... a roadtrip around the North of the North Island through Whangerei, Cape Reinga, Ahipara and Pakiri. Like, ere sonny jim, gizz a weez on that fag
05.05.2006 - 13.05.2006 16 °C
(Not to be mistaken with the NZ flag which is nothing like this - thanks Jase007 for pointing out my previous error)
Kia Ora and Welcome to New Zealand and another overly verbose travel blog for Phileas Fogg. I'm long overdue an update with over 4 weeks and about $4K of expenditure to account for, so no doubt this is going to be another record breaker for the longest winded account of my latest movements (bowels excluded) so I apologise, I'll do my best to keep it pictorial and less textual. Sugar, I'm off again, get on with it please.
Before I dive in, not good news on the health front - after daily shoulder dislocations snowboarding in Canada, and a whopping 8 or so on the day I surfed in Santa Cruz, my shoulder has finally decided that it wants to liberate my right arm and will attempt to eject said limb at any opportunity - something tells me that it's time to get it fixed. So, I've enlisted with a doctor here (Dr Tyson) who's been an all round legend and has referred me to the best shoulder specialist in the land - Dr Clayton Brown. Over the past 4 weeks I've been poked and prodded by numerous people, injected with a weird mix of contrast medium and air into my shoulder then blasted with x-rays (Arthogram) and finally passed through a huge electro-magnet for the MRI scan - (magnetic resonance imaging). Whilst this has been going on I've battled day and night with the insurance company to pay for the treatment, eventually succumbing with some rather underhand tactics on my part and a beligerent bureaucratic failure on their part, the problem being lack of proof of it isn't a pre-existing condition which is debatable is itself but whatever. I'm currently awaiting the results of the tests, likely it's going to be a tear of the labrum cartilage. Depending on the cost of treatment in NZ vs UK, I may get fixed up here or flown back home, will have to wait and see.
All very exciting I know, but it's been a pain in the backside (and the wallet) to travel and manage getting fixed up as I keep having to return to Auckland every other week. Hence my tale here is hickledy-pickeldy to say the least with trips up, down, here, there and everywhere with apparently no method to choosing a route. I'm not sure how to tell this tale so I'll make it up as I go along in a mix of chronological, north to south, preference and how many pretty pictures I have. Enjoy the tale!
I arrived in New Zealand on 6th May into the delightful city of Auckland. A curious time of year to visit some may say being as the onset of winter is here, truth be told it was a mix of poor planning and keeping the flight cost/time down that led me here at this time yet despite fears of rain drenchings and frost-bitten toes, I'm pleasantly suprised that Kiwiland has a temperate climate with sunshine days a plenty, quite a bit of rain granted, but the shorts are still seeing the light of day so it's all good. Further joys, the hoards of tourists and backpackers that flock to this green and pleasant land in the summer are no where to be seen which makes the wilderness experience all the more real. So whether by accident or a stroke of luck, it's a winner all round!
Some amazing statistics I found:
- The total population of New Zealand is 3.9 million. 1 million of these live in Auckland.
- Māori make up about 15% of the population, and are the indigenous people of New Zealand
- New Zealand has 13 times as many sheep as people (approximately 47.2 million sheep)
- The number of sheep/human relationships has not been estimated
- New Zealand is Aotearoa in Māori, which translates as the Land of the Long White Cloud, reputedly referring to the cloud the explorers saw on the horizon as they approached. It rains a lot here needless to say, between 600 and 1600 mm a year
- Polynesian settlers arrived in their waka some time between the 13th century and the 15th century to establish the indigenous Māori culture
- New Zealanders enjoy a national holiday in celebration of the Queens birthday, the lucky sods. Why does Blighty not have the same?!?!
Anyhow, I'm in Auckland. I couldn't manage to get myself motivated here for some time given my stricken health and uncertaintly of what/when is going to happen (even a simple question like 'how long are you here for?' was fraught with difficulty). Anyhow, Auckland caters well for such uncertainty providing many drinking holes to polker-dot your liver and fill your daytimes with fine hangovers. I have a strange re-collection of being in The Fiddlers bar twice in a row as the sun came up tho I cannot be sure.
Once I was arisen from the doldrums by the enigmatic Dr Tyson, I began to explore and found that in truth there's not a lot to do here anyhow. The shopping center district is based around Queens Street which has, well, some shops. There's a new development close by called Sky City which offers modern glitzy conveniences like a casino, cinema and the showcase masterpiece - the Sky Tower. For a mere $20 (ha ha), it offers a great view over the city to get your bearings. There's a also some crazy gravity jump thing where you can clamber outside the tower and descend to the ground on a piece of string. I didn't do it as it seemed rediculous, but set the scene for the home of adventure sports.
