Going home (Ngongotaha to Levin)

I was slightly dismayed by the teeming rain, I had a long drive ahead.


I was very mindful that I was ‘attached’ to the site and that unattaching was part of the routine I needed to do before I hit the road. There seemed quite a lot to retain in my rather apprehensive mind – undo the power, roll it up, put it in the compartment and lock it, remembering where that key was kept. Turn off the gas, lock the compartment. Make sure the toilet was closed (that one very important), lower the satellite dish and the roof vent. Push each of the cupboard doors into the locked position (not that easy with long nails), have all the curtains tied back, check there was nothing that could become a missile and lastly, put the step inside (I did leave a step in the middle of the outdoor parking at Wellington airport on a very wet and windy day, it must have looked amusing, just there, alone). A thank you to the managers and a wave: it was 9.50 am and I was going home!

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I haven’t driven in Rotorua (Sulphur City) for many years and it was very different from the last time. I got into the right lane, stayed there, oblivious of the rain and the traffic, and drove out of town. Once I was on the highway, I found a pull in area and had a coffee. I had been driving for at least 15 minutes! Lena rang while I was there, I welcomed that. It was 10.18am when I departed again.


It’s not a difficult drive from Rotorua to Taupo, reasonable roads and not much traffic, no major towns. I was surprised at how much of the forestry had become dairy farms, some still in the process of. I guess they hadn’t heard that the price for dairy had slumped badly. If they had, I would imagine they were rather annoyed.


The land looks so naked, stripped of it’s pine trees with one of the timber mills in the background.

I didn’t call in to Taupo, I really would have liked to but I was aware that I would have the parking issue that may involve small spaces and reversing. There is now a new bypass so I sailed on by.


On a clear still day Lake Taupo is beautiful. Today wasn’t one of these. 😦


I stopped at the “picket fence”, named for the fishermen standing in the lake at the outlet of the Waitahanui stream, catching fish. The line of fishermen could be loosely visualised as one. The lake was still choppy, the weather breezy and it was cloudy. I used the “bathroom” in the van, parked on the side of the road and felt very amused. I did have to ask Lena, via text, if the loo flushed without electricity 🙂 It was 11.20 am and I had travelled  94 ks in 1.5 hours. It was going to be a slow trip!


The ‘Picket Fence’ (not my photo).

I was beginning to feel reasonably relaxed driving as I went through Turangi and on to the Desert Road, which is only 60 kilometres in distance.  It is called a desert because of poor soil quality due to many volcanic eruptions and altitude, and has some interesting scenery. There are wild horses, the Kaimanawa Horses, released by settlers, the New Zealand Army uses it for manoeuvres (it’s not uncommon to see Army vehicles) and there are the 3 beautiful mountains, which are active volcanoes.

Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngarahoe and Mt Tongariro

Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngarahoe and Mt Tongariro

Mt Ruapehu’s last decent eruption was in 2007. I received a phone call from one of my daughters who was working on the ski fields at the time, “MUM, Ruapehu’s erupting, come and get me”. She was rightly terrified but nobody was hurt in the eruption, thankfully.
The road is quite winding and steep in sections and I was feeling slightly concerned about the lack of power. This was the first time I had driven a diesel vehicle, I knew it wasn’t turbo, but it didn’t feel quite right. It was a slow journey to Waiouru, at the end of the Desert Road and I pulled over frequently to let the traffic pass me. It was cloudy, I didn’t get to see the mountains.
I pulled into the gas station at Waiouru and had to get the handbook out to see where the lever was to open the place where you fill it up with diesel. It must have a name, I have no idea what it is. I asked them to check the oil (again a look at the handbook) and it was almost out of oil!! I was so very thankful that I hadn’t gone any further, if I had I likely would have blown the motor!!!!!  Again I had two lovely young ladies to help and have a good laugh with.



The Ducato drove much better with the oil top up and I carried on to Taihape, a mere 28 kilometres away. I managed to find a parallel park with no car behind and without the possibility of someone parking in front of me and went to McDonalds for a burger. It was now 2.16pm and I had travelled 222 ks (138 miles) from Rotorua. 🙂


Taihape is the gumboot capitol of New Zealand!

From Taihape onwards, to Levin, I didn’t stop. The weather improved and my only concern was going over the rather narrow and longish Whirokino Trestle bridge, not far from home. I arrived home at 4.20pm. It had taken me 6.5 hours to travel 360 kilometres (223 miles), a journey usually talking 4.5 hours!!


