A month in New Zealand - 2007 (North Island)

Link to Travel Diary Part VIII.

20th January - To Wellington

Time for a bit of RR. Aching all over from the river surfing. Spent the morning in a damp Christchurch. Wandered around, did some internet. Then off to the airport for a 4pm flight to Wellington. I decided to fly this leg rather than take the Kiwi Experience bus to save myself 2 days. The Kiwi bus goes to Kaikoura again and then to Picton and over on the ferry all of which apart from the ferry I'd already done so for NZ$100 it was a no brainer.

In Wellington I'd booked into a cheap hotel. A room to myself for the first time since arriving in New Zealand and Sky TV in the room. So time to recuperate and with Liverpool v Chelsea live and Man Utd v Arsenal live on Sky a couple of days of normality.

The Liverpool game was on at 1:40am but it was so good to see Chelsea get stuffed, well worth waking up for.

21st January - Wellington

After waking up in the night to watch the game, had a long, long lie-in. My first opportunity for weeks. Then went out for a quick look around Wellington. Seems a nice place. Big harbour, all the things you'd expect from the country's capital but still feels quite towny and liveable.

Looked around Te Papa the New Zealand museum. Huge place. Maori stuff, wildlife, immigrants, art, culture, it covers the lot. My favourite part was the Awesome Earth exhibition. This covered the fact that New Zealand lies right on the join of the Pacific and Australasian Plates. Volcanoes and earthquakes. New Zealand experiences on average an earthquake a week. It's a country waiting to blow up!

22nd January - To Taupo

Up at 5am to watch the robbery that was the Arsenal Man Utd game, then on the bus at 8am heading north to Taupo. A longish drive but with more great scenery. This time the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. Below are Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe. Ruapehu is a multi-summited volcano and still active. In 1969 and 1975 it had a few 'volcanic hic-cups' and in 1988 it spewed some hot rocks. But in 1995 it really let go, spurting volcanic rock and cloaked the whole area in clouds of ash and steam. It rumbled from June to September. Mt Ngauruhoe, now that's a real volcano. Cone shaped and everything. Both volcanoes were used in Lord of the rings and Mt Ngauruhoe used as Mt Doom.

23rd January - Taupo

Today I spent most of the day walking. Firstly along Lake Taupo the biggest lake in New Zealand. Like Wanaka and Queenstown the town sits right on the edge of the lake and it all looks beautiful. I would give you a photo but it would be pretty much like the previous ones, a big lake with hils and snow capped mountains in the background. I think I'm getting a bit sceneried-out!

So I decided to do a big circular walk out of town to see some new stuff. First stop the Taupo Bungy. No I didn't do it. But I did see some scenery that I'll never tire of. 3 teenage girls (with very fit bodies) did the bungy in just their G-strings. Marvellous ;-) Sorry guys got no photos for you.

Moving on. I headed up to Haka Falls. The biggest falls in terms of volume of water in New Zealand. The Waikato River is about 100m wide and 4m deep, but at this point it is forced into a gully 15m wide and 10m deep. The force of the water as it crashes around is immense and the 6 or 7m waterfall at the end spectacular. Upto 270 cubic metres of watet flow through the waterfall every second.

The last stop on the walk was the Craters of the Moon. An area of geothermal activity which is supposed to resemble a moonscape. Whatever it resembles it has an unreal sort of feel to it. A large area with a boardwalk circuit of craters and holes, steam rising, mud pools bubbling and a sort of rotten eggy sulphur smell in the air. New Zealand really is a country waiting to be blown off the map.

24th January - Rotorua

Rotorua (or Rottonrua as some call it). What a strange place. The whole place is on fire. There's steam rising from everywhere and the smell of sulphur (a cross between rotten eggs and sweaty socks) hangs over the whole place. A ring of hills ring Rotorua about 20 km away in each direction. Rotorua is in the crater of a massive volcano, the hills are the crater rim. When it last blow up big time in AD186; the explosion reddened skies as far away as China and Rome, created Lake Taupo and diverted the Waikato River from the east to the west coast. The most recent serious explosion was on 10th June 1886 when villages got completely engulfed Pompeii style. 5000 square miles of land was buried.

