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Published: July 18th 2015
When I visit a new country I always take note of any unusual things I see as I cycle from one destination to another. New Zealand although quite similar to the UK in many ways always seems a little quirky to me. From the number of microwave ovens being used as letter boxes to the number of individuals I witnessed walking bare feet around the shops, it is an immensely beautiful country with landscapes to die for, where one person on a beach is considered crowded and the people genuinely open up their homes to any stranger on a bicycle.
This was my third visit to New Zealand and on this occasion I've really had the chance to explore the North Island. My previous visits were in 1995 to Wellington and Auckland with the Royal Navy and in 2007 when I campervanned around the South Island.
My Uncle was a 10 pound POM who came here soon after the Second World War and on reaching these shores he vowed that he would never leave God's Own Country ever again. He stuck to his word!
Getting to New Zealand in the first place however was fraught with disaster. On
Noushin and Dennis the Menace
checking in for our flights to Auckland with Jetstar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia we were told that my partner would require a transit visa for our 3 hour stay in Melbourne even though we'd be remaining airside for the entire duration and would not be going through Immigration or Customs. I enquired how we could obtain such a visa with two hours remaining before our flight and was told to contact the Australian embassy. On contacting the Australian authorities I was told that it would take 10 working days to obtain such a visa. Our flight was via Singapore and Melbourne to Auckland and time was running out. I was about to lose a lot of money. We had a 9 hour waiting interval in Singapore before the flight to Melbourne and so my partner and I opted to take the first flight to Singapore to see if we could get an emergency visa from the Australian High Commission. We had just been to Singapore two weeks prior and my Partner's double entry 30 day tourist visa seemed completely fine. We passed through immigration at Kuala Lumpur and boarded the flight. Perhaps there was still a chance of redeeming the
Arriving in Auckland
Heading out for a walk with my good friends Von and Sharon
situation in Singapore.
We landed at Singapore and I went through Passport Control. Noushin followed me and the Passport Official spent an unusually long time looking at her Iranian Passport. It was evident that something was wrong as he called over his Senior Officer. Despite being within the 30 days tourist visa allowance and having a double entry pass, the visa expiry date had passed. The Visa expiry date is in my opinion extremely ambiguous. I took it to mean that up until the 10 June, my partner could enter Singapore have 30 days and leave and re-enter twice. It's obviously confusing as the airline staff in Malaysia shouldn't have let us board the flight either. Not so according to the Singaporean authorities who classed my partner as "Not to Land (NTL) " and took her off for several interviews behind closed doors. A frightening experience by all accounts!
I wasn't allowed to stay with her and a kind member of Staff from Jetstar was handed the problem of getting us to Auckland. 9 hours later and with two further flights booked with another airline directly to Auckland from Singapore negating the requirement for an Australian transit visa,
Selfie with Noushin, Yvonne and Sharon
A big thank you for looking after us guys!
Noushin was escorted by a guard to the departures lounge where her passport was handed over to the Cabin Crew on our Singaporean Airlines flight.
Our arrival in New Zealand had a much happier feel to it. Not allowed to leave the aircraft until all other passengers had left the aircraft, we were met by a kind New Zealand Lady from the airport staff who had been informed of our situation (a genuine error) and welcomed my partner with the words "Hello Darling, welcome to New Zealand, don't worry about anything". We had declared the NTL situation on our landing card, but the New Zealand Immigration authorities did not bat an eyelid. We finally arrived on New Zealand turf and breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, the situation wasn't completely over at this stage as one of my bags containing all my cycle panniers was lost on the way and it wasn't for a further 5 days that it was finally reunited with me.
On our arrival in NZ we immediately felt the change in climate having flown there during the winter and having spent the past 10 months in the Far East. It was a refreshing change.
Admiring the beautiful countryside with Dennis
We were met at Auckland Airport by my good friends Yvonne and Sharon who whisked us away to their home in Birkenhead with stunning views over Auckland City. The next few days, whilst waiting for my luggage to be returned, as well as fixing my bicycle which had been damaged on transit, Yvonne and Sharon entertained us in their home and took us out to some spectacular sights in and around Auckland. For my partner Noushin it was a brand new experience, visiting a country which closely resembles the UK with green pastures and undulating land and eating real battered Fish and Chips. Going for walks with Yvonne and Sharon and their dog Dennis was truly memorable and for me "It was nice to feel close to home" after being away from the UK for such a long period of time as well as catching up with another former RN colleague of mine Louisa and her husband Johnny.
