27.12.2006 - 31.01.2007 20 °C
Haere mai! Yet again, I'm back in Aotearoa, I just couldn't stay away, such is the draw of this green and pleasant land. How only a 6 month stay in a country can create such attachment I don't know.
Anyhow, this is a fleeting visit for only 1 month to see some friends (specifically Heike) and fill in the gaps that I missed on my previous visit, a short stay partly because there's a whole world afresh out there to be explored but mostly down to NZ Immigration who weren't playing ball at all by initially refusing entry into the country as no record of my working visa could be found, further they had not seen or heard of an electronic visa document before and practically accused me of falsifying an official document - not a great start. To rub salt into the wounds they then flatly refused to extend my work visa as apparently once you have the visa beit for 6, 12 or whatever months it cannot be extended. Bah humbug! I took this as an omen that it was time to make this the final goodbye (for the time being atleast) and set about enjoying myself instead.
So I lived in a campervan for the first 3 weeks, back to the familiar ground of sleeping where you choose, but seemingly no matter where you park you awake in the glare of the midday sun, the van super-heated such that you can feel your fat slowly bubbling under the skin, internal combustion just around the corner.
We kick off with a bang with the usual hedonism of Auckland at the Fat Camel; times have changed and there are many new faces but still the same old antics. To my dismay spanking has become a faux pas which used to be the bread and butter of a good session in the bar - bringing the old world to the new it seems has its challenges, times change and the rules of engagement with it. I feel like a relic of the past despite the fact it was only 3 months ago - how fickle the hostel lifestyle is. (I'm sure there's a valuable metaphor in there somewhere.)
What better way to celebrate your arrival with a mash-up of Brazilian junglistic beats courtesy of DJ Marky and some melodic vocal tones of the UK's own Stamina MC. Before you question it, I'm proud to say Auckland is a leader in the southern hemisphere for drum and bass with low frequency rumblings coming from clubs like Fubar, 4:20 and The Studio cranking out the wibbly-wobbly, poo-tish rhythms on a weekly basis, attracting big name DJs like Marky, Andy C, Ed Rush & Optical as well the local talent. The kiwis go mad for it and the party rocks on till the early hours, so much energy generated from Marky like I'd never seen before - this guy truly loves his dnb and was dancing harder than anyone in the club and performing gravity defying scratch antics that bamboozled the glazed onlookers
Perhaps the readily available supply of legal party pills caught him by suprise
I needed some quick cash to fund the next couple of weeks ventures and luck would have it I stumbled across a job prepping a yacht The Irishman for charter - scrubbing the decks, loading boxes, erm eating pizza & drinking beer.
The Irishman, picture courtesy of http://www.centralyachtagent.com
The Irishman like many others docked in Auckland harbour is registered to the Marshall Islands- a little known archipelago about 2,500kms north-east of Papua New Guinea. It has an interesting history that I thought appropriate to share...
Initially occupied by the Micronesians and since governed by Spain, Germany, Britain and Japan, they eventually became a U.S. trust territory after WWII. In their wisdom, the U.S. conducted a total of 23 atomic and hydrogen bomb tests between 1946 and 1958 on the islands of Bikini and Eniwetok (the inhabitants were generously relocated to another island first). Despite cleanup attempts, the islands remain uninhabited today because of nuclear contamination.
In 1986, the United States and the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association, which meant the islands became self-governing but would receive U.S. military and economic aid, roughly $65 million a year. In return for this support the region hosts a large US military base which allegedly still conducts weapons testing in the area, and the islands have become a tax free haven with an unknown number of US individuals & businesses (including the Irishman's yacht charter holding company) hosting their accounts here. I wonder if the local people with a per capita income of $1,600 see much of this benefit. Keep an eye out for this flag:
The job on the irishman led on to bigger and better things as I embarked on a short-lived career as a maritimer, working for Global Yacht Finishers sanding, painting etc. It was hard work but very rewarding being outside on the harbour and working on some truly magnificant boats including the pride of Team NZs race fleet NZ41, and the America's Cup competitor BMW Oracle. I felt truly part of the City of Sails for the first time.
NZ41 & 42, picture courtesy of http://www.sailnz.co.nz
BMW Oracle, picture courtesy of http://bmworacleracing.com
For any traveller needing some quick cash on arrival in Auckland, I'd recommend trying the docks (no hello sailor euphemism implyed) - simply walk around, ask anyone and everyone for casual work and you'll find something will turn up if you're persistent, plus most of the work is cash in hand, no questions asked, wink wink, nudge nudge, know what I mean, say no more etc etc.
So on to the travel......
