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New Zealand - Day 1, I learn to drive, again!



blog-0124477001392294603.jpgWe left the rental agency with our campervan, our suitcases piled on the floor in the rear and a brand new left-side-of-the-road driver in the driver’s seat. Our first stop was to be a grocery store just a few blocks away but after negotiating several rotaries and getting totally turned around, it took us 30 minutes and a stop to get information from the brochures we had been given. We finally arrived at the Countdown Grocery which is a subsidiary of Woolworth’s, yep, the Woolworths we all remember from our childhood is alive and well in New Zealand! An hour later we emerged with $220.25 NZ worth of groceries. The shock was eased a little when I checked the charge at the bank website. The US dollar amount was $180.23, not cheap but considerably better than the original amount! We stocked the cabinets and filled the refrigerator and were on our way out of town.

I programmed the GPS for a city on the northeast coast, Whangarei, and we started on our way. The route took us across town to the motorway (their word for a controlled access highway). Louise was watching like a hawk as I tried to adjust to driving on the left. She corrected me and I said, “Yes dear!” I was positioning us too close to the curb and my attempts to correct were defeated by the narrow lanes. Once on the motorway, NZ Highway 1, I still drifted to the left side of the lane but now I had time to look in the mirrors and check my position. It was long past lunch time and we decided to exit to look for some fast food. They have fast food here but we couldn’t find it. We drove around the town (a suburb of Auckland) for fifteen minutes before deciding to cut our losses and head back to the highway. Once there we drove on until we reached the toll portion of the highway which has electronic billing and we had been told in no uncertain terms we were not to take the toll road. The rental company would be billed and we would pay the charges plus a hefty administrative fee. So we exited toward Orewa Beach.

At a stoplight in this resort town we saw a campground, Orewa Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park. We turned in and asked for a site for two nights. We had just come off a twelve hour plane flight and I was driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time. I needed some rest and this was our plan anyway, find a nice beach and stay for a while. Now I had to put into practice all that I was told in the vehicle briefing. We backed onto the site and got reasonably level. Out came the electric cord and after a quick examination I was able to plug it in. I opened the valve on the propane tank and we were set. Inside I switched on the electric and the water heater. The water heater lit, then shut off. I repeated, it lit, then shut off. It went through three cycles on its own each time, just as our water heaters do when the gas won’t fire properly. So I was dealing with a familiar animal. Perhaps the gas line just needed to be bled to get air out. Louise lit the stove and it burned just fine. I tried the water heater again. No luck! We would not have hot water, not tonight anyway.

Louise fixed dinner and we ate, grateful to have a good meal. Then it was off to the showers. These were clean and well maintained. Louise made up the bed over the cab and we turned in for the night. Neither of us had any trouble sleeping. In the morning we could hear the chirping of birds and the chatter of children. The playground wasn’t far from us. They had a trampoline and there were always anywhere from six to a dozen children bouncing on it. Sure, the sign said one at a time but good luck with that. The children are not going to wait in line to take a turn bouncing on the trampoline unless the trampoline police are there to enforce the rule.

Weather was a beautiful 70 degrees with sunshine. We ate breakfast outdoors and enjoyed watching the surf, the children and the birds. A neighbor stopped by to visit. He was a local and had a nice Class C coach about twice the size of ours. It was new and he had it out for a family trip. His grandchildren were competing in a lifeguarding contest up the coast. They would leave to attend the competition and relax in the park other times. This was the last weekend before school starts here in New Zealand so everyone was out on holiday. I understood some of what he said but struggled with some of the rest of the language. He had what I assumed was an Australian accent, kept saying, “good on you,” and using other local expressions. It turns out New Zealand English sounds just like Australian English in movies.

That afternoon I asked at the office about the internet and learned they had internet available for $7 per day. I paid the $7 and we went to work. It was possible for Louise to use the service when I wasn’t on line so we could both work from the same account but not at the same time. I visited the web site of the provider and then went to sign up for one month of service which was $60.00 NZ or $49.10 US. We’ve used it several more times already so this will pay for us. It turns out to be common in the TOP 10 Holiday Parks and some of the other holiday parks (a generic term for campground or RV park) as well. We’ve stayed at several parks that don’t have the same internet service but they have an alternate and so far we haven’t had to pay for any of them. We have since purchased a membership card for the TOP 10 Holiday Parks which gives us discounts at other attractions. It saves us 10% on campground fees. It saved us $12 NZ for admission to Te Puia the day after we purchased the pass. It is also good for BIG 4 Holiday Parks in Australia so we’ll get much more than the $49.00 NZ we paid for the pass. We should have purchased it sooner!

Campground fees here are interesting. We checked into a campground and the fee was $20 per person per day. That was the fee for us, using electric in a campervan. A couple came in to check on fees for tenting and it was also $20 per person. We were paying the same as someone staying in a tent. The TOP 10 parks are the best parks we have seen so far and we’re planning to stay there whenever we can. We’ve stayed at a couple of off brand parks and the facilities are way below the standard for the TOP 10 parks. Most of the major cities have a TOP 10 park. We’ve found them to all have clean restroom and shower facilities and generally to be in good repair. The parks have gas barbecues available for use, frequently have swimming pools if it isn’t a beach park. Prices are a little higher in and near the big cities, otherwise the prices are pretty uniform at $20 per person per day.

Our activities at Orewa Beach consisted of some beach time and walking in a nearby ocean side park. Most of our time was spent resting and adjusting to the time difference.By the time we left the park on Sunday morning, February 2, We were feeling rested and refreshed.

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