I spent the first part of the afternoon in Te Puia. Which is a Moari centre right in the heart of one of the more active geothermal areas. It includes the Pohutu Geyser which blows about every hour throwing steam and boiling water 10s of metres into the air. The whole area is covered in boiling mud pools, steam vents and has an strange sci-fi feel to it. The Maori side was a recreated Maori village with tradition crafts and a show, but I'll skip that for now. Scroll down to see why. The other highlight of Te Puia was the Kiwi house. Kiwis are nocturnal and very rare but they have one and it's house is in light during the night and dark during the day so it was out running around. It's a strange bird. Quite big and dumpy. It's easy to see why they were all but wiped out when mammals were introduced to New Zealand.

Video of the Pohutu Geyser

I then went to the Polynesian Spa for a couple of hours of relaxation. All this holidaying is very tiring! These are naturally heated mineral spas, outdoors over looking Lake Rotorua. 38, 39, 41 and 42 degree pools. The 42 is definitely on the warm side.

The pools are supposed to have medicinal value, easing aches and pains etc. Not sure about that but it was definitely a great way to spend the late afternoon. Another great thing was that they've split the pools into 2 groups of 4, one for families and one for adults only, so there were no screaming kids running around.

So as you can see in the picture I just lazed around and enjoyed the view. Of course I mean the lake with the steam clouds rising out of the far side of the lake and from the trees beyond ;-)

In the evening we went to Tamaki Maori Village. This is rated one of the top tourist attractions in New Zealand and definitely the best Maori experience. We were picked up and the 30 minute bus journey was filled by our driver giving us some history, telling us some stories etc. On reaching the village, the chosen leaders from our groups moved forward and were given the full Moari challenge, dancing, spear waving and lots of sticking out of the tongue. We then entered the village where the various arts on crafts etc were being shown. Carving, weaving, guys practicing warrior skills and women playing hand clapping games. Video of a friendly Maori welcome.

We then watched a cultural show. Lots of singing, dancing, posturing and sticking out of the tongues.

We then had a Hangi feast. Hangi is the traditional method of food being steam cooked by heated stones in an earth oven. A pit is dug, hot rocks put in the bottom, the food wrapped up and put on top then the whole lot is covered by earth and left for 2 or 3 hours. All I know is that we had an eat as much as you want buffet and it was gorgeous. A meat lovers paradise. The chicken, lamb and fish (maybe trout, not sure) were delicious. I'm not sure if the cranberry and the mint sauce was totally authentic though.

25th January - Waitomo

Another day another, another trip on a bus to a fun activity. Today it's Waitomo. It's New Zealand's most visited attraction the Glowworm caves. Most tourists just walk through the main caves on a raised walkway and gaze at the glowworms on the ceiling, but not me. It was back into a wet suit, jump into a tyre inner tube and float through the caves. Today's bit of education will be a biology lesson! Glowworms are the larval stage in the life of an insect called the fungus gnat. Although they are most spectacular in caves, glowworms are also quite common outside The New Zealand glowworm is one of many creatures that naturally produce light (bioluminescence). The light is the result of a chemical reaction, basically they have no asshole and so they burn off their shit. These combined form an electronically excited product capable of emitting a blue-green light. So basically we were looking at burning shit inside of maggots!

We did the Black Water Rafting Co. Black Labyrinth described as Waitomo's original and amazing underground cave tubing experience. Over three hours we worked your way through tight squeezes, jumped backwards off of cascading underground waterfalls and floated serenely down river as you enjoying the glowworm show on the vaulted limestone galleries up above. It was great fun especially the jumping off the waterfalls. Basically reverse out the edge of the waterfall. Hold the ring under your bum, jump backwards and make a big splash.

One funny anecdote about today. Before we started we all had to choose a ring to use for the trip. We then jumped into a bit of river to test if we'd picked one that was the right size. All the blokes got their choices right. 5 of the 6 girls choose rings that were too small. Yes, their asses really were a lot bigger than they liked to think.

26th January - To Auckland

Another transit day up to Auckland, the Big Big City. 1/4 of the New Zealand population lives in Auckland. But I'll do Auckland properly when I get back here on the 30th. Between Rotorua and Auckland the land used to be one big swamp but they drained it and not it is one of the best farming areas in the country. But instead of sheep it seems to be mainly milk, beef and maize. It's also horse breeding country. Huge stud farms in the Cambridge and Matamata area.

