We will spend the next 21 days driving in a caravan, from Auckland, New Zealand in the far north to Christchurch on the South Island. We had read renting a motor home is the best way to see this beautiful country, with a photograph waiting around every turn. Our reality was a bit different.
Meet our Caravan, Home for Next Three Weeks
Why would this be a good idea? I’m driving the largest vehicle I’ve ever driven, seated on the right and driving on the left side of the road with endless roundabouts. Had we given our manual shifting, five speed bucket of bolts a name, it would not have been a pleasant name. We have no back-up camera and no cigarette lighter plug for my New Zealand updated GPS. I’m very doubtful I learned all there is to know about the refrigerator, propane tanks, gray water, black water maintenance, drinking water-spout and battery charging. But I did my best to listen during my four-minute intro to RV class conducted in the rain. It would rain almost solidly for the next three weeks. We later learned we were in the middle of their cyclone season. Who knew?
Compared to other caravans we saw in the crowded RV parks, ours was the oldest of the bunch. The Clampets were touring New Zealand. I’ve never heard or seen such heavy rains. Our windshield wipers could not keep up with the driving rain. We were unaware of any cyclone season at this point. Clearly, everything is mighty green and it can’t get that way without rain, I thought. The cyclone season continued for us into Australia, where we endured 14 inches of rain in a single day.
Caravan Parks of New Zealand
We had reservations already booked in caravan parks for all 21 nights. Caravan parks are a huge industry in New Zealand. The narrow roads of New Zealand are full of gray-haired retirees weaving about. There are caravan apps for your iPhone and generally numerous camping options within each town. Sometimes the parks were full and our early reservations were necessary. At other times, our lone van stuck out like a beacon on a wet green landscape. The parks varied from lush thick grass to gravel or mud with streams running every direction as we jumped over them like a gazelle on our way to the shared restrooms. A big umbrella purchased our first day was our best investment.
I will no longer look longingly at a 45 foot motor home back in the States. Plumbing is the big drawback here. Waiting in line to use a communal shower or restroom grows old quickly.
A Hive of Activity in the Communal Kitchens
Most caravan travelers seemed to use their trip through New Zealand as an excuse to cook up a storm. Pots and skillets were filled with such varieties of great smelling food. This went on for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our typical method was to eat a large meal at a restaurant once a day and then have snacks in the evening.
Wai-O-Tapu, Yellowstone-like Geothermal Pools
This lake is similar to the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. Large hot clouds of strong sulfur fog would engulf the tourists and fog the lenses of the photographers. There are numerous other such geothermal pools in the area, so you need to make sure you are going to the one you want… This was our third try finding this colorful pool.
Roadside Scenes along the North Island Highways
The first time you see a large herd of deer the crazed photographer really thinks he has found something unique. But of course you are in New Zealand where there is seldom any spot to pull off the narrow road, and never at the very moment you see something you wish to photograph. Over the next hundred kilometers, numerous other such herds are found. So this is where New Zealand venison comes from. Yes, it was very good. This skittish herd was all bucks, others were only does.
Many acres of vineyards in New Zealand. Sometimes the entire vineyard was covered in white gauze fabric as protection from hungry birds. Others just had gauze covering the grapes themselves.
The Roadside Memorial or Descanso
Growing up in New Mexico I thought the roadside cross, a descanso, marking the place of a loved one’s death, was unique to the Southwest. It is not. We have seen these in most countries we visit, even Romania. Hindsight being 20-20, it would have been interesting to gather a collection of these personal tributes along the highway. One country, tired of the elaborate and ever bigger constructs, had standardized them to one government designed and issued cross.
Why was this particular New Zealand descanso chosen to photograph? Simply because there was a place to pull over nearby. It also depicts New Zealand well with the green rolling hills and sheep in the background. Plus, another rainstorm is heading our way…
Chickens Run Free
Under the heading of roadside scenes I chose to post this portrait of a chicken. It seems every island we have ever visited, from Key West to Funchal, Portugal has chickens running wild. These chickens were at a wide spot in the road where I missed a turn. I was also excited the rain had subsided, so I laid flat on the ground and snapped this photo with my 400mm lens.
A traveler blog about seeing New Zealand by caravan said to stop just before Taupo at the Huka Falls lookout. We missed that turnoff so we just exited at some random rest stop down the road and found this beautiful, uncrowded waterfall. That is what makes New Zealand so special. Lots of beautiful sites if you take some time and explore, when the rain stops.
Next week we visit the more picturesque South Island of New Zealand.
Photographer Notes Regarding a Caravan or RV
Don’t do it. Just don’t do it. Renting a caravan is counter-productive to good photography. With the rented caravan a beautiful scene had to jump up in front of me and allow ample time for me to find parking and gather my gear. The caravan represented all downside and zero upside regarding capturing good photographs.
1) Should you wish to rise before sunrise, everything needs to get packed, unhooked and put away securely for the trip.
2) Your non-photographer spouse, who does not like to get up early, must also go along for the ride.
3) The caravan is often too large for many side roads you may wish to access.
4) Parking at popular sites is limited.
5) Roadside parking is much more limited.
6) Your camera gear is not on the seat next to you or in the back seat (there isn’t one). It is way in the back…