Anyhow, from the top of the tower, I spotted the Auckland Museum (it was good, that's as much as I can muster) and the many extinct volcanoes that surround the city. Climbing Mount Eden at sunset is also worth the jaunt, just make sure you don't get flattened by the hundreds of Japanese Tourists who flock there en mass in a mass exodus of tour buses. I met a lovely girl here called Dushka who I'll be spending the next few weeks with as travel companions.
There's a nice harbour front which has been there since the city was first established back in the 1800's, which served first as a commercial port for trade and the like, then evolving into a base for cruise liners and the like which has kind of died away and you guessed it, it's now home to lots of bars, restaurants and swanky bistro's. One place on the harbour called The Ice Bar which funnily enough is made entirely of ice, charges $25 for entry and you can only stay for half an hour. Nice!
Down the road, there is a more industrial harbour with tonnes of freight ships heading in and out each day and some pretty coloured containers.
Just off the coast of Auckland lies a few pretty islands, one of them is Great Barrier Island which are is no way related to the Great Barrier Reef which is thousands of miles away in northern australia, but nonetheless shares a similar name. You can catch a ferry out the isles from Auckland harbour, handy that as there's some convenient water for the ships to float on that comes all the way up to the harbour. I took a day trip out to one of the other islands called Waiheke Island, hired a moped and booted around at warp speed (30kmph) which was a smashing day out - lots of nice beaches, vineyards, posh restaurants and the like.
So, back to Auckland and in search of a way outta the city to explore. Dushka, Alli (her friends from Hertford) and I decide to hire a car to tour the North Island, I think actually the plan was to do both North and South initially, ha ha, only if the car was jet propelled would that be possible. Alas, we got an automatic Toyota with a top speed equal to my gran's shopping trolley.
First stop north was to collect Dushka from her Aunt's gaff in Whangerei where we stayed for a night. Very nice indeed. There's a lovely walk along the river to see the Whangerei Falls which were huge. I tried to climb around the back of the falls only to soil my pants sliding on some slippy rocks.
Next day, a silly mission to drive up to the most northerly point of New Zealand and back in one day, a mere 500kms, little did we know about NZ's gravel roads. En route we stopped off at the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves where the most insane man who had clearly spent too much time on his own underground told tales of how limestone formations (under a midst of wild mushroom induced hallucinations no doubt) had taken on human, animal and cartoon forms. This is a character from Casper the Friendly Ghost, apparently.
Further up the coast lay the Bay of Islands which is a beautful collection of beaches & coves ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and kayakking and enjoying the diverse wildlife including dolphins and whales. Our experience on the first pass was to take a photo, oops.
At last, the destination of the day, the most northerly point of New Zealand Cape Reinga. The final 30kms of the road were gnarly to say the least, hammering it along at 60kmph on gravel roads with reverse-camber a plenty and powersliding all the way. I loved it but the girls did not agree. Cape Reinga itself was stunning, you really felt exposed gale force windows almost lifting you off your feet with awesome swell and washing machine mishmash of surf pouring in on the beach. Some huge dunes lay around the point testimony to the effects of the exposure to this extreme environment.
A centipede on the footpath down to the lighthouse seemed to like the place tho.
Heading back south another 200kms following the coast line of 90 Mile Beach, we arrived in a rather weird town called Kaitaia. It was Friday night and the police were out in force to catch the local drink-drivers and I seemingly fit the bill accummulating a total of 5 stops in the space of 2 hours - an all time record for me. Each stop required me to say my name and where I'm from each response getting more and more blaazee ending up with 'Phil from England'. Of course, the coppers are transfixed on the booze-meter readings so no doubt you could say anything like 'no cunts on me drugstable' or something equally amusing. Anyhow, shoved a steak in my belly and a beer (oo er) and drove down to the surf town of Ahipara to stop for the night.
The next day, we battled through torential rain along the windiest of windy roads through the greenest of green farmland, catching the smallest of the small car ferries (Kahukaha to Hakianga) as we hammered it down the West Coast. We arrived mid-afternoon amidst the heaviest storm of the day to the Waipoua Forest to see Tane Mahuta - Lord of the Forest. It's a giant Kauri Tree which according to Māori legend gave birth to all life on earth. It is said that you can feel a spiritual presence in this sacred place, but all I could feel was cold rain dripping down my neck, I need to focus more it seems.