Anyway the one stop on the way was at Matamata, Hobbiton. Supposedly, not sure if this is true but it's a good story, anyway supposedly Peter Jackson couldn't find anywhere in New Zealand to build Hobbiton and was going to film it elsewhere. But one of his producers was flying around in his helicopter and found Matamata. So that Saturday Jackson flew out to see the guy who owned the land, but unfortunately he called during the final of the inter-state rugby union game and the guy told Jackson to F*** Off he's watching the rugby. Anyway Jackson came back later and the guy had never heard of Lord of the Rings and only let them film after his kids threatened to disown him he he turned them away.

I saw some pictures and they left the set there for one year, but now it's pretty much dismantled. Still attracts loads of tourists though. In fact Lord of the Rings tours seem to be big business across the whole of New Zealand.

27th January - Paihia (Bay of Islands)

1/2 a day in the hustle and bustle of Auckland is long enough. It's just another big (ish) city. But I'm off to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. We arrive around lunchtime and immediately book onto a 2 hour jetboat tour, the Excitor. A big jetboat, with 2 800 bhp Cat diesel engines, 38000 litres of engine in total. It has a top speed of about 50 knots. We sped out to the aptly named Hole in the Rock, a tunnel right through one of the 141 islands. (BTW to be an island it must have vegetation so big lumps of rock sticking out of the sea don't count.)

We went through it doing a 180 degree turn halfway through and coming out backwards. There wasn't a lot of clearance as the boat turned. We were lucky we had good weather only about 50% of trips go through the hole. He showed s a photo where waves were filling the cave completely.

We then sped around the islands which are gorgeous. Being a Bank Holiday Weekend the area was full of boaties in their yacht and fishing boats. A lovely spot but I thought it best not to mention that it's not a patch on Halong Bay ;-)

28th January - Paihia

Spent today out on a catamaran in the Bay of Islands. Not just any catamaran but the fastest commercial catamaran in NZ! On The Edge, it was built for the Round Australia race but never took part as the consortium ran out of money, so it was converted for commercial use. 72ft long, 40ft wide and the mast 100ft high it's capable of 30 knots. It made for an impressive days sailing. We cruised around the islands, stop at one for a couple of hours to swim, kayak and snorkel. When cruising we lazed around on the forward trampoline which hangs between the 2 hulls. The trampoline is being modelled by the 2 girls below! The other picture below is of the view from the top of the island where we stopped.

On the way back we hoisted the Gennaker, a large front sail and really raced along. The views were great and we even had dolphins swimming by. So just another day in paradise, but then again I'm sure today has been just as good for you guys too ;-)

29th January - Paihia

Another day in Paihia. I'm glad I chose to spend some extra days up here. It's nice and quiet and the weather is great. It's a good way to finish off my time in NZ. Today's bit of education is New Zealand History. The Maoris came from Polynesia in about 1200AD (although the Maoris themselves claim it was 1000 years ago) maybe from the Cook Islands or Tahiti. They came in huge war canoes and found a land of plenty, the first legendary navigator was Kupe. In 1642 2 Dutch ships came from the Dutch East Indies one commanded by Abel Tasman after whom a lot of things are named. (Tasman Sea, Tasmania etc.) But they were greeted by the traditional Maori welcome mistook it for aggression attacked and sailed away. No more Europeans came for 127 years. But they did leave the name Nieuw Zeeland. Then in 1769 James Cook (later made Captain) arrived. Despite some violence they did make contact with the Maori and stayed for some time in the Bay of Islands. In 1772 the French came but as is their way they rubbed the Maoris up the wrong way. Cook came again in 1773 and 1774 and by 1790 there was commercial whaling and sealing off of New Zealand.

By 1840 there were good relations and healthy trade between Maoris and 'their Pakeha' Europeans. There were nearly 2000 Europeans in NZ, but the Maoris feared that more and more would come and look to take over New Zealand (especially the bloody French!) So after much negotiation they became a British protectorate and the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Two peoples, one nation living together equally.

Today I visited Waitangi, above is the Treaty House, the treaty was signed in the grounds where a flag pole now stands with the Union Jack, Maori and New Zealand flags. The carvings below are from the Meeting House built in 1940 to celebrate the centenary of the Treaty. The Treaty of Waitangi is like The American Constitution a living document that still governs interaction between Maoris and Europeans and 6th February 1840 is the birthday of the Nation.