Nestled on the Waikato coast west of Hamilton, tiny Raglan has achieved legendary status as a surf mecca. Ever since Manu Bay featured in the 1966 surfing movie classic Endless Summer, surfers have made a beeline for Raglan’s south breaks with their perfect peelers and long joyrides. Just 8km from Raglan, Manu Bay is claimed to be longest left-hand break in the world, where on the right day when the breaks are linking up, you can cruise for up to 2km. Neighbouring Whale Bay, once a peaceful sanctuary for Maori warriors, also boasts a fine left-hand point break with great hollow waves. Head a kilometre offshore and you’ll find The Indicators, another superb left-hand point break that serves up the area’s largest barrels. Besides the excellent surfing Raglan has breathtaking scenery and dramatic coastline with some great fush and chups shops in town making it a top place to visit.
Just north of Auckland in the Waitakere Ranges is another beautiful surf town called Piha. A 10 minute drive to south of Piha brings you to Karekare Beach, New Zealand, where 'The Piano' directed by Jane Campion and winner of the Prix d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival was filmed. The surf was cranking on the day of my visit with even some barrels up for grabs. There's a nice little trek onto the rocky point towards the Piha end of the beach where you can soak yourself in the waves that erupt through a gully. If you do visit here, beware of sandal thieves as some desperate sole (hee hee) stole mine that I left outside the van whilst taking an afternoon nap - I do pity the thief as they smelt worse than a stagnent pond.
Next up a visit to one of New Zealand's most understated and consequently under visited regions - Taranaki. It's curious as to how it has reached this position as the enigmatic images of the region dominated by a forbading dormant volcano Mount Taranaki (or Mount Egmont if you refer to it by it's given name by the imperialist European invaders) are iconic to New Zealand. Even the dizzy heights of Tom Cruise coming to town in 2003 to film The Last Samurai (in which Mt Taranaki stood in as a stunt double for Mount Fuji) was not enough to put the place on the map. (Incidently, Mr Cruise did a lot of good in his 4 months stay, raising $14,000 for a local school shelter and a donation to an Auckland youth drug charity, such that he was adorned with the loving title Tominaki.)
Warnings cast aside, I headed off to New Plymouth trying my hand at hitch hiking which turned out to be a breeze and a great way to meet local people. En route south from Auckland I passed through Te Kuiti which is the self-proclaimed sheep shearing capital of New Zealand. To prove this point if the constant stream of sheep transporters passing down through wasn't enough, they have constructed the world's largest shearer - a seven metre high monument depicting what I think is a man decapitating a sheep with some kind of medieval torture device.
Just opposite the petrol station on the junction is Te Tokanganui-A-Noho marae which has some stunning carvings on the facade.
Heading further south, I caught a ride with some young surfers from Tauranga to the next main town en route and the base for my stay - New Plymouth. Rumoured to be a troublesome town with problems with alcholics and an active division of the Mongrel Mob, I found New Plymouth to an attractive, laid back and friendly town. All over town can be found work by Len Lye, a local artist who made his name creating kinetic sculptures. The highlights include the infamous Wind Wand - a 45m lamp post that bends and sways in the breeze. Well worth a visit to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery where you can find more of his creations. warning - do not attend the sound exhibit with a hangover!
January marks the annual Festival of Light and the town becomes alive at night with free concerts in the park and a dazzling array of fairy lights, lazers and displays adorning the local park. (Not that they forgot to take the Christmas decorations down as I first thought.)
and now for the real reason I came.....
Mehema koe ka tuoho, meinga ki te maunga tetei.
If you should bow to greatness, let it be to a lofty mountain
Standing at an impressive 2,518m, the volcano of Mount Taranaki dominates the entire region and is visible on a clear day (which is rare) from as far away as Tongariro National park in the east and Waitotara in the south. The peak is seemingly always shrouded in cloud however this tends to hang on one side meaning if it's hidden from the north, the chaps in the south have a clear view. The last evidence of volcanic activity on the mountain occurred around 1755, more than 250 years ago.
I was always enjoy the Maori version of the shaping of land, Mount Taranaki's is a sad yet romantic tale....
Te Maunga o Taranaki (Mount Taranaki) once lived in the centre of New Zealand's North Island with other mountain gods: Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. Nearby stood the lovely maid Pihanga with her cloak of deep green bush, and all the mountain gods were in love with her.
What had been a long, peaceful existence for the mountain gods was disturbed when Taranaki could no longer keep his feelings in control and dared to make advances to Pihanga. A mighty conflict between Tongariro and Taranaki ensued, which shook the foundations of the earth. The mountains belched forth their anger and darkness clouded the sky.
When peace finally came to the land, Tongariro, considerably lowered in height, stood close by Pihanga's side. Taranaki, wild with grief and anger, tore himself from his roots with a mighty wrench and left his homeland.
Weeping, he plunged recklessly towards the setting sun, gouging out the Whanganui River as he went and, upon reaching the ocean, turned north. While he slumbered overnight, the Pouakai Range thrust out a spur and trapped Taranaki in the place he now rests.
