Monday 24th September 2001, Titirangi NZ

We arrived in Auckland around 7am. From the plane window New Zealand looked impossibly green and hilly. In fact, North Island looked as though someone had thrown off a great green blanket one morning, and just left it lying in a crumpled heap on the floor!

With no particular itinerary in mind, we studied the hotel brochures at the Information Desk. We enquired about campervan rental at the Maui desk, but found that they would not allow us to return it to Christchurch (on the South Island) when we flew out. For a while it looked as though we were going to have to hire a car. Then Brigid spotted a leaflet from (appropriately named) Britz, advertising camper hire at NZ$42 per day.

Bearing in mind that we were getting an exchange rate of NZ$3.40 to £1.00, this looked like a bargain. We gave them a ring. Yes, they did have a ‘Hi-Top’ (a 2-person camper), and yes, we could return it to Christchurch. Sorted. Their office? The Maui desk …

Within an hour we were driving into the city centre in a small, but immaculate, campervan, equipped with all the cooking utensils and linen we would need for 3 weeks. After stocking up with essential groceries (and some Immodium for John’s stomach), we headed out to Piha, a surfers’ beach on the west coast, which seemed the ideal spot to chill out for a couple of days before beginning our tour.

Piha might not have been the best choice for newcomers to New Zealand. The bay was undoubtedly scenic, but the only road in and out was extremely steep and twisty. In part we chose Piha because our guidebook suggested that it had Internet access. It didn’t, though the owner’s daughter did very kindly allow us to plug our modem into a spare telephone line. It was no good. AOL does not operate within New Zealand, so we would have to subscribe to another ISP.

Piha bearly qualified as a resort at all. It did have a general store and a Post Office, but both were closed. The main settlement was the campsite and, apart from a couple of public telephone boxes, that was it. It was about half an hour’s drive to the nearest restaurant in Titirangi. We ate at Toby’s Restaurant.