It was very hard for me to keep the blog up to date in New Zealand (which I’m actually glad about), however I did write some things down on my low-tech blog (my Moleskine diary) and I should be able to recall at least some of the highlights, so here it is: the grand account of my epic 30 day mission around the North and South Islands! So don’t get overwhelmed guys, have a slow leisurely read through now and then, as now that I’m in a city and working again there won’t be as much to write about! (The titles should link to the right spots in my Flickr blog).
Arrival (28th Jan)
After a good flight with Air New Zealand (excellent Kiwi Honey ice cream for dessert), I touched down in Auckland around 6pm local time. Then I made my way into town and checked into another YHA, and spent a fairly uncomfortable night as on the 7th floor the heat and humidity was reminiscent of Delhi, and some fat old guy came into the room and promptly started snoring like a Lancaster bomber.
Bay of Islands (29th-31st Jan)
Next day I woke up feeling slightly edgy, wolfed down some breakfast and got onto my first trip with STRAY. I was greeted by a cheerful feller whose driver alias was Spike, and I got into the back of a small white minibus. As I was being introduced as A Finnish tennis player, I noticed a rather pretty girl up in the front of the bus waving at me.
Naturally I was completely confused and started asking myself if I could actually know her. Then it clicked – it was Anna, one of my many backpacker friends from Sydney that I met through Jacob and the Dutch crew. I relocated myself to the front of the bus and we had a good catch-up on what we’d both been up to since Christmas.
We drove to a nice town called Paihia, a great drive which was slightly marred by the fact that Spike forgot to refuel along the way and we ran out of juice about 5 mins drive before Paihia. He put it down to a mechanical failure, but we all knew better (and this was a taster of the Stray bus experience). The next day we took a tour up to Cape Reinga, which was really stunning and a lot of fun, we had a driver called Bruce who was an excellent orator and could really get away with the cheesiest jokes. We drove to a lighthouse that overlooks the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, it was really beautiful. After that we did some bodysurfing in the Sea, drove on 90 mile beach for a good distance and did some wicked Sand boarding on giant dunes just off the coastline. The highlight of the day for Bruce was definitely when, on one of our many races with Kiwi Experience buses, some girls on the overtaking bus flashed their breasts at Bruce in retaliation for our overtaking manoeuvre minutes earlier. He took it pretty well.
Then we returned to Paihia, and had a fun night out, I also met a very nice bunch of Swedes (shocking, I know!), including Petra and Anna, and we all attempted to go and sing some Karaoke but were put off my some people who were clearly professionals. Yeh right. Before returning to Auckland, Dutch Anna and I visited New Zealand’s’ oldest town, Russell, which is very quaint and had stunning views from the hilltop. However its past is very seedy, basically it used to be the place where sailors and the like would come ashore for some drinking and whoring. The theme is continued today somewhat, as someone told me that Michael Barrymore has a house there.
Hahei (1st Feb)
I started my North and South Island MAX pass with a drive to Hahei on the Coromandel Peninsula. There I did some Kayaking in the rain, around a fairly nice marine park reserve.
Raglan (2nd Feb)
Next it was onto the chilled out surfing Mecca of Raglan, we stayed in a beautiful guest house in the hills overlooking the bay. I got to try surfing again on the rugged beach there, which was really cool!
Waitomo and Roturua (3rd Feb)
This was again one of those times when I decided not to do the extra paid activity, as dong them gets very expensive if you plan on going around New Zealand for a month (see:Villes MasterCard Statement). So whilst the other went caving and tubing and glow worm watching, I took a stroll on the countryside and rainforest, and had time to get a snap of some Angora rabbits post-shave. Then we went to Roturua (or Rotur-Vegas as the Stray guys call it), which has a funny Sulphur smell in the air, and was the town where “Once were Warriors” was set. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do a Maori cultural dinner due to crap organising by Stray, I really hope I get to come back to New Zealand and experience it.
Mt. Maunganui (4th Feb)
I decided to step off the tour for a day so I got in touch Harley Sutton, the brother of a friend of my Dad. He picked me up from Roturua airport in a small 2 seater plane, and after a few minutes into the flight he let me take the controls of the plane! It was really cool to actually fly a plane, you try to keep your eye on the scenery and the horizon and the nose of the plane, whilst checking the throttle, altimeter, heading and artificial horizon dials. I really wish I’d taken some pictures or something, but for me it was too amazing an experience to think about taking a camera out and breaking it up!
On the beach at Mt. Maunganui I got a taster of things to come, as we climbed out onto some rock face facing out to sea, and jumped down a good 15m into the sea, being careful to get enough clearance and timing the jump to coincide with the swell of the sea against the rocks! Rad! And getting out was pretty tricky too, as the rocks were covered in sharp barnacles, and if you didn’t get your timing right you would be slammed into the rocks or just fall down against them. Jackass stunts! After that we went surfing, and I tried Harleys 7’4” board, and after much struggling to get out back I got my first ever great ride on a hard board (soft boards only until now), it was awesome dudes. In the evening we went for a BBQ at some friends, which was great fun and we got totally hammered, woohoo.
Next day I went back to Roturua and rejoined the Stray fun-bus, and we drove to Lake Taupo. Even though I had a brutal hangover from the previous night, I decided to take my chance to do the cheapest skydive in New Zealand. Needless to say it was a pretty cool experience jumping from 12,00ft (which gives you 40 seconds of free fall), the view of Lake Taupo and the mountains was breathtaking and the feeling was great (I did it in bare feet, highly recommended!).
The only dodgy moments were at the start when we started spinning a lot because I forgot to arch my head back, and then when we opened the parachute I had to stand on the instructors feet and push myself up whilst he re-adjusted the straps that prevented me from falling to the earth. My heart stopped when I got off his feet and fell down into position – it almost felt like I was going to keep going!
Tongariro National Park
Next day we had the day to do the Tongariro crossing, truly spectacular hike across some mountain ranges, and for the LOTR geeks we passed by Mount Doom! Unfortunately I didn’t have time to climb it, just as well though, for I left the ring of power on the bus. The crossing usually takes 6hours, but for some reason the Swedes Anna and particularly Petra were on a mission to zoom up and down the mountain in record time, of course I couldn’t resist keeping up the pace and so we did it in 4.5 hours! However, I did pause to take some pretty nice shots along the way of the volcanic craters and thermal lakes.
Wellington-Picton-Abel Tasman National Park
Then it was onto Wellington for the night, and next day we boarded the Ferry to Picton on South Island. The crossing was fairly uneventful, apart from the disastrous death of my favourite blue Havianas flip flops, which somehow happened as I was getting up off my chair to leave the ferry, one of the flops’ moorings came loose as it got caught under my foot. In the next 5 minutes I realised that walking off the ferry without shoes would suck, so I fashioned some extra bindings onto the affected flop with first aid sticky tape, much to the amusement of my fellow travellers.
We got to Abel Tasman and it was raining, I felt like I was in the Lake District. Because of that I slept in the next day instead of going for a scenic sailing trip, which really is too bad because Abel Tasman is pretty beautiful. I shall have to return sometime.