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Published: November 12th 2007
We landed in New Zealand tired, disorientated and in Tom’s case rather smelly after 2 days of flying and waiting for flights. Unlike UK airports, the NZ airport authority employs more than enough people. This allows you to get through a more thorough passport control and customs very quickly and easily, which was a bonus.
That being said the free transfer from the airport to our hotel, arranged by Gemma’s new employers, never showed up so we had to get the bus. This turned out to be a blessing as the 7ft tall; 150kg Maori bus driver (they make them big in the south pacific) was very friendly. He dropped us off outside our hotel and gave us the run down on where to eat, buy clothes and go out in Auckland.
Our hotel for the first 3 nights was again paid for by Gemma’s work. The Quadrant is on the outskirts of the CBD and has great views over the city and harbour. It is one of those pretentious micro boutique hotels though. The kind that advertises itself as ‘a new style of living experience’ & ‘welcome to the latest in accommodation design and performance’. What they actually
mean is ‘welcome to a battery farm for humans that has been decked out with IKEA’. Being free and close to the centre of town though, we weren’t complaining.
It was Gemma’s first experience of expensing living costs to work and so Tom was quick to teach her that if work are paying, take the piss. Our free breakfasts were like a medieval banquet, we didn’t care that the chef was incapable of cooking an egg because we still had fruit, muesli, muffins, pastries, toast and smoked salmon to come.
Our luck with accommodation continued when we met (tracked down) the Dorrington's (some distant relations of Gemma) and we 'reluctantly' agreed to visit their summer retreat in Mount Maunganui on our first weekend. We first had to drop our stuff off at their house in Epsom. Walking into their home we both thought it must be very convenient for them to have a sports centre behind their house, then we realised the pool, spa and tennis court were part of their property.
At this point we realised, as if out of some Hollywood film, that we had met the wrong Dorrington's and they had met the wrong
Tom & Gem. As long as we kept up the charade for another week we would be home and dry. So while Gemma went looking for diary's and photo albums, to help build up a picture of the family we had accidentally stumbled across. Tom checked out where the Jewellery was, just in case he didn't land a job soonish (to help fund Gemma's blood alcohol levels).
Well maybe not, but Shelly, David, Harriet and Rex did welcome us into their family and we were, and are, eternally grateful for everything they have done for us...and Tom's very sorry about scratching your car Dory!!
Our weekend at the Mount was very pleasant. The weather was unusually hot for July and waking up in a beach house overlooking the South Pacific would have been a treat even without our fab hosts. Gemma further endeared herself to Dory with a nifty bit of reversing in Shelly's car, although it should be noted that there were no scratches, just three pale teenagers in the back.
We checked out a few bars around the Mount and Tom was happy to get his first draught Stella in over 3 months, but less
pleased that it cost twice as much as every other pint. Reassuring expensive my arse.. piss take more like. The Mount has got a beautiful long beach, a number of nice bars and restaurants. It is easy to see why it is a popular destination over the Xmas break.
The first few days after the Mount were spent looking for a flat, purchasing work clothes and in Tom’s case looking for work. This didn’t take too long and exactly 7 days after landing at Auckland airport, Tom was suited and booted, waiting for the bus on his first day at work. Neither of us particularly enjoyed our new jobs, although we both met some sound people through work. It did seem funny though that both of us worked with more Brits in NZ than in the UK!
Our first impression of Auckland & NZ was that it seemed very similar to the UK, even down to the Stagecoach buses having destinations such as Herne Bay and Forest Hill. The only difference was that people seemed a lot friendlier. In fact it was a little scary how friendly and accommodating people where. That is, until Tom got abused at
a bus stop by a drunk after his first day at work. Tom's faith in mankind was restored in the knowledge that even the kiwi’s have a minority of knobs in their midst, all be it a smaller proportion than in the UK.
We moved into an apartment in the Metropolis, slap bang in the centre of Auckland city. The Dorrington’s probably relieved to see the back of us….for now. The Metropolis included apartments and a swanky hotel. That meant we had access to their extensive gym, lap pool, spas and saunas. It also meant we had ample opportunity to lower the tone in front of the guest staying there. Quite a few holiday makers and airhostesses were confronted in the lift by Tom and Gem dripping wet in their swimming costumes. Hopefully seeing Tom’s hairy gut didn’t put them off returning!!!