Any attempt to climb this beast is an arduous affair as any who have climbed a volcano can testify with a relentless 30 degree wall of scree that covers the upper slopes. In addition, the potentially icy conditions and fast changing weather systems make the climb hazardous with a slip at the wrong moment resulting in a ride down one of the many cliffs and gullies - many ill prepared climbers have met their maker as a result.
Departing the DOC center at the lazy hour of 9am, I'v reached the 'mid point' by 10:30 which commands a stunning view across the Taranaki plateau across to Mount Ruapehu in the distance.
As expected, the climb gets much more difficult on the upper reaches and on clearing the well maintained wooden tramping boards which protect the fauna, it's up onto the pumous scree slopes for some one step forward, two steps back action. With lots of atino rangatiratanga (self determination), I harness the power of Taranaki and power through, scrambling over the razor sharp lava flow that covers the upper cone and to the summit. An exhilerating climb and what a view.
Taranaki’s wild coastline dishes up some of the country’s best surf with epic drops, fast barrels and a host of adrenalin-pumping rides within an hour’s drive of the city centre. Just south of New Plymouth, the beautiful coastal resort of Oakura Beach attracts surfers with good sandbank breaks at high tide, while near the tiny township of Warea, Stent Road is one of New Zealand’s undisputed surfing hot spots. Heavy swells pound this boulder-strewn bay from most directions, creating consistently good surf and a superb right-hander that breaks over a shallow reef.
All these factors attracted the 2007 Hyundai National Surf Championships which as luck would have it started on the day I arrived in New Plymouth. The event was held at one of 3 breaks depending on the swell that day - Graveyards, Stent Road, or Rocky Point - all within 15kms of each other. Twenty eight year old maori Daniel Kereopa of Raglan has today won the Open Men’s Division which kept the east coast crew quiet for a change. A ery enjoyable 2 days were spent masquerading as Surf NZ freelance photographer sneaking free bbq food and a couple of beers.
On the way back to Auckland, I was lucky enough to be taken to a Maori tungi (funeral) by the chap who gave me a lift. Only first stopping off at his friends for a cup of tea and some spots (no explanation forthcoming). It was real honour to be able to attend this ceremony. I was asked not to talk about it so that tale ends here.
i te kore, ki te po, ki te ao marama
from nothing, into the darkness, into the world of light
One last burning desire to satisfy but this one lies not in the upper atmos but 27 metres beneath the waves. Located in the Bay of Islands close to the town of Pahia, the Greenpeace ex-flag ship The Rainbow Warrior lies upright on the ocean floor close to Motutapere Island. How it got here is an interesting tale and another test of Anglo-French relations....
On the 10th of July 1985 at 23:49, French Secret Service agents bombed and sank the Rainbow Warrior whilst she was docked in Auckland harbour. Greenpeace protestors had been preparing her for departure to Moruroa Atoll in the South Pacific where the French were planning continued nuclear testing. Two limpet mines were attached to the hull and exploded within two minutes of one another resulting in the death of Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira.
The French initially denied any involvement even though more than a dozen secret service agents were in the country at the time. After increased pressure and a failed attempt to blame Mi6 for the attack, the French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius finally admitted that the French Secret Service had been ordered to sink the Rainbow Warrior. Two agents held in Auckland took the fall, and were charged with arson and murder and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The French were ordered to pay New Zealand $13 million NZ dollars and apologise. The two agents found guilty were sent to French Polynesia to Hao Atoll to serve their short sentences in paradise. These sentences were unlikely to have been completed and it's much more likely that these agents were back in France before the year was out.
The Rainbow Warrior was re-floated after the attack and finally transported to Motutapere Island where she has become an artificial reef attracting an abundance of wildlife and divers alike.
The ships hull is still remarkably intact with the bow rails provide a picturesque backdrop for photographers, the Greenpeace emblem of the white dove of peace still visible at stern and the blast hole in the keel is still clearly visible on the starboard side. Despite promises of other websites we found it impossible to fully penetrate the wreck to explore further as a tangle of wires and cables were criss crossed across the entrance to the hull on the upper deck making this a hazardous opportunity.
Now covered in colourful pink and blue anemones, the wreck attracks a great deal of marine life - leatherjackets, demoiselles, snappers and wrasses followed us as we headed from the stern mooring to the bow. The kelp gardens that covered the ship flowed back and forth in the surge and white growths like bonsai trees protruded from the hull and rails. A flash of colour attracted our attention and lights revealed purple and white Jason mirablis & Tambja Tambja verconis nudibranchs in the branches of the hydroids and on the rails.
So, with all the fun and adventure done, before I left NZ for Australia I finally completed and launched what I can only describe as the greatest job search website for backpackers on this earth that has ever been and ever will be - honestly, it will change your life AND make you more attractive to the opposite sex, check it out - http://www.joblink.net.nz. It was probably the poorest paid job I'd ever undertaken having earnt more as a butchers hand at the spritely age of 15 but I was happy to finally have it done.
E noho rā for now, see you in Australia.