The first time I stayed in a KOA was last spring break. It was a surreal experience. Dusty and sweaty from days of hiking in the Colorado desert, we pulled up into a green oasis of lush grassy campsites, complete with mini-golf, a playground, and a hot tub. We were welcomed into a reception area that doubled as a gift shop, selling lace doilies, ceramic figurines, pink flamingos, and little wooden signs adorned with hearts and curly lettering saying things like “God Bless our Home,” or “Mom is Boss”. The woman there even gave us complimentary cookies.
Our family trip to New Zealand has been in KOA style. Traveling with parents is great. Their old bones ensure that your young and spry bones get to rest on comfy beds, that you don’t have to clog your innards with the cheapest food at the grocery store, and that you even get to shower more than once a week. It is a refreshing change from college-style camping trips.
Our trip in New Zealand has been via camper-van. This van is a modified minivan with a bed in the back, an attachable table and stove, and even a mini-fridge packed away underneath the bed. We’ve road-tripped across the Southern Alps, seeing both coasts while staying at cute little KOA-style trailer parks.
Here I am, driving our van. Are you afraid yet? If not, you may not have noticed that the driver sits on the right side of the vehicle, instead of the left. One of the most exciting parts of our trip was the driving. It takes a little time to adjust to driving on the left side of the road. Strangely, however, I find that the most difficult part of the driving here is not the actual turning, but rather the turn signal. The turn signal is located on the right of the steering wheel while the windshield wipers are on the left, exactly opposite of what we’re used to in the US. This results in our van careening around corners without a turn signal, windshield wipers slapping across the window at full-throttle. Needless to say, this leaves drivers behind us slightly baffled.
Aside from the driving excitement, we’ve seen some amazing landscapes, including glaciers that reach down into rainforests, jagged mountains covered in ferns, and tropical coastlines. We’ve also seen some amazing wildlife. We visited a kiwi bird reserve that raises kiwi chicks for conservation efforts, and got to see a couple little kiwis snuffling around in the dirt, looking for bugs. Today, we visited an inland waterfall where baby seals were playing in the pools. Since the seals have no inland predators, the mothers leave their pups here while they’re out hunting. The place was swarming with seal pups, enjoying their time unsupervised by grown-ups.
Aside from critters, New Zealand has incredible geography. It’s obvious why they call the mountains the “Southern Alps” – They look almost exactly like the alps, with stunning peaks and glaciers, only forested with ferns instead of deciduous trees. As is typical of glacial melt, the river water in these areas is bright, Gatorade-blue. The bright blue color is from “rock flour” – tiny bits of rock ground up by the glacier. I imagine that it’s probably full of electrolytes, too, and might work just as well as Gatorade.
Our trip has been much shorter than I anticipated – Tonight is our last night on land, and tomorrow we’ll be meeting the ship. The beautiful landscapes we’re seen these past few days have felt almost like a last minute romance with the land before we’re thrown, puke and all, into a life at sea. Goodbye, greenery, mountains, and hiking. It’s time to set sail!