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Published: March 29th 2011
I stayed an extra day in Auckland because one of the things I wanted to do in NZ was see a rugby game and there was one Saturday night. I toured around the city a bit, checking out the view from Mt Eden (the highest of the volcanoes in the city), went to the top of the sky tower for a terrific view, and watched some cricket on the lawn, before walking with a German girl staying at the hostel to the rugby game. I was expecting tailgating, expensive tickets, and big crowds like an American football game. No tailgating (bummer) and the stadium wasn’t full, but good seats were reasonably priced, the beer was cold, and even though I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, it was great fun! The home team won (Go Blues!) which of course made it more exciting.
The next day I headed north to the very quaint little town of Russell which was the closest town to the start of a track I wanted to do and supposedly had a DOC office where I could get info and tickets for the hut. I found out that the DOC office had closed in December
so just reserved the hut on line, explored the little village and spent the evening talking with the hostel owner and the other guests, who much to everyone’s surprise where all Americans. Two ladies from Florida (first Floridians I had met in NZ) and 2 guys from DC. To find one other American in a hostel here is not too unusual, but to have the whole place “infested” as the owner said had never happened.
NOTE: I emailed the story below to a few folks….skip to the bottom if you don’t want to read it again.
I downloaded my email to get my confirmation of the hut reservation onto my Iphone the next morning and then took off for the trailhead having read somewhere that the instructions for getting into the hut would be in the email. I was excited about doing the Cape Brett track. Hiking along a peninsula which ended at a lighthouse. The hut was the old lighthouse keepers house. How cool! I got to the trailhead, parked, and loaded up my pack in the car since it was raining a bit….then took off for an advertised 8 hr hike to the hut. It was
a nice walk, but the views were a bit obscured by the rain/fog. When I got to the lighthouse after 5 hours of solid hiking, the wind was roaring and I was looking forward to a nice cup of hot chocolate. When I got to the hut, I pulled out my trusty iphone to get the code for the front door. That’s when I actually read the email saying that in order to get the code you were supposed to CALL the DOC office and ask for it. Damn. So now, with the wind blowing rain, no shelter, no tent and no other people around, I had to decide whether to stay and see if anyone showed up, or start walking back to the car. Since I left after 11 and no other cars where in the lot, I decided that maybe no one else was coming and I turned around from the spectacular view and started walking back. Fortunately, I had 2 flashlights with me since I ran out of daylight about 3 hours later. I walked the last 3 hours back to the car by the light of my headlamp. It took me a bit longer on the
way back for obvious reasons, but a little before midnight I made it back to the car. Yea!!!! OOOPS!!! Where is my car key? I put it in my pocket before I left. It must have fallen out. I looked through all of my pockets (multiple times and emptied my pack). No Key…..this really SUX! I’m in a very small collection of houses at midnight. Too late to go knocking on doors…..no worries, I have a sleeping bag, so I rolled it next to the car and tried to sleep. Oh good! Now it starts to rain! I did get some sleep and actually stayed pretty warm in my little wet cocoon.
The next day I woke up and heard a car going by. I got up and it was a school bus. I waved him down and asked if he knew where a payphone was. He said there weren’t any but he gave me a ride to a house a couple hundred yards down the road who he said where nice and could help. I walked in looking pretty sad (and wet) and asked if I could use the phone. The wife helped me call the rental car company
and then made me a cup of coffee while we waited for her husband to get back. We all drove to my car and tried to get the door open with a coat hangar (it worked with my 79 Corolla!). No luck so they went back to call for help. A cousin of theirs showed up a few minutes later and spent 30 minutes trying to open the door with an assortment of bent coat hangars. He succeeded in opening the passenger door while screwing up the driver’s side but I was in! When I had talked to the rental car company, they had told me that there was a spare key under the seat. There it was! Life is good! OOOOPS! it’s the wrong key! It doesn’t work!
So, now I settle down to wait for the repair guy (but at least now, I’m in the car). When he shows up he can’t fix the door and confirms that the key doesn’t work. He heads off to borrow some more tools. He comes back with an older couple who wanted to check on me to make sure I was OK. He had told them my tale and they let
him borrow a screwdriver and rode back with him to offer me a shower (I must have looked pretty pathetic). After chatting awhile, they walked home, and Joe takes apart the steering column and gives me a screwdriver to “start” the car. At least now I can move! I drive to the next town, call the rental car company and tell them that the key is no good. While they are thinking about what to do, I took the car to the mechanic to fix the door (he does, yea! No climbing over the passenger seat anymore). The rental car company says to go to the next town to get a new key made. The other town is also where the mechanic’s wife lives so I give her a ride home and she shows me where the lock guy is, shows me around her town and buys me a cup of coffee. He makes a new key and now my 24 hours of hell are over!!!!
So what did I learn?
1) ALWAYS SECURE YOUR CAR KEY
2) ALWAYS READ YOUR EMAIL INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE YOU LEAVE
3) My sleeping bag keeps me warm even when wet!
4) Kiwis are nice
folks and will go out of their way to help.
After that adventure, I was ready for a bit of relaxation and I wanted to see the lighthouse again (but without walking 11 hours), so I took a boat trip. I was a little bummed about the boat trip when hordes of people from tour busses loaded on, but enjoyed the trip, seeing the lighthouse and coastline. The highlight though was watching the dolphins leaping through the boat’s wake. Better than Sea World!
I continued up the coast and arrived at the best hostel I have stayed in either Europe or NZ. Spotlessly clean old farmhouse run by a Kiwi/Italian couple. Free, fast wifi. Great walks in the area and on the farm. Loved it!
Unfortunately the weather turned after that and I didn’t drive up to the very top of NZ. I made my last stop before returning to the Auckland area at Hokianga Harbour which is close to the largest of the surviving kauri trees. I took a tour through the forest at night with a Maori guide who explained how the forest was used prior to European occupation. He also sang traditional songs and
told some stories about the trees. The oldest tree was about 4000 years old. The trunk was huge, but the tree itself wasn’t really tall. It kind of looked like a really big stalk of broccoli. BTW, if you tell a kiwi that their special trees are kind of ugly and look like broccoli, they may not be pleased J
I spent my last couple of days in NZ with the ladies who I had met earlier while hiking the Kepler Track, Martine and Libby. I couldn’t have had better timing for my visit, as the day I got there was the big show! A fund-raising event that Martine worked on for the local community hall, the inaugural “Pukewhare Man of the Year!” Local men dressed up in various outfits and strolled down the catwalk with paper bags on their heads. Everyone voted for their favorites. First they showed off their chests and then their bums. Two of the guys walked down with only aprons on during that segment producing roars of laughter from the crowd of 200+ of their neighbors. There were five segments in all and the last was in drag. I haven’t laughed so hard in
The next day I drove with Martine to visit her daughter’s family. It was very nice to relax, play with her grand-daughters and their kittens. Family time, (even if it wasn’t my family).
Before my flight to AU, I took a morning walk through the rolling fields of the farms with Martine and Libby, and took a boat ride down the river to the riverside duck hunting bach (little house) for some lunch.
While traveling through NZ, I read through my guidebook and hit many of the top tourist destinations. It was a real pleasure to get off the tourist trail for a few days and experience smalltown NZ with such lovely people! Hope our paths cross again!
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