Published: February 2nd 2007February 1st 2007
Aaaah New Zealand. Back to a climate that much more resembles our own in Blighty. Experienced the Kiwi humour almost immediately we stepped off the plane with our shuttle bus driver discussing the finer points of smoking the "green" and explaining that if he hadn't, he would have been a doctor instead of a shuttle bus driver. Our first few nights we were lodged at the Wildlife House Backpackers in Wellington. You can't miss it, it's a five storey building painted like zebra on the outside.
First item on the NZ agenda was to attend Chook and Chelle's wedding on the Saturday. This meant hooking up with some old friends from NZ and home and to set about the serious challenge of getting sufficiently lubricated as is the custom of any wedding! The wedding and subsequent partying took place on the "Wellesly" ship from Taranaki Quay. It was slightly different to weddings we had experienced at home, the vows ceremony was performed quite quickly, and the meal was not served until a few hours later. This meant of course that everyone had to fill the time in between...with yes drinking, bliss (for Alex the alcoholic anyway). The partying continued long
into the night and included sailing round Wellington harbour, but recollections become a little blurred.
As you can expect Sunday was spent recovering, so little was done that day. Monday we took a small walk around Wellington before meeting some more friends, Steve and Jo, who have moved out to NZ in the last year. They kindly put us up for a couple of nights in their lovely home in Paraparaumu and fed and watered us. We caught the train back into Wellington on the Tuesday to visit the Te Papa national museum where we saw exhibitions on the geothermal activity of New Zealand, earthquakes and volcanoes etc and also a good display on Maori culture. Every 2 years the display is rotated to feature a different tribe, or iwi
. Afterwards Laura discovered that she needed
another pair of long trousers as the weather was not as warm as we'd expected in NZ, and thus we ended up wandering the shops in Cuba Street.
The following day saw us catching a flight up to Auckland and picking up our campervan, our home for the next six weeks. We'd opted for a high top two berth camper van, which
while not exactly roomy, contains everything you could need including fridge, hob, kettle, toaster, sink and large double bed. We named him Monty and then headed off up State Highway 1 through the Auckland traffic and out the otherside into Northland. Our first stop was at Goat Island Marine Reserve on the east coast. Although there are no longer any goats here, there are plenty of fish as a result of the marine reserve which was the first of it's kind in NZ. It has not been fished for 30 years and there are twenty times more fish here than along the rest of the NZ coast. In order to appreciate this we took a glass bottomed boat tour out around the small island and got to see huge snapper, silver drummer fish, squid and eagle rays. Originally the reserve was deeply opposed by local fishermen but they have now seen the benefits as they literally have a hatchery on their fishing doorstep.
Our next stop was the Bay of Islands which was a scenic drive further up the coast. The further north we went the warmer it became, in complete contrast to what you'd get at home. Our
campsite for the Bay of Islands was in Pahia overlooking the Haruru Falls. All very scenic. The next day found us visiting Waitangi, probably one of the most famous places in New Zealand, as this was where the controversial Waitangi Treaty was signed back in 1840. The national park now there compromises of the Treaty House where the treaty was signed, a Maori Meeting House, beautifully carved and the world's largets Maori War Canoe built to celebrate the centenary of the signing of the treaty. The following day we set out on a dolphin watching cruise around the bay, one of our main reasons for heading up here. We were rewarded with glorious weather and a sighting of a huge pod of Bottlenose dolphins, including several juveniles, who swam alongside our boat demonstrating their acrobatic and surfing skills. It is quite amazing to watch how close they will get to the sides of the boat and yet always manage to keep the right distance to avoid any collision. Apparently they use their echo location skills for this and time it so they can surf the pressure wave off the bow, occasionally turning their heads so they can eyeball the strange
humans waving at them from the boat. Unfortunately because there were juveniles present we weren't able to swim with them but it was still a fantastic experience.
Our next stop on our tour of the Northlands was the Kauri coast, on the west side of Northland. On our way we stopped at Ngawha Springs for our first encounter with the geothermic activity of New Zealand. These were a series of murky looking hot pools in which you could soak your bones. Although most relaxing, they did react with the silver on our rings turning them temporarily black and left us with a whiff of sulphur about us all day. By the afternoon we had reached the Waipoua Forest which is is famous for it's humungous trees, the second largest in the world after the American Sequoias. We stopped to see Tane Mahuta, or God of the Forest, the largest Kauri tree which is 51 metres tall and has a girth of 13.8 metres and has been living some 2000 years, Te Matua Ngahere, or Father of the Forest, which is has the biggest girth at 16.41 metres and is 29.9 metres tall, and the Four Sisters, or four large
Kauri trees growing from the same stump. That evening we embarked on the first of our Kiwi bird spotting opportunities in the Trounson Kauri Park, where we went on a 2 hour night walk. The birds weigh about 3kg and most of that is in their legs, so the way to find them is by listening for their heavy footfall. Sadly for us it rained most of the walk which made it impossible to listen for them and so no Kiwis were spotted, although we did hear a male calling. We also got to see a small Morepork owl, some cave and tree weta (insect type things) a small number of glowworms and some freshwater crayfish.
Disappointed but not undaunted we moved on the next day to our final stop in Northland, Matekohe. Enroute we visited the Kai Iwi lakes where they were holding a water skiing championship and we stopped to watch a few fool hardy individuals launching themselves 35 metres in the air off a 5 metre ramp whilst holding on to the back of a speed boat. Crazy. We also did a quick tour of Baylys Beach which is part of Ripiro Beach the longest driveable
beach in NZ. Needless to say we only ventured Monty onto the first few feet of sand for fear of him becoming stuck and then walked the rest of the way down to the sea. We did see some very lazy people walking their dog however by luzzing the small animal out of the car and driving along the beach with the dog panting alongside. Once we got to our campsite we went to visit the main attraction in the area, the huge Kauri Museum. Here there were endless details about former giant Kauri, the logging and gum industry and the gradual industrialisation of the whole area. What was quite nice was that every mannequin used in their display was based on a real person who lived in the area and were often descended from the original settlers.
The next day saw us preparing Monty for the long drive out of Northland back through Auckland and on to Waitomo, home of the famous glowworm caves.....