New Zealand - "God's own country", "paradise of the pacific"

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Oceania » New Zealand
April 13th 2007
Published: April 13th 2007
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Bungy 2

A young HAKA !

Bungy 1

Fox Glacier

AUCKLAND (North Island) - Wed 14/03 to Fri 16/03

Well we arrived in Auckland at about 5am on 14th March, a little disoriented but our first impressions of this land were definitely positive. There were cheery Kiwis everywhere welcoming us and in English - what a bonus - no more grassyass for us, although it did take us a while to adjust. There was one friendly Kiwi even offering us free coffee.

Some of the things that struck me about New Zealand:

*It is very well set-up it is for the tourist, everywhere we looked in the airport there was stand after stand of all the information you could possibly need for your trip.

*Free internet and coffee on arrival in the airport - I'm not sure when the last time was that we got anything for free!!

*Waterproof money - it seemed to be made of plastic.

*They drive on the same side of the road as at home.

*It's extremely clean and well maintained.

*The country is so green and the scenery in the North Island reminded me so much of home.

*Everything is so expensive - shock to the system after coming from South America.

*How friendly, welcoming and chilled out the Kiwis seemed to be.

*The cities, towns and villages reminded me of England.

*The local delicacy is Fish and chups (chips that is with a Kiwi accent) served the English way - in newspaper.

*The size of the country - yes that might seem surprising to some people - but I thought it was probably 1 and 1/2 times the size of Ireland but it's so much bigger. I read that it can be compared in size with Japan, so considering the population of Japan is approximately 125 million, I think it's fair to say with a population of only 4 million it's not very inhabited!!

* You must take your shoes off when entering a house/hostel and people walk around the streets in bare feet.

* Driving around and needing to use the bathroom was never a problem, there was always a clean public toilet just a stones throw