"Have you seen a dolphin?"Kauaeranga Valley - Waiheke Island - Mokoroa Falls / Goldie Bush Walkway - Russell - Whangamumu Scenic Reserve - Cape Reinga - Waipapakauri Beach - Ahipara - Opononi - Tane Mahuta - Matakohe - Mount Auckland
Dolphin watching can be a serious and tiring sport in New Zealand. Here, Eminem, Jay-Z and 50-Cent took along their folding picnic chairs, their hoodies and oodles of attitude but failed to see a thing. Bitch ass dolphin feckers. Next time they might take their Dads binoculars or even a little boat.
Bloomin’ eck it’s been a long four months! But finally, having sat at a desk from September to February seeing how far through a pad of Post-its I could stab a map pin, we’re back on the road, stacking up the kilometres and crawling into a tent at the end of a day’s sight seeing.
There are however a few differences. First of all we’ve gone all posh and upgraded our car from the ’93 Toyota Camry we spilt tears over in Australia to a big sexy ’94 Toyota Scepter (a Japanese import Camry). And rather than just buying the first four wheels that could manage 100 metres without burning out, we took our time, did some pondering and a lot of head scratching. In fact we, or rather the designated driver/chauffeur, test-drove no fewer than seven cars before we found “the chosen one”.
Don’t get me wrong: buying a car in Auckland is easy. This is because nearly every car in
Sign Posts for Morons
Just in case you hadn't noticed - this bit is officially scenic.
Auckland is for sale. If it doesn’t have a “For Sale” sign in the back window then it must be a hire car, a taxi or else the owner has a second car that is for sale instead.
The difficult part is finding one that won’t have you sat in garage waiting rooms reading NZ Power Car Magazine’s review of the latest Top Gear DVD’s and getting on first name terms with the local AA mechanics.
Established backpacker sources include weekend car markets such as Ellerslie which is commonly known in Auckland automotive trade circles as the kind of place where you get rid of your worries. It’s a place where tax dodging “businessmen” sell cars like carpets in Istanbul. The number of gentlemen we met selling vehicles on behalf of their “cousin” - who was invariably a 92 year old female who never drove the car but kept it on her mantelpiece and buffed it’s headlights daily - was quite astonishing.
Another source of research was the heavily burdened pin-boards of hostels and internet cafés. The problem was that most of the vehicle “for sale” signs (of which there were many), were out of date -
90 Miles of Beach...
...at Ninety-mile Beach
the advertiser having returned to Germany three months ago - or the advert was the work of a devious local car dealer who would kindly tell us that the car we called about sold just a few minutes ago, but that he does have a mate selling something similar - only it’s not a station wagon (estate), it’s a two seater sports coupe with no engine and a boot the size of a Big Mac.
We found Mr Swanky Pants, as he has been officially dubbed (due to the fact we’ve never before owned a car with electric windows and mirrors or that beeps at you when you reverse - annoying but still cool in my eyes), on New Zealand’s internet market, TradeMe.
The owner was a crazy German lady selling the car on behalf of an absent husband. The fact that she seemed to be selling everything he owned at pretty bargainous prices made us more than a little concerned about the legality of her flogging some poor guys possessions - but I called the Transport authorities and they didn’t seem to give a toss. Apparently we didn’t need his permission to take legal ownership of his
The spread of green-ness here is ludicrous and out of control. You think you've seen all the green you're going too and then a new green comes along!
The deal was sealed over lunch at a garden centre.
The other major change to our set-up is that our tent has gone from a two-person, water-proof cosy home that I couldn’t even sit up in, to a giant six person, two room palace in preparation for the imminent arrival of Vik’s parents at the beginning of February.
However, before they arrived we had to get ourselves back in the travelling spirit and give the new tent a test run. It all began at New Year… The Pinnacle of our New Year
Our first real journey beyond the boundaries of Auckland City was at New Year.
We decided to use the public holiday as an opportunity to go on an excursion, stretch Mr Swanky Pants legs and see how it felt to get into a tent after four months of muffin cultivation in an air-conditioned office environment.
We headed to the Coromandel Peninsula on the basis of a quick internet search for two day walks within a few hours drive of Auckland. The Kauaeranga Valley seemed to offer what we needed - great scenery and a bit of a physical challenge. However,
The Bay of Islands Coastline
Taken from the lookout above Russell.
it became apparent after the first half hour that I had seriously underestimated the extent to which a lack of any physical exercise and a diet that involved testing the chip shops and bakeries of Auckland to within an inch of our last belt notches, had taken its toll on our trekking abilities.
Needless to say, carrying a tent, sleeping bags and all the usual paraphernalia that accompanies any good camping trip (plus the odd cake), had us gasping for breath and crying for home as groups of children, old age pensioners and Biggest Loser contestants cruised past us on the slightest gradient.
We camped near the rocky Pinnacles outcrop that forms the peak at the end of the valley, opting to take a tent with us rather than making use of the Department of Conservation hut which had a reputation (according to many of the blogs we’d read) for harbouring large groups of drunken Germans and screaming children. It turned out to be fairly accurate advice.
We shared the small campground that sat five minutes walk downhill from the hut in a sheltered valley of trees and streams, with one other lady who spent the night
in a tiny bivvy bag smaller than our rucksacks. It was incredibly tranquil and with the tent pitched and the cicadas in full voice it felt like we were back where we belonged. Meanwhile, somewhere up above us, in the DOC hut, children screamed and farted and did whatever children do while people fought for mattress space with the sweaty, smelly stranger next to them on the plastic coated mattresses. A Day Trip to Waiheke
Waiheke is an island, only 35 minutes by ferry from the centre of Auckland. It is well known for its wine, beaches and a micro climate that keeps it a little warmer and a little sunnier than Auckland city.