The bridge is old, long and narrow. It going to be replaced. During floods, the water can come up to the bottom of the bridge.

I was home, feeling very pleased with myself and pleased to see my Phee! ❤



On the road (but not very far)!

Before I ‘hit the road’ there were some things that needed attention, including the ‘clunk’, the engine mount. That was sorted and then there was a different ‘clunk’, this time a gearbox mount. The engine mount was available in New Zealand, the gearbox mount was not! Some panic moments and dollar signs flashing before my eyes, thinking about importing from Italy and also the time it would take. (I had factored the cost of the engine mount into the amount I paid for the Ducato and the cost of both were within that amount). Fortunately we were able to source a very good second hand one and after a full service, we were ready to roll.

I had a few weeks at home, getting the things I though I may need (some of which I didn’t) and settling in without going away. I booked a night at the Palmerston North Holiday Park, set up Phee’s automatic feeders and off I went on what was to become a regular thing. It was 31 July 2015.


Palmerston North is a mere 50 kilometres (30 miles) give or take a few, from home, so not an arduous trek.

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I chose to go there as there is lots to do in “Palmy”, walking into the city centre from the motor camp is less than half an hour (good exercise), it is by the river and is through the gate to the Esplanade. I remember going there as a child!


The official title is the Victoria Esplanade Gardens and it was created to celebrate Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1897. It’s vast, with a huge rose garden (more than 5000 varieties), a cherry blossom trees lined entrance, there are many varieties of camellias, rhododendrons, spring bulbs, massive trees, both deciduous and native (which are evergreens), bush walks, a duck pond, a paddling pool for the children, a bird aviary (the same one I saw as a child), a fabulous children’s playground, a miniature railway that winds through the bush and open park, free BBQs and is adjacent to a large sports ground.


The motor camp is pleasant and has become my happy place. It has many older big deciduous trees, rhododendrons and other trees, lovely little gardens, a great children’s play area and accommodation of various types plus powered and unpowered sites. There are permanent residents too, maybe 30. Some are real characters! There are two sets of managers, husbands and wives (or partners, I haven’t asked) and all are lovely and so helpful. As I have continued to visit, I have got to know them well. Initially I got them to reverse onto my powered site, now I do it myself.


The children love the train in the Botanical Gardens.

A new venture is about creating traditions and it is satisfying to consciously be doing this. Most of our traditions are those of our family or just seem to arrive; these new ones are mine!
One of these is to take food basics (or have them already in the Ducato) but visit the nearby supermarket and choose dinner and TREATS!! Dinner is often salmon, steak or lamb chops as I have two burners on the gas stove plus the microwave, so simple is the best. I also do one dish meals like beef stroganoff and chicken laksa. Treats are often from the bakery (much nicer than our local one in Levin), pate, dip (salmon is nice) and other tasty munchies to keep me happy. Dinner tonight is leftover beef stroganoff, homemade potato salad and cos salad with tomato and feta. I’m not starving. There is also a Chinese/fish and chip shop a mere 10 minute walk away, I don’t go often but it’s nice for a change.


One of the aviary birds

I always managed to forget something. Once it was my FitBit charger, once leggings (which I wear in winter), my fleece (and it was cool that weekend) and margarine. I have, at the same time, learned to take less as space is at a premium and I am the sort that packs everything and more. I don’t use a list now so that a step forward.


Being mobile has also resulted in my having a mobile office. Friday is my full office day and it seemed a good idea to sometimes have it in Palmy. Although I have the mobile phone for contact I didn’t realise just how often the landline rings. In becoming mobile I now use iCloud, have bought myself a new iPad and a new iPhone. Initially I was buying an internet plan at the motor camp, with the new phone I have rollover data and I am tethering the iPad/laptop to the phone, I have fewer distraction here (even with the ducks, birds and lovely setting) than I do at home.


The satellite dish for TV was initially a challenge, it seemed so straightforward when it was explained by the expert. Thirteen turns, point the black arrow to the north, then line it up to 120 somethings and it was done. I didn’t have TV for the first two visits and didn’t miss it really, maybe the news but I have a radio. I have used the compass on the phone, bought a compass, looked at other campers dishes and now can manage it after 15 minutes of frustrating fiddling and getting in and out the van to look at that jolly thing! When I got it right I took a photo with the phone which helped a little but not a lot.


The TV satellite dish adjusting thingie.

