Saturday, November 10, 2007

and to New Zealand...

My arrival in New Zealand was not too triumphant. My Emirates flight (uncharacteristically rude staff and poor service) landed at Auckland airport and I promptly threw up...

Not too good an omen.

But I had been feeling rather ill the past few days and hadn't even been able to drink... must have been all that running on the beach.

After a long ride into town through rush hour, I arrived at Danielle's sisters workplace - which had a stunning view over Auckland harbour. Sailing boats caught the breeze in the afternoon sunshine. All I cared about was where the toilet was...

But it was lovely to see Danielle's sisters. Jen I last saw on Danielle's birthday in February, and Laura at Christmas in Sydney. They took me to Jen's house and put me to bed.

I spent a few lazy days in Auckland visiting markets, going to pizza and drinks with the girls at Viaduct Harbour and on K Road (the trendy red-light area), visiting Laura's house, chilling out and watching Friends dvds.

At the weekend the three of us decamped to the Coromandel Peninsula along with Jen's housemate and Laura's boyfriend. We drove to a friend's Bach (as in Batchelor pad or holiday home) at Cook's Beach and all piled into the bunkhouse there.

Grant was having a clean-up weekend and we had come down to help in the garden in exchange for the use of his house and entertainment.

And entertained we were. After a morning pruning bushes, picking up weeds and cuttings, washing the outside of the house and entertaining the children of Grant's friends Bruce and Nicole, we visited a lookout over Cook's Beach and later went out on his speedboat.

The day had brightened and it was hot and sunny by the time we got out onto the water. We sped around to famous Cathedral Cove (big hole in a rock) and to another cave which we backed into.

And then we arrived at a blowhole where Jen, Laura, Gronya, Javier and I jumped into the icy water (18C) and snorkelled through a cave to the blowhole - lying on our backs to look up to the sky, sunshine and trees above.

The following day, we drove to Hot Water Beach - a place where you could dig a hole in the sand and it would fill with hot - sometimes scalding water. Except you had to know where to dig. Too far away and the water was icy. Too close and it was boiling. Too close to the ocean (like mine and Jen's hole), and it filled with the occasional bracing wave as well as the bath-like water.

On Monday (Nov 5th), I met my friend Kath and her brother Alex to pick up our car for our camping trip. They had flown out from the UK the previous day and we all met to inspect our Spaceship - a converted people carrier with a pod atop for additional sleeping.

We set out full of hope and pomp and joy at being on the road - but it soon turned to horror as the rain began to lash down as we drove north to the Bay of Islands.

It hardly let up for days.

Putting up the bed and pod was a challenge at our first campsite but at least we had camp kitchen facilities instead of using our two ring gas stove in the wet and cold. It would have been very picturesque - parked by the sea and beach - had it not been quite so miserable weather-wise.

The following day we caught the car-ferry across to Russell - the former capital of NZ and once a rough and rowdy port. These days it's much quieter and rather a quaint seaside town - also home to the oldest pub in the country. We drove up to a viewpoint over the bay on Flagstaff hill and then wandered the arts and crafts shops and stopped for a cuppa.

The weather making it not worth dishing out for a boat trip, we drove to Aphipura in search of the sun. At a nice campsite here, we made a feast and chilled out and met a couple from Hastings - Hayley and Russell.

Wednesday morning we hopped aboard Aphipura Sand Safari bus - a trip up to Cape Reinga and along 90-mile beach. It was pouring with rain and the three of us and a Scottish couple were the only passengers.

After visiting a pretty natural harbour in misty rain, we stopped for huge ice creams and the sun began attempting to break through the gloom. We kept meeting up with R&H's tour on the route, which then took us through forests, over hills and gave us peeks at both the Tasman and Pacific Oceans, to a pretty and quiet bay where we had lunch, chased seagulls and enjoyed the hot sunshine which had made a timely appearance.

Then it was off to the blowy Cape where a lighthouse stands watch over the meeting of the two oceans at this most northerly point. To the west was a long stunning beach with mountainous sand dunes.

These we were later to toboggan down - much to my distress and eventual delight!

After a drive down the Te Paka stream with its sinking sands, we were on 90-mile beach (which is actually only 60 miles long!) for a run back to the campsite.

We hit the road that evening and made a trip through the forests and mountains while it was still light. It is in this part of NZ the ancient Kauri trees are found. These are buried trees thousands of years old which have been dug up and make stunning furniture. There is only an estimated 50 years worth of supply left - yet they make everything from honey spoons to door stops and souvenir eggs from the wood.

We camped in a layby by a stunning natural harbour and the following day drove to Waitomo.

Here, we took a Spellbound tour to caves under the limestone hills to see glow worms. We walked through one cave with its stalagmites and stalagtites, pools and bones of now-extinct birds (the moa), goats, cows, hawks and so on. Then we walked through another cave and into a boat where, once the lights were out, we saw the ceiling glowing as the night-sky never has. Thousands upon thousands of larvae were emiting a beautiful blueish light. It was truly spectacular.

Then, it was off to Rotorua. We spent yesterday exploring the town, drinking coffee and then visiting the zorb site. Here, I rolled down a zig-zagged track on a hill in a large plastic ball.

There is an outer ball and an inner-one which I jumped into with alot of water... and then there I went, sloshing down the hill in this rather large hamsterball. Great fun.

Today (Sunday, Nov 11), we visited Wai-o-tapu - a geothermal 'wonderland'. Here, we saw bubbling mud pools, the champagne pool (a large misting, fizzy lake which is 62m deep and 74C formed by a hydrothermal erruption! Around the edges were the deep oranges, yellows and greens formed by gold, silver, arsenic, mercury and so on), the devil's bath (a bright green pool) and the Lady Knox Geyser which spouted about 12m.

Now we are at Lake Taupo... more exciting things to come!!

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