We decided to keep it cheap and just do a few hours of walking along the coastline from the ferry terminal at Maitata to the main village on the island, Oneroa via the southern coast of the island.
Unfortunately, we completely misjudged how far the coastal route was and how hot the sun would be resulting in a totally inadequate water carried to kilometres walked ratio.
By the time we were nearing Oneroa and the possible salvation of shops, cafes, restaurants
or even a garden tap, I think we’d both drifted into the dehydrated world of sunstroke induced hallucinations.
Giant glasses of Coca-cola with ice and lemon, dripping with the cold condensation of a cool fridge, drifted before our eyes and by the time we did find someone who could direct us to the nearest liquid refreshment our desert dry swollen tongues hung limply like slabs of meat from our frazzled lips.
The funny bearded guy at the BP petrol station gave us strange looks as we panted in front of him, willing him to scan the bottles of juice and water as fast as he could then bursting them open before he had time to count out the change. Mokoroa Falls / Goldie Bush Walkway
This five hour walk was all about the journey rather than the destination.
Having been bored stupid by the number of waterfalls we saw in Asia that were highlighted as a major attraction but turned out to be no more than a pretty trickling stream, we both find it difficult to get excited by anything that includes the word “Falls” in it’s name. However, recently, thanks to the excellent Wallaman
Wooden Dam, Kauaeranga Valley
These were used to float the Kauri tree logs down from the forests in days of yore. Unfortunately some bloke called Racehorse Billy (a disgruntled ex-employee of the dam company who never forgave his parents for a ridiculous name) burned most of them down. This one survived.
Falls in Queensland, our love of falling water had been partially re-ignited.
Unfortunately, the Mokoroa Falls fell straight into the Asia category as far as “wow” factor is concerned - it’s pretty but it wasn’t a gasp out loud, fumble for the camera type of affair. It was more of an “uh, that’s nice” sort of a thing.
However, we loved this walk. Not only were we virtually the only people on the track (we saw only two others the whole day), but, given the overgrown nature of what constituted a path and the number of times Vik asked “are you sure it’s this way?”, it felt as though we might have been the first people to ever do that track.
In many places the river is the track; resulting in more than a little wading and getting your shoes on and off so much that most of the five hours it takes to actually do the walk seems to have been taken up tying and untying boot laces…
…on the subject of which - I want to clear up a little argument between me a Vik.
Vik reckons I don’t know how to do my
A Pinnacle, Kauaeranga Valley
View to the coast of the Corromandel Peninsula and beyond.
shoelaces up properly. I was taught the well known “rabbit and tree” method. The first bow is the tree round which the rabbit (the second bow) runs before diving into his burrow and out the other side. Somebody please tell me that they learned using this well know and academically accepted method of learning and that the result is well tied laces that you find difficult to undo? Up Norf
With working life a distant memory, we packed the car and headed North. Time was limited as we were due to meet Vik’s parents in four days time, but we wanted to make it to the top of the country - Cape Reinga.
Our first stop was the Bay of Islands area, and more precisely, the township of Russell. Having been told by Vik that the town was known as the Hole of the Pacific and was rife with prostitution, gambling and every other vice known to Hugh Grant, my expectations were high. Unfortunately, Vik forgot to mention that this reputation was formed in the late 1800’s and since then it had calmed considerably, to the point where alcohol was banned in most places. In fact, it
Pinnacles, Kauaeranga Valley
The last bit of the walk is more of a scramble with sections going up ladders attached to some pretty steep rockfaces. Not for those suffering from vertigo.
is now a very pleasant town - with a nice waterfront and a very quaint Bus Tour village feel to it.
The Bay of Islands itself was altogether less than impressive. I’m not sure what I expected from a “Bay of Islands”, but oddly it wasn’t a bay filled with islands, which is obviously exactly what I got. Perhaps it was the dull weather - and if I’m honest we didn’t even go half way to doing the place justice (by which I mean we didn’t get in a boat; which is what any bay of islands would merit) - but I was left altogether under whelmed.
The campsite was great. We don’t slum it when we’re touring - rarely do we stray from the safety of “Top 10” sites, which are usually a safe bet for clean facilities blocks, decent pitches and more luxuries than you can poke a stick at (think pools, barbeques, spa’s and, our personal favourite, bouncing pillows).
But the problem with Top 10 sites is that they do attract a higher class of weirdo (yours truly included). Take, for example, the couple who pitched their tent in the centre of the site
at 10pm then disappeared off to the kitchen, leaving an alarm clock ringing. After a half hour of muttered obscenities drifting from tent to tent and camper van to camper van, I guessed where the culprits were and set out to find them.
When I said to the lady responsible “excuse me, do you own the blue tent in the middle of the field, only there’s an alarm ringing that is keeping most of the camp ground awake”, her response was to stop and listen to the air for a moment before saying - “yes, but it’s not loud is it?” Sure enough, from the kitchen which was maybe 400 metres up a hill, the sound of the alarm clock was just a gentle tinkle… but did she not realise that sounds get louder as you get closer to their source? Had she ever heard the alarm before?
“It’s loud enough that nobody on the campsite can sleep and that we can still hear it from up here”, I replied. She tutted and marched off toward the sound. I secretly hoped she’d slip in the dark and seriously stub her toe… or something equally painful.
Oh God I’ve
written loads again and I’ve not even got to the bit about our enormous tent.
Oh well, there’s always next time…
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