And so we finally set off on our ride around Northlands taking in Cape Reinga along the way. Our first overnight stop was in Kaukapakapa where we pitched our tent on a public field behind a school and as the
night drew colder we set off for the Kaukapakaka Hotel to warm up and catch up on e-mails. On enquiring about internet, the barmaid said that they were still installing that one, which made us chuckle. Instead we spent the night watching MTV on the Music Channel and Noushin and I and the Hotel manager ended up dancing away to some 80's classics, whilst the barmaid looked on completely baffled.
On arrival in Matakana, we met up with the lovely Gavin and Lisa and their kids who offered us up their guest room, which was very appealing in the relatively cold winter's night. Here we enjoyed seeing their herd of cows, driving their lawnmower tractor, trampolining as well as drinking champagne and eating oysters whilst sat outside chatting by the fire.
The following morning we set off through absolutely wonderful scenery, some of the wealthiest neighbourhoods of New Zealand, as we passed numerous glorious and empty beaches and finally arrived in Waipu, where we stayed with our warmshower host Kathryn and her lovely family who owned a local radio station.
On our arrival, Noushin soon made friends with the DJ and it wasn't long before she was
Heading out with Sharon in the Campervan
live on air proclaiming how amazing New Zealand and its people are. Following good conversation and delicious food we settled down for the night and the next day we were introduced to Priscilla, the beer swilling pig who had also been trained to "sit!" before receiving any food.
We continued our cycling journey never knowing where we would end up for the night and as we arrived in Ngunguru at dusk, we approached a Gentleman walking on the street and asked him if he knew a place where we could camp for the night. Just as we were doing this, a jogger by the name of Tess ran by who told us that we could pitch our tent in her garden.
We spent the night at Tess's property and here we learned that a lot of Kiwis are self sufficient growing their own vegetables, salad leaves and fruits. Here in Northland, where the climate is sub-tropical you really can see lemons and limes, grapefruits, macadamia nuts and mandarins growing everywhere. Apparently it is also a prime growing area for Cannabis!
The following morning we were treated to fresh coffee as we came out of our tents and
at the same time Tess gave us some fresh eggs from her chickens and carrots that she'd grown in the garden. We left Tess's house and rode around the corner to the bay where we made ourselves breakfast watching fish jumping out of the river and Oystercatchers scouring up and down the beach.
Following breakfast we continued our journey hugging the spectacular coastline, passing several beautiful and breathtaking beaches, all empty, before returning inland when Noushin's pannier rack suddenly gave way. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, apart from a farmer on his quad bike. So we approached him and asked him for help. He said that I could borrow his car to drive into town, which was nearly 30 km away. Amazingly trusting for somebody they had literally just met but I opted not to as I wasn't sure that I was covered on the insurance. He then told us to continue a further 1 KM along the country track and knock on Steve and Silvia's door and mention that he had sent us there.
And so we knocked on their door where we met the lovely Silvia from Switzerland who was a bespoke furniture
maker and her Kiwi husband Steve who was a french polisher and explained to them that the aluminium pannier rack had broken. We thought that they may offer to take us into town to a bicycle shop to purchase a new rack, but Steve disappeared for a while and then came back with a piece off a motorbike which he and his wife subsequently attached to the broken pannier rack and hey presto it was fixed. At this stage it was mid afternoon and so they invited us to stay in one of their baches (wooden cabins) which they had built on their land and stay the night. And so with the fire stoked up outside and a hearty meal inside us, Steve took us out on his quad bike looking for Possums.
Apparently there are 32 million Possums in New Zealand, originally brought over from Australia and are considered a real pest destroying native bush and harming other wild life. We saw many Possums that had been run over, but never saw any in the bush. Steve told me that you can recognise them at night as there eyes appear red when you shine torchlight at them.
The following day, having tried out two of Steve's Ziplines and having fed his Al Pacas we set off again and stayed one night at a beautiful campsite in Oukura before eventually reaching our next Warmshower hosts Lisette and Eion who lived in Russell. Here they kindly let us stay in their Bach and took us on a walk through some of their bushland where we saw waxeye birds, a weka, a fantail and other creepy crawlies, before they invited us into their home for dinner where Lisette fed us with freshly cooked fish which she had caught that morning with salad from her own garden. Again it was evident that New Zealanders really are at one with the great outdoors, loving nature, fishing and hunting and making best use of their gardens to grow all sorts of fruit and vegetables.
Leaving Russell, we caught the ferry to Pahia, before heading south to Opua and joining the Twin Coast Cycle track to Kaikohe. At one stage of the cycle track, you can embark your bicycle onto an old steam train which finally ends up running through the high street of Kawakawa, also more famously known for its quirky "Hundertwasser"
toilets. From there we continued to Kaikohe in torrential rain and were relieved to meet up with James, Fran and Richard who'd agreed to look after us for the night and we were extremely glad to be welcomed into their warm and cosy home. The next day, James took us to the Ngawha springs where for $4 we enjoyed the hot sulphur baths with their healing properties, before we continued on our ride to Keri Keri and met up with the lovely Angela and her Family who looked after us for the night and on the following day took us to see the Waipapa Falls.
From here the ride continued along the northern peninsular up to Cape Reinga, but not without first stopping off at the Te Peki Sand Dunes where we did a spot of sand boarding which was exceedingly good fun.
At Cape Reinga, we looked out and saw where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific, a truly stunning view and amazing experience. For Maoris this is also a very spiritual place as this is where the dead spirits leave for another World.
At Cape Reinga, we were lucky to meet 4 Kiwis in a
Ute (pick-up van) who gave us a lift back to Awanui (90KM back down the peninsular) thus avoiding having to cycle back down familiar territory and as we bade farewell and looked to pitch our tent in the pouring rain at a local Hotel, the owner told us "Not to be so daft!" and that we could have a Dorm bed inside the hotel at the same price as pitching our tent. The lady, formerly of Blackpool, England then added that we could also help ourselves to coffee and tea and toast in the kitchen, all free of charge. The kindness of these people never fails to amaze me.
The Hotel was also of significant historical interest, as it was on the ground of the most northern former New Zealand Airforce airfield during the Second World War built to defend the country against a potential invasion by the Japanese. The Hotel itself used to be the surgery on the camp and the memorabilia inside the Hotel pub was fascinating including a triangular pennant shaped airmail bag which would be dropped out of the airforce's aeroplanes to deliver the post to the wives and girlfriends of those airmen serving at
We continued along the western coastline to Ahipara, where we camped on the local rugby ground before heading inland to Kohukohu and camping in what turned out to be the coldest night of the journey so far. Waking up to a foggy morning, we caught the ferry across to Rawene and then followed the coastline around Hokianga harbour to Omapere where suffering from fatigue and a lack of sleep due to a cold night in a tent, we visited the local Gas station to top up with water and asked the owner if he knew of a good place to camp. His wife Taryn was visiting him at the time and she immediately said that we could camp on her land. We followed her instructions back to the house and were amazed at the most wonderful views her house afforded over Hokianga harbour, something that the two of us will never forget. We pitched our tent in her garden, but as the night wore on it got colder and colder and Taryn said that we should sleep in the house. And so the two of us had a most enjoyable evening talking to Taryn and her husband
Joe and her 4 wonderful children and finding out more about the Maori culture. We learned a lot and are so grateful that we could meet this kind and generous family.
The next day we cycled through Waipoua forest where we saw the largest Kauri tree in New Zealand called Tane Mahuta also known as Lord of the Forest. As the evening drew on we started looking for somewhere to camp when we saw a Gentleman called Wayne mowing his grass in his garden and asked whether we could possibly pitch our tent on his freshly mowed lawn. He warmly welcomed us in and introduced us to his partner Sharon who told us that we could sleep in their house instead. Wayne and Sharon led an "alternative lifestyle" and were both living on benefits. They were self sufficient growing their own meat, vegetables and even tobacco and whilst they led simplistic lives, their house was very cosy and welcoming and they looked after us admirably feeding us great food and even homemade ice cream. Real wonderful people and very generous form the heart.
As we left them the following morning, Sharon pushed a note into my hand and
told me that if we needed accommodation in Dargaville we should look up her brother Selwyn and his wife Carolyn who would look after us.
We arrived in Dargaville that afternoon and after a short break in the Blahblah cafe went to find Selwyn's house. We knocked on their door and asked them if it was Carolyn and Selwyn. They were quite surprised that we knew their names but after explaining the situation welcomed us into their home where they looked after us for the night. The following morning Selwyn took us and his 3 lively dogs out on to his farm to feed his 8 day old calves. This was a brand new experience for Noushin and I witnessing these young calves being fed milk and astonished to also see them sucking away at our fingers! Sadly we had to say our farewells after such a short but wonderful visit to Carolyn and Selwyn's place as we had to catch a bus from Dargaville to Whangerei and a further connection to Auckland where we returned to our friends house in Birkenhead to get some rest and prepare for the next leg of our journey to Wellington. The journey
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