The satellite was one of the reasons that, until November, I stayed tethered to my site via the electricity cord, the other was that I was slowly gaining confidence at driving the Ducato in the city. Palmerston North isn’t a big city by world standards but in a country of 4.5 million people (half of whom live in Auckland) it is all relative to what we are used to. I live rurally near a small town! Returning home after my first visit I noticed I had forgotten to lock the LPG gas door 😦 I saw it in the wing mirrors and pulled over and shut it, feeling very embarrassed!


I know my way around Palmy well but it has taken a little time to get used to the size of the Ducato in comparison to my tiny granny car.


Paeroa to Lake Rotorua.

It was the fourth of July, and I was having my own celebration.


With the business side quickly done and a firm handshake from “the dork” (Lena was impressed with that) it was official, I owned a camper van. Lena showed me all the important stuff, like the toilet, the power, the gas and was off back to Levin. I am so grateful for her help, not only in choosing the Ducato but taking me to Paeroa with having to go back the next day. It’s a long way to we Kiwis, living in a small country.

4 July 12.46pm

The supermarket was across the road and I bought a few supplies for the next two days.  I had brought my pillow and a sleeping bag so I was very basically prepared.


I was about to fill up with diesel when the thought occurred to me  “Uh oh, no insurance!”. I spent an hour on the mobile sorting that. The 2 young ladies working at the gas station were clearly amused, what was this lady doing! I had been parked there for ages.

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So . . . . . .  to my first solo drive, carefully planned, to the adjacent gas station. We filled up, I climbed back in, started up, drove to the curb and realised, in my haste, I had forgotten to pay. The young ladies were laughing at me 🙂 Thanks heavens I realised or my first solo drive would be followed closely by the Police cars and sirens!

It was now 1pm, Lena had kindly left me her GPS and off I went, slowly and over a rather narrow bridge, holding in my breath and praying there would be no traffic. Not welcome to Paeroa but farewell!!


It was possibly the slowest trip, ever, from Paeroa to Rotorua. Had there been a cyclist on the road they would have overtaken me. Fortunately, the traffic was light and I didn’t hold anyone up, I would pull over if needed. At Waharoa, just before Matamata (home of the Hobbits), I stopped for coffee and a sandwich. I text Lena and she had stopped at the same place. Waharoa has a population of 10 (that’s not true, I just Googled and it is 400+). I also got my Lotto there, and won nothing.


Driving through the thriving metropolis of Matamata (population 7,500) I saw Hobbit buses and the Hobbit i-Centre but was not confident in parking so carried on, sobbing quietly at the missed opportunity. A borrowed photo will have to suffice . . . . .

I did see it with my own eyes though!

It rained from Matamata to Rotorua so I was pleased to know the windscreen wipers were efficient, I hadn’t thought to check. By now I was reasonably confident at knowing I was correctly positioned on the road and not once did I hit the rumble bars. Pretty good, I thought. I even managed to change the radio station and sing along with it! Going over the Mamaku Ranges was a slow process, by now the rain was persistent and visibility not good. Somewhere I saw a red car that had gone off the road and was lying sideways against a tree after going through someones fence (I read later nobody was injured). There was nowhere for me to stop and check, or I would have.


Fitzgerald Glade, not far from Rotorua

I could tell I was approaching Rotorua with the gentle smell of sulphur!!! I hadn’t travelled this road before so really, I had no idea where I was, although the GPS was giving me occasional instructions. I couldn’t get it to adhere to the window so it was lying on the passenger seat.


Then I was there, at Ngongotaha and at the Willowhaven Holiday Park. I had made it, safely.


To Paeroa

I have realised my idea about having a blog was more about the photo story than the words, I’m going to have to work on that one. With so many photos taken it’s difficult to choose. Anyway . . . . . .

3 July, up early to leave Levin before 7am on a cool, crisp winter morning. We stopped for breakfast/morning tea, admiring the scenery and the animals and then we off again, northwards. Here, I might add that I seem to have misplaced a memory card (how unlike me) so not all the photos I wanted are available. Not a bad thing, perhaps.


This is not Lena and me!


I loved these flying saucer clouds.


The first view of Mt Ruapehu is always special.

the desert road

No trip would be complete without a pylon to two!

Blog 4 We stopped briefly at Mission Bay, on Lake Taupo. We used to stay here in summer when I was a child. On a sunny day this is so pretty, today it was cold, windy and grey!


I hadn’t been north of Waiaraki in many years, this is timber country.

Blog Putuaru

I loved the corrugated art in Putaruru


We were nearly there, this is at Te Aroha and it was raining!


Our route.