There are many, many more people living on the road than you think at any one time, but as you can imagine during the summer months, the number of tent dwellers, camper vans, rental wagons and motor homes multiply beyond belief. Whilst it is brilliant to see so many people out there doing it and enjoying the sunshine and our beautiful country, for them it is a lovely wee novelty, a holiday. For us however it is life and the massive influx of people and vehicles can make life very difficult. You can drive around for hours and cover a couple of hundred kilometres just trying to find a place to park - and of course there are no guarantees that you will even find anything when you get there as no matter where you go, the spots are usually full. I don't agree with breaking the freedom camping rules by any stretch, and we never have but you can really see sometimes why people do. You can drive to a likely spot to find that there are only three spaces allocated for camping, yet you have at least twice that many vehicles vying for space. And when you've driven two or three hours only to find no joy at the other end and nowhere you can simply STOP - let me tell you, by then you are just over it.
Such was the scenario when we planned what was supposed to be five days away in Rotorua at the weekend. We did as much homework as we could beforehand as it's not always easy to find dog friendly camping spots, especially at this time of year when they are banned from so many beaches and public places. We found one likely looking place which looked lovely at Lake Okareka and although it was chocka with cars and bathers, obviously they wouldn't ALL be staying overnight. There was just one problem - Minnie wasn't allowed there until 7pm. What were we going to do for the next few hours? She'd already been in the car all afternoon poor thing! Plus we would have to leave at 9am the next morning and with a magazine deadline the next day I really needed somewhere we could stay long enough to get my work done. With no luck at any of the other freedom camping places we tried and me pooped from driving, there was no choice but to go to a campground. Obviously the big bonus of staying at a paid campground is that you get to enjoy full facilities but when you're accustomed to freedom camping in relative peace and quiet, all the people and noise can be a bit of a shock to the system!
Still, we found a campground which sounded nice called the Cozy Cottage Kiwi Holiday Park. Hopefully that would be nice and quiet! At first glance it appeared not - in fact they were pretty much full and everyone was packed in like sardines, however the chap at reception was extremely helpful and even came out to the car to meet Minnie, albeit to check that she wasn't too big or ferocious. I also had to sign a lengthy contract on her behalf, complete with paw prints! Still, with so many people around, particularly children, it was understandable they wanted to keep their guests safe. The man said he would put us in a nice, quiet spot down the end, right next to a grassy reserve where nobody was allowed to camp or park so that we could relax in peace and Minnie would have plenty of space. It sounded ideal, especially with us being so tired, and although we baulked at having to pay $48 for one night, we just wanted to stop moving and put our feet up for a bit.
We reached our allocated spot and double checked the map we had been given. There was the grassy reserve and there was our parking spot, at the end of a line of cars. It seemed we had just parted with $48 for what was quite literally a car park. Not exactly what we had envisaged but at least there were no other campers close to us and it was indeed peaceful as promised. We were so exhausted after a hectic couple of days, all we had eaten all day was a sandwich for brunch and another for dinner but we didn't care, we had beer and wine! The car next to us left to go out for a while and we put our feet up and enjoyed the sound of the boiling hot thermal creek bubbling merrily away right next to us.
Shortly before bed I went to the bathroom and returned in the dark five minutes later, somewhat bemused to find that where the car next to us had been, a campervan was now parked and seven people were spilling out of it. Gareth and I looked at each other horrified as the sound of a baby screaming rang out of the van. There goes our solitude. We couldn't believe it. It wasn't even that we had a problem with the people - they had just as much right to be there as we did, but it was ridiculously poor of the campground to keep taking people's money and charging full rate when they were obviously full and simply didn't have room. Our two vans were parked so close together that there wasn't even elbow space between them, making it difficult for everyone to get in and out. To top it all off, the grassy reserve we had been told nobody was allowed to camp or park on was now covered with six tents. Now we had nowhere to take Minnie to the loo as they took up almost the entire space!
There was nothing we could do except go to bed and wait for the morning to come around so that we could leave. Which came round at about 6.30 when we were suddenly awoken by a piercing scream and 'MUUUUUUM! HE'S BEING SILLY!' So much for a Sunday morning sleep-in! Next thing we knew there were five children running around our van and there was nothing we could do but sit there helplessly as our space was noisily invaded from all sides. We didn't even want to stick around for breakfast. 'Let's get the hell out of here', said Gareth and I reached to pull up the blinds. There was just one problem. 'Um - we can't get out', I told him in despair. The car which had vacated the parking spot last night before the van moved in had returned and was parked right behind us, along with another two cars which had also appeared in the night! We were absolutely stuck and with most people still being asleep and us having no idea who the cars even belonged to, there was not a darn thing we could do about it. Cozy Cottage was cosy alright - for all the wrong reasons!
It was almost three hours later before were able to leave. At least the facilities were good, even if most of them were too crowded to use. I thought a nice, hot shower would wake me up and wandered into the communal bathroom. There was a hairdryer too, what a luxury! I couldn't remember the last time I had used one of those and was looking forward to it - until I saw a German woman using it to dry under her armpits. Next to her stood two immaculately dressed Asian women putting their make-up on in front of the mirror. 'They're camping! How can they look so lovely!' I thought to myself. I hadn't worn make-up since Christmas Day and goodness knows when before then. I caught sight of my own reflection and could have passed for Bridget Jones with my matted hair and sleepy expression.
We had planned to spend the day at the Redwoods forest, in hope of finding solitude and a place to finally write my magazine article, but the never ending stream of cars made it impossible to collect my thoughts. By this time all we wanted to do was get out of the place, so we headed for - well, we didn't know, anywhere really! With one last appointment to attend up north before we could leave for the South Island, we drove all the way to Bowentown, which neither of us had been to before. We expected it to be busy, and it was but there were some lovely camping areas, spacious and beautiful and despite the people it was big enough for everyone to be comfortable and have their own space. Unfortunately just as we were getting settled in, we read the sign said that camping was prohibited until February 7th, over a week away. Bugger!
We tried all the other places in the area but they were either full, prohibited or not dog friendly. Eventually in desperation we tried a holiday park at Waihi Beach. 'Do you have room for a camper van for one night and a little dog?' we asked? 'Yes!', the receptionist smiled. 'That will be $64 for the two of you'. We looked at each other, aghast. $64?! Even desperate as we were, there was no way we were paying such an exorbitant amount just for a place to park. That's not what we got a self-contained vehicle for! We drove away disheartened. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I had a home to go to. That was when I realised I still did. So I did what any self-respecting 44-year-old would do. I rang my mum and we parked in her driveway and enjoyed two peaceful nights of uninterrupted sleep, as well as lovely food and company until the long weekend was over!
Tomorrow we finally leave for our journey down south, starting with Taupo. Liam moved back to Wellington last week and we can't wait to meet him down there and get a guided tour of the capital. This past couple of years I have been nearer to Ali and further from Liam, now it will be the other way round! We've had more than our fair share of hold ups in our endeavours to reach the South Island but on the positive side we have explored a whole heap of wonderful and amazing places that we wouldn't have had the time or opportunity to experience otherwise. And even though this past week didn't exactly go to plan, we still managed to find peace here and there. Take this place for example...
Octopus Bay, Onemana
Waimama Bay, Whiritoa
Minnie and me in our secret Blue Lake spot!
Blue Lake, Rotorua
I think today's post is long enough for one day, but if you would like to see more of our travels, please check out our Instagram page here https://www.instagram.com/parsleymonious/ You'll find hundreds of photos there!