Less than an hour passed and the incessant rain storm had decided to stand aside and let the sun have a go. We stumbled across a lookout point which commanded impressive views over the forest. It felt quite magical to watch the clouds sink into the valley as the forest came to life after the big storm. We could have been intrepid explorers in Africa , gazing from our hideout over the vast jungle, but we weren't, we were in New Zealand, I have to keep reminding myself.
Heading further south, we chance upon a collection of lakes called the Kai Iwi Lakes, relishing in the freedom of having the hire car and being able to go where you want to went you want, not trapped on one of the nasty Stray/Kiwi Experience shag fest buses like the majoprity of the other hapless travellers. Down a dusty track we stop at Lake Waikare which is the most pristine lake I've seen, completely sheltered by the sounding hills and just crying out to be wakeboarded on. (Hmmm, the environmental impact might be a bit devastating tho, fun vs destruction of habit, who will win?). So lacking on the X-Star and wakeboard kit, we settle for a paddle, it was a tad cold.
From here, we headed across to the west coast to Pakiri where we bunked down for the night in holiday camp in the middle of nowhere. No-one was around being out of season so we had the 16 bed dormitory to ourselves with luxuries like a tv to enjoy and a plate each to eat our dinner from, wow! In the morning we awoke to find the most pristine beaches on our doorstep, and the weather was on our side delving out some delicious warming rays, warm enough even to brave a dip in the pounding surf, whilst the girls enjoyed a morning stroll.
A short drive further down the coast led us to Goat Island Marine Reserve near the town of Leith, established in 1975 and world renowned for its abundant marine life. From the shore line you can clamber across a rocky outcrop and gaze into the water to find the water teeming with bright turquoisey blue Snapper. Despite the signs warning of biting snapper (yeah right) I headed into the water to get some underwater shots, none of which turned out alas but atleast I amused the tourists somewhat with my lips turning an acute pneumonic blue to match the snapper.
Right on cue, the heavens darkened and sudden rainstorm swept in chasing us back to the safety of the Toyota so we headed off south wards. Stumbling across Ascension Vineyards, the girls sampled their specialities in a wine tasting extravaganza, alas the short straw of being driver for the day meant none passed my lips but a bottle was secured to enjoy that evening and the girls accompanied this with some Tawny Port.
With further desire to swim, we headed down to the hot springs at Waiwera where we bathed in 40 degree waters in a variety of pools, one of which featured a huge projector screen showing classic Disney movies, a nice concept indeed. Our final destination of the day was Hamilton where we stopped in a dodgy road-side motel.
Oh, Mr Frodo, you is in Baggins Land my precious, yup we were on the hunt for the famous Lord of the Rings film location for the village of Hobbiton. We headed down MataMata which is down in the guidebooks as the launch pad such trips.
Holy Sauron! $50 for a 2 hour tour of a stripped down film set, stuff that for a game of hobbits, out of our budgets I'm afraid so we attempted a stealth mission to seek out Hobbitton ourselves. With some good guessing, directions from farmers and more than a little luck we found the entrance to the site. Unfortunately the set was well hidden from the road and the entrance guarded by some rather butch female tour guides with a predominant upper lid shadow - we decided not to risk an entanglement. Still, the landscape ringed true of The Shire and we felt the journey worthwhile. No doubt it also inspired the home of the Telly Tubbies too.
With time a pressing and a doctors appointment looming the next day, we headed north again back towards Auckland stopping off at Mount Manganui. A stroll along yet another stunning beach, followed by a climb up a mountain commanding amazing views of the Coromandel Peninsula. Topped off the day with a slap up meal of fish & chips - splendid!
Thankfully driving duties were handed over to Ali which left me in the backseat to get nicely sozzled on the finest Acension red wine "The Steep Bit" - a delicious Matakana Malbec from 2004 with hints of plum and raspberries. Quite the experience supping from a wine glass in amoving car,not sure the vineyard proprietors would approve. Arriving back in Auckland and already well on the way to a stupor, we followed this great start with yet more beers finishing in (shock, horror) Fiddlers Irish Bar for yet another dawn session then back home to polish off the Tawny Port, tasty but what a waste! I have no idea how I made it up for the doctors the next day at 8am, and as my first meeting no doubt Clayton was not amused with me smelling like a brewery. Perhaps it helped though as he quickly sent me packing with an appointment at the Auckland Radiology Group the next week. Ooh what fun to come!