Our place was compact and a little short of natural sunlight. However it was slap bang in the middle of town, which made it ideal for transport (only a few Aucklanders can say that) and was surrounded by pubs and clubs. On occasion maybe a little to close to the nightlife, as the bass from the
Fu Bar kept Gemma up a couple of times (Tom being too deaf to hear it). If you lent out of our window (not advisable on the 14th floor) you could see the Sky Tower a couple of blocks away (probably the most distinctive building on the Auckland skyline).
We tried to spend every other weekend exploring different parts of the North Island but there was also a lot to do in Auckland itself. We found a great little bar in Ponsonbury, run by a Brazilian that served really good caparinihas, bringing back happy memories of Ilha Grande. Tom frequented the bars in Takapuna a few times as this was where he worked, similarly Gemma in Point Chev. Parnell had some nice restaurants. We also walked up Rangitoto, an old volcano opposite Auckland harbour (tramping / rambling is Gemma’s new favourite pass time, much to Tom’s dismay).
We quickly realised that living by ourselves, away from backpackers, would make it a lot harder for us to meet people. Although we both made some friends at work, we needed to meet more people and increase our circle of friends. It didn’t help that most Kiwi’s in there twenties appeared
to be living in Oz or London. It was obvious from going out on the town that a whole generation of kiwi’s were missing.
We checked out gumtree (aka www.got-no-mates.com) and found a few Brits that were in the same boat. We generally met up with them in Irish pubs and discussed the pros and cons of living on the wrong side of the planet. The favourite subject was kebab shops and how we could make a mint if we opened up a proper shop with shish & kofte kebabs, one type of sauce (hot chilli sauce….as apposed to a choice of 6 or 7) and fruit machines that never paid out.
Other high brow topics of conversation included; why is drinking on the street or on a bus socially unacceptable but drink driving is ok? why are kiwi's so nice in person but turn so inconsiderate when behind the wheel of a car, yaughting (as we did live in the ‘city of sails’), how the kiwi consumer gets screwed by a lack of competition and why it’s not surprising that kiwi’s are adrenaline junkies (i.e. like jumping out of planes, off bridges, jet boating etc) when the
only drugs they can get hold of are a derivative of cough medicine.
We managed to get tickets to see the All Blacks vs. Australia in the Bedisloe Cup (or the 7th & 8th place world cup play off as it’s now known) at Eden Park. For some reason we thought it would be a good idea to start drinking at 2pm, 5 ½ hours before the game started. By the start off the Haka we were suitably tanked up, which was probably a good thing as we were in the uncovered terraces and it rained throughout. Luckily we managed to take some photo’s, which helped jog our memories afterwards.
One of the first places we visited was Rotorua. The town is renowned for the sulphurous smell the hot springs produce and the variety of activities to do there. We stayed with another of Gemma’s distant relatives, Shelly’s younger sister Jo and her family. They too lived in a beautiful house and were fantastic hosts.
Tom went Zorbing (being rolled down a hill in a giant bouncy ball filled with water) and really enjoyed it, apart from the fact the hill was a mile too short. We
went luging and visited a kiwi house with the Dorrington's. The highlight of the kiwi house was Shelly convincing the attendant that we were children and so should be included on the family ticket. Unfortunately the same strategy didn't work at Te Puia (Maori cultural centre and geezers) and we had to pay full rate. At Te Puia, Tom got henpecked into doing the Haka on stage. Tom's laughable attempt was an insult to Maori heritage, that being said Dory was just as bad, but had the good sense to stand at the back where Gemma couldn't film him. (Point to note: If the film ever gets out Gemma will never get the ring she wants!!). We also visited the Polynesian Spa that had beautiful views of Lake Rotorua and had a lovely family meal at Jo's.
Our new found friend from the north (Yorkshire originally but now Snell's Beach), Rob, lived in his boss's stately home with his wellies, tractor and Land Rover (Tom and Gem are definitely socialising in more esteemed company since leaving the UK). We visited him a couple of times, partly so we could drive the tractor and go out on his yacht (posh
rubber dingy with an outboard motor), but also to stop him going stir crazy. The Land Rover came in handy on our Beach Safari. The North Island has got some of the most beautiful long golden beaches, all of them empty. If beaches were that nice in the UK and it was 19 degrees, you wouldn't be able to see the sand for all the lobster Brits, kiss me quick hats and cornettos.
The Bay of Island's was next on our places to go. We weren't that impressed but we did go in winter when it was quiet and the weather was only 18 degrees. Part of our disappointment was down to not seeing any Dolphins on our 'hole in the rock and dolphin tour', the other part was actually seeing the hole in the rock. The hole in the rock is precisely that, a large hole in a bit of rock a mile or so into Pacific (outside the bay). On a nice day the boat can just about fit through the hole (wow). On a bad day, like ours, it can't and you spend 2 hours getting sea sick in the Pacific swell for the pleasure of
seeing the most pointless tourist attraction ever. If you're ever in Pahia and the lady at the accommodation says 'Oh you must see the hole in the rock', slap her, as she's the nearest thing to a criminal in New Zealand.
The Bay of Island is steeped in New Zealand & Maori history, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed here (the settlement between the Maori and British Settlers). It was also home to New Zealand's first capital, Russell, which was known as 'the hellhole of the pacific'. Nowadays it's more like a setting for a Miss Marple book, a small village with teahouses and bookshops. The pubs, seamen and whorehouses are unfortunately long gone. The Bay is beautiful with crystal blue water and golden beaches, but after our Beach Safari with Rob, we'd kind of seen it before and it wasn't hot enough to make the most of it.
Our other big weekend away in the North Island was a trip down to Taupo and Waitomo. We drove down with another gumtree rent-a-mate called Gillian. Gemma and Gillian were both keen to get strapped to toned muscly fireman type bloke, oh and jump out of a plane. They
Gem and Gillian
After the jump
had to wait around for 3 hours for the right weather conditions but eventually got up in the air. Gemma loved the jump, although it was over quick. She was less impressed with her pictures and DVD which made her look like dog leaning out of a car window with it's cheeks and neck flapping in the wind.
At Waitomo we did some quad biking and black water rafting in the caves. The quad biking was awesome and Gemma surprised the farmer with her competitiveness (i.e. trying to kill Tom by ramming him off the side of a cliff in pursuit of victory). She was a little aggrieved that Tom had sprayed her with mud and sheep shit by wheel spinning his quad bike in front of her. The doziest creature we met that day though was a lamb that mistook Tom's red quad bike for its mother. Luckily for the lamb the farmer saved it before Tom could 'accidentally' hit it and claim the road kill for lunch.
The weekend was made even better after watching the Aussies cry after getting beat by the English in the Qtr final of the Rugby World Cup. Seeing the mighty
All Blacks lose to the French also meant that the Monday back at work would be just as enjoyable as our weekend away.
On the occasional weekend, Shelly and Dory would ask us to house sit to make sure the kids and dog were ok. Unsurprisingly we never refused the offer to stay and saw it as a treat. On one such weekend, Gemma went away for a girlie weekend around Jessie’s while Tom made the most of his freedom and planned a weekend with the Sky remote, winner!!! (or sad bastard depending on your gender). While Gemma visited some wineries and had cocktails with her new friends, Tom watched 6 hours of Premiership football, 4 hours of La Liga, 8 hours of world cup rugby and built up a lifelong bond with the family dog, Issie. Tom nodded off watching the Premiership at about 4am and was woken an hour later after having some strange dreams about swimming and getting wet. Issie had licked his whole face and was just completing Tom's grooming, salivating over the last dry piece of Tom's ear.
We did manage one weekend out of New Zealand, flying over for a long weekend
Tom's barry bombhead look!
in Brisbane to visit Biggsy and Helga. Despite having to travel a few thousand miles less, Biggs was true to form, with the messer arriving 2 hours late. We jumped into their campervan and headed down to the Gold Coast and Byron Bay. The girls were the most constructive over the weekend, trying and failing to surf. Apparently it was the board and the waves that were all wrong. Meanwhile the lost boys (aka Tom and Biggsy) proceeded to get wasted for 5 days, Tom beating Biggs's efforts by getting asked to leave or refused entry to most establishments for being 'too intoxicated'. Something Gemma has taken every opportunity to remind Tom about. It's just a shame Gemma doesn't remember Tom having to carry her half asleep incoherent wasted carcass through Brisbane airport on the trip home.
After three months in Auckland, parole was granted and we were free from our jobs. We had enjoyed our time in the city, met some sound people and even managed to save some money. However, we were both glad to be back on the road and be full time dossers again. Next stop Wellington and then the South Island.
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