I then cycled on to Haruru Falls. It wasn't all that far, but was a knackering ride. About 3km of steady climb up Mt Bledisloe and then 2km of quite steep road down to the falls. The road was unsealed so the bike didn't run to well and the uphill bit was right into the wind. The falls were pretty enough and a nice place to laze around for a while and get enough energy up to cycle home. All this holidaying and having fun is very tiring work.

The rest of the day I lay around at the hostel. It is so nice having a room to myself. I can lie around, spread my stuff out and just do nothing without people coming and going and making me feel I ought to go out.

Later on I cooked up a BBQ, had a bottle of wine another end to another great day.

30th January - Leaving Paihia

My last day in The Bay of Islands, heading back to Auckland this evening. I wish I could've stayed longer. I didn't get to go out big game fishing (Red Snapper, Kingfish and Marlin) and I didn't get to dive the Rainbow Warrior. Today I walked the coast path from Paihia to Opua. A great walk right down amongst the mangroves with some great views around the bay. From there a ferry and a hitched lift and I was in Russell. New Zealand's first real settlement and first capital. In the early days in was described as a Hell Hole by the early missionaries do I guess it was a fun place! With boats having been at sea for months and this their first port of call it was full of drinking dens and whorehouses. Now it's a quaint little old fashioned place running cruise boats and fishing trips out into the bay. The place has really gone down hill ;-)

The Duke of Marlborough holds New Zealand Liquor License no. 1. The current building is the forth on the site, the other 3 burnt down but it can still claim to be New Zealand's oldest pub.

The New Zealand fern, just the usual green on top. But turn it over and you have the Kiwi Silver fern as found on their sporting badges, Marvellous.

31st January - Auckland

Just one day in Auckland so I booked on to the Kiwi Experience 1 day city tour. It's supposed to be for people just arrived in New Zealand a free taster of what Kiwi is all about but what the hell they've had my money they owe me a day trip in Auckland. First stop the Auckland Harbour Bridge. We did a walk across which gave great views back across the yachts to the city. Everyone except my Mum scroll down to the bottom of the page. Mum stop at the photos below ;-)

From there we went across to Devonport. So close to Auckland but so different. Originally built for the NZ navy but now it's a lovely quaint 'boutique' town. A great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Auckland. From there we went out to North Head. North Head is important strategically, as it stands at the entrance to the inner harbour and looks out over the Hauraki Gulf. It is covered with military remains dating from pre-European times to the World War II era. We explored the tunnels link many of the gun emplacements built during World War II.

From there down to Cheltenham Beach for a bit of a swim and back to the city. A great day and one more of the must do things ticked off the list!

After saying I wasn't going to it. I did it. BUNGY. I decided I should do it just so that I could say I had. Not a great reason to do it but I've done things with flimsier reasons than that before. I figured with the whole Kiwi bus watching I wouldn't have the option of chickening out. As it turned out I was the only person on the bus who signed up.

As with my rock jump during the River Surfing in Queenstown, I'd like to say that a stood at the top and then made a perfect swallow dive. But when I got to the edge I just wanted to get off as fast as possible and as you can see in the photo, my jump can best be described as a belly flop! But what the hell I did it. After seeing me do it another guy decided to jump too. Here's his Bungy Jump Video which I shot from the viewing platform.

So how was it you ask. Well much as I expected really. I think I've got a high excitement threshold. It didn't really do much for me at all. Firstly heights don't worry me at all. On the bridge climb some of the others were holding on tight to the railings and up the top not going anywhere near the edge and hardly looking at the views at all, me I was looking around, leaning out over no worries.

OK I didn't hang around at the top and my jump wasn't the most graceful but the jump really was all over in a couple of seconds. After leaving the top there's only 2 seconds of freefall before the rope starts to tighten and slow you down. I guess the Nevis would be a bit different, 142m and 8 seconds of freefall, enough time to get the whole freefall experience. After the rope tightens you bounce a couple of times and then you're hauled back up. This was my favourite part. From my DVD I can see that I wasn't even holding on to the cord. Just casually looking around enjoying the view.

So, been there done that.

Link to Travel Diary Part X.