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January 9th 2010
Published: January 10th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

Everyone who has been to New Zealand and even those that have not speak highly and passionately about its beauty, its charm and its magical qualities . The country has a lot to live up to! I flew into Auckland which is a city like most others except it is set amongst a number of picturesque small bays and has an air of the UK in the 50s and 60s.. It hosted the America‘s cup some years ago and the legacy of marinas remains.. Its population is around a million . the whole of NZ is only 4.5 so very small.

I was excited and had a mounting anticipation of the tour to come. We met our tour guide and our fellow travellers for a welcoming drink that first evening and I linked up with a couple from Dublin and a Lady from Sydney.. You may recall that my experience of tours in Malaysia was mixed, with Anji and me being the only ones, and following that , I was alone with a driver and guide in Sarawak. Well I need not have worried, this time there were 46 of us OH MY GOD. My worst night mares had come to fruition! You can picture it a huge gigantic coach with hoards of people taking ages to get on and off , ques everywhere and people impatient to get what ever it was they were queuing for. What was worse there was a group that had already been together for a week doing the south island and were joining our group for the tour of the north. . They would leave in 4 days to be replaced with another new group of 30 people. Group dynamics - eat your heart out! Distraught is not the word!!!

When I had calmed down I found there was a great mix of people from a variety of backgrounds ages and countries, but the practicalities or rather the impracticalities remained.

Our first day was spent getting to and then cruising the bay of islands which is around 160 klms north of Auckland It was very beautiful and made up of over 100 islands of various sizes on a spectacular coast line of tiny bays and sandy shores. . We spotted a pod of large dolphins and a number of stingrays. We sailed through the famous hole in the rock, a narrow passage way which delighted us all. It was all very crowded as it was the Sunday after new year and the whole world and his dog was out and about as well as our huge coach!! I really must stop being such a snob and get on with it!!

The following day dawned grey cloudy and rainy. A bit like home from home though it was not cold. we were off to the very northern tip of NZ where the pacific and Tasman oceans meet at cape Regina. On the way we would sample 95 mile beech a bit like the beach on Fraser island in Ozland , though without the sun.. We learnt as we left at 7.oo am that the tide was turning and we had to rush to get onto this long stretch of land . We bounced about along the windy roads with the rain beating down , A feeling of dread passed over me , I was not a happy bunny. While we did get on to the sand the mighty ocean waves were rolling in and as we drove they more than lapped our wheels and some poured over the bus causing the engine alarm to add to the noise of the rising tide of southern shores . We all began to feel quite frightened. there was very little distance between the dunes, the coach, and the rising waves. We had to clear an outcrop of rocks to reach the safety of the other side to get off the beach ,but the ocean was rolling in fast. our driver radioed for advise as we had two options to try and get through the rising tide or turn around and head back. Each was fraught with danger . In the end our driver decided to head back along the beach we had about 20 mins before it would not be possible to continue. please picture this, a huge ordinary coach not 4 wheel drive with 30 people careering down a diminishing beach with a wall of sea rapidly moving in . We were afraid. Our driver radioed for help and was told to use the emergency forest /dune track off the beach. Easier said than done - soft sand high dune - heavy coach - not brill!!!!
But we made it and headed up to the tip of NZ with the mist blocking our view and the rain still falling. I was one of only three of us to brave the weather and walk the 20 mins to the lighthouse on the cape and I was rewarded with the mist giving way so at least a photo opportunity was possible. On our return at the end of the day 13 people complained about our driver and received a refund for the days outing . While I was truly frightened I didn’t make a formal complaint as I had travelled half way round the world to see the sights and I did make it But I was stressed and took myself off for an hour The next day was spent moving south to Rotoraua a volcanic area where hot springs and bubbling mud and steam spews into the air . It is a place where the Europeans used to come to take the healing waters rather like they did in bath. It is also a place where two tectonic plates meet and the pressure causes mayhem with regular , well in geographical terms, volcanic activity . We made a visit to the caves where Richard Attenborough in his series on the planet earth reported on the caves where the glow worms illuminated the underground rivers . what a spectacular place, with huge stalagmites and stalactites and cold air brushing past your face. We had some free time in the area and I took off walking around part of Rotorua lake , an old volcano now a huge deep lake with wonderful vistas with legends and myths of the local Maori tribes. What a brill place this was full of mystery and wonder that matched the history of the people.

It is difficult to reproduce all that we did bur we had a local feast or hangi and had a great evening of Maori dance song and food, though admittedly rather commercialised.. We watched a sheep shearing extravaganza and I visited a kiwi sanctuary where there is a programme to help save the country’s national bird which is endanger of extinction . It all sounds rather touristy and yea it was but I did enjoy what I did and am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the activities

Our 4th day was bright and warm as we travelled back to Auckland to say goodbye to some of our group and welcome some new ones. We visited the place, Waitangi, where the Declaration of Independence of NZ was signed in 1835. Between the British and 35 Maori chiefs. IT guaranteed the rights and properties of the aborigines but didn’t prevent a number of land wars with considerable deaths on both sides

. Auckland has a telecoms tower not as high as KL or Shanghai but nerveless the weather was clear so I decided to have a go and went up on my own - how good is that? The views were stunning and an added dimension were the people who were jumping from the top - quite mad!

The next day we made our way to Wellington the capital ,it was a long day we covered nearly 500kls through different landscapes volcanic and geothermal, stopping at water falls, high mountains topped with snow and finally Wellington way down south on the north island. New Zealand is a land of contrast both of weather and geography. economically it is sustained by dairy farming , tourism, ,the meat and wool industry and logging. It is a very proud nation and has managed well the integration of its indigenous peoples. On Saturday we welcome yet more people onto the tour and take the inter island ferry across the Cook Straits to the South Island where I hope we are in for a treat.

I remain in two minds about this tour - we shall see!!!

lots of love

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10th January 2010

Saga tours memories!!!!
Hi darling - well it couldn't all be paradise!!! Was beginning to wonder when you'd hit SAGA land!! Anyway - enjoy what you can, as you say you didn't go half way round the world not to see the sights!! South Island is where my cousin lives - not sure where but let me know how you enjoy as my sis is due to go out there next year to visit - I know John andMilja were knocked out by the scenery - missing you lots - can't wait for Easter ...love and hugs xxP

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