton and headed for the hills. In the last seven days, we had opened bank accounts, navigated bus routes, left-hand driving and cell phone plans. We had shopped for and bought a used van, scrounged up all our camping gear, we had tricked out the van to be a crash pad for half the family (a tent holds the other half) and paid a visit to both our upcoming Raglan and Hamilton neighborhoods (and snuck in a quick weeknight trip to glorious Piha for boogie boarding and fish and chips). We did it all with two slightly homesick kids in tow, in 90 degree weather. 

And our first night of camping embodied all the awkward growing pains that come with starting a new groove: missing items, forgotten fuel for the stove, tent shenanigans, rain, the game of tetris to pack the van. I’m sweating again just writing these sentences. But it always comes together in it’s own way. We had sandwiches for dinner and marmite-flavored bagel chips. The back hatch of our Nissan Serena is enormous and doubles as a very effective rain shelter.


Tomorrow we'll take a morning to explore some of the the rich volcanic activity around here (again with the volcanoes!). It will be just a taste since we have a six-hour drive ahead of us. We’ll be back to really explore this area once we are settle into Hamilton, just two hours away. But for tomorrow, we will take a short hike to Huka Falls, on the Waikato River. And then we head to Wellington, on the very southern tip of the north island, for Jake’s Fulbright orientation. From there, we’ll launch to the South Island.

Welcome to Auckland. Traditional Maori carvings as you enter the terminal from the tarmac.

One can find wonderful things in the grocery shops!

Our Auckland accommodations were waaaaayyy in the 'burbs. On the plus side, this treacherous zip line in the neighborhood playground provided hours of non-CPSC-approved fun!

Once we figured out that you have to actually wave the bus down even if you're standing expectantly at the stop, we made it to downtown Auckland. Here, we're on K Road, feeling the warm familiarity of coffee served by bearded baristas in vintage t-shirts.

Sweet murals like this all over the Central Business DIstrict.

The coffee in New Zealand is truly a thing of beauty. We have yet to have a disappointing cup. We've spent a lot of energy trying to understand what makes it so good. How are so many people so skilled at making a cappuccino? Deep thoughts.

Sometimes, walking through car yards full of used cars can yield surprising finds. At least they finally found a shady spot to stand in while we undertook the drudgery of car shopping.

After three days, we found our sweet 2004 Nissan Serena with only 110K kilometers on the odometer from a private seller.  This baby is going to be our home for the next month and our wheels for the next six months. It's so big, we can actually lay down a persian rug on the floor back there. And we can't hear them when they bicker!


As a break from all the logistics, we took a drive to the coast to see Raglan, a quite famous beach town about 40 minutes from Hamilton where we will live for the first portion of our North Island life. Milo is having no trouble adapting to the Raglan barefoot culture.

Or the Raglan ice cream culture

The beach is a powdery black sand surrounded by high cliffs. And waves. Huge ones. This is going to be our neighborhood beach. I am still absorbing the delicious fact that we will have a neighborhood beach.

Our first night of camping. It's raining. And we don't have enough tent pegs to set the fly on our tent. And we forgot to buy propane for the stove so we're eating peanut butter sandwiches. BUT WE REMEMBERED THE WINE THANK GOD SO IT'S ALL OK.

The fine art of packing the "trunk" of the van. I photographed it because we need to replicate this geometry exactly to make it fit.

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