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Published: January 12th 2015
Episode 1 (12.01.15)
“Wipe your face, you have bits of pie in your whiskers,” said Ross, staring at my unshaken face. We were sitting having lunch in a café in downtown Auckland, at the beginning of a three-week trip focusing this time on the North Island of New Zealand. Ross ordered the beef, bacon and cheese pie, and found it riddled with bits of corn. I ordered a pepper steak pie and mine was riddled with peas. Odd, but tasty!
We arrived to sunny skies last Thursday (January 8) and have so far explored Auckland, Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf, and the beautiful Bay of Islands, north of Auckland. We really enjoyed Auckland, walking around the waterfront area and going up the tall Sky Tower for dizzy 360 degree views. It has one of those glass floors that you can walk on, a little unnerving seeing all the ants - I mean people and cars - waayyyy below. Auckland reminds me very much of Sydney: hilly, a harbour location and a needle-like viewing tower (oh, yes, and pricey). The city is built on a cluster of dormant or extinct volcanoes, the evidence of which is all around –
such as Mt Eden, a perfect cone and with great views over Auckland. About one third of all New Zealanders live in Auckland, which also hosts the world’s largest urban Polynesian population. One night, we took ourselves along to Karangahape Road – which has a small cluster of gay bars. It was decidedly sleepy and quiet, despite the fact that it was 11pm on a Friday night in New Zealand’s biggest city. However, we did catch sight of local drag diva, Tess Tickle.
We also did a one day ferry trip over to Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf. This was excellent. Our ticket included an informative bus trip with an amusing, laconic bus driver. (Lisa, I think your sister lives here? Lucky her). We loved Waiheke, especially the lovely bays and beaches. Apparently 20 years ago they couldn’t give land away on the island, but the seaside boom has hit here too and now properties are very expensive. At one stage, we alighted the bus and walked along to Little Oneroa Beach. It was here that I caught sight of a pretty New Zealand kingfisher with what looked like a fish in its bill. Closer inspection revealed the
kingfisher’s prize to be a small mouse! It started bashing the mouse against the branch, then dropped it, only to skillfully swoop down and retrieve the free falling rodent in mid air. The kingfisher alighted on another branch and resumed bashing the living daylights out of the mouse - and then swallowed it! At another beautiful pristine beach, a North American (probably American) woman was overheard saying, without irony:
“Oh, this bay is so beautiful. Someone should build a resort on the beach, with a big pool by the sea.”
From Auckland we picked up a hire car and drove about 3 hours North to the Bay of Islands (cursing at the alternating 100 and 50 km/hour speed limits as the “motorway” passed through every town and hamlet). Anyway, the Bay of Islands was magnificent. I had been here some 30 years ago, as a young backpacker. At that time, Kevin, Bryan and I hitchhiked up to the Bay of Islands, sleeping first on the beach and then under a slippery-dip thingy in a local park! We certainly could not afford trips out to the islands at that time. However, Ross and I gave the
park a miss and booked into a hotel, then went on a boat trip out to Roberton and Urupukapuka Islands, where we were to be dropped off for some walking. Roberton was great –the summit views across the small island were fabulous. Think aquamarine water, golden sand, hills clad with native forest and Tui birds singing. Tui are shiny black birds with white feather tufts under their beaks. They have a unique song, somewhere between a warble and a mechanical sound, perhaps best described as R2-D2 having an orgasm. Also, the lovely Pohutukawa (NZ Christmas trees) are still in flower, sprinkling the hills with flashes of blood red flowers.
After Roberton, we were delivered by fast boat to Urupukapuka Island – quite a large and hilly island, criss-crossed by numerous walking tracks, ranging from 30 minutes to 3 - 4 hours walking. Citing his sore knee, Ross was first dropped at the small wharf at Otehei Bay – a lovely area with a café and attractive golden beach. He was going to read his book and do a few short less taxing walks around the area. Along with a reserved Finnish guy, I was then dropped off on the
other side of the island. I planned to walk about 1- 1.5 hours around to where Ross was first dropped, in time for the 12.30pm ferry back to Paihia, the main settlement from which we started the trip. The captain of the boat – a young guy called Callum - handed me a map and said, smiling:
“Just follow this map for your walk, the tracks are all well marked. Sweet as.”
He then helped the Fin and I to shore and promptly zoomed off across the waves into the distance.
I should have heaps of time for walking, as it was only 9.30am. The Fin promptly sat on the beach, carefully unfurled his towel and, like Hercule Poirot arranging his desk, methodically laid out his things around him, evidently planning to stay and swim. I immediately proceeded on the walk, keen to take in the famous views, then get back to Otehei bay and relax with Ross.
Well, there was only one (un-labeled) track leading off the beach, so I took it. The track climbed up sharply, and afforded fantastic views over the island and beyond. The sun was shining and I had numerous Tuis for company. The track eventually wound up and over a ridge, then through thick forest. After some 45 minutes, I came to a fork in the track, with three options on a signpost. Sadly, not one of those options was shown on my map! I proceeded along what I thought was the most likely option – again encountering great views. The camera was loving it. I walked through open native grassland and then thick forest, over ridges, and down near the water, encountering breathtaking vistas at each turn. Soon I came upon another fork in the track and again the signage pointed to mythical places (bays, coves, hills) that were not shown on the map! Not sure what to do….. I walked along one track rather aimlessly for some time, enjoying all the views but starting to get concerned I’d be lost on the large island and miss Ross and the ferry. Ross would be worried if I did not show up, or maybe he would just get on the ferry back to Paihia at 12.30 and after four ciders at the Paihia pub, suddenly shout: “Oh, shit, I forgot something”!
Around 11:30am I came upon a sign for a bay, which was a 10 minute steep walk down a hill. I followed it down to the water’s edge, hoping that a boat might perhaps be anchored there. There was no boat, but I did spot - resting under a tree - two young humans, who proved to be Matt and Alicia from West Virginia, USA. They were as delighted to see me as I was to see them, as they had apparently failed to bring a watch and needed to know the time.
"Well”, I said, “I’ll give you the time if you can return the favour and tell me where the fuck I am.”
They vaguely knew, and together the three of us muddled our way back to the café at Otehei Bay. I was relieved to find Ross perched on a chair under an umbrella at the cafe, sipping a coffee and reading his book. A few other people were milling about. Ross casually looked up and said:
“Oh, hi. I was just about to go to the ferry, was starting to wonder about you. Did you have a good walk?”
I said, puffing a little: “Well, yes, it was excellent, but I just got back in time. I got so lost, the map was shit because - “
“Actually, I’m nearly finished reading this chapter, “ Ross said, “Let me finish it. You probably mis-read the map as usual.”
Returning to Paihia on the ferry, I was sitting in the sun up top, staring down at the deck. My eyes flitted aimlessly at people’s feet. Then I saw what seemed to be a pair of hobbit feet (appropriate for New Zealand). I was struck by how long the feet were. Very long feet, and with lots of hair. Then my gaze floated up the body, to see that the feet belonged to a young guy of about 14. What long feet for a 14 year old, I thought. Then another pair of long and hairy feet came into view. Clearly his brother. But what was most arresting was the next pair of feet I saw – even longer still, and equally hairy. The two boys were clearly being accompanied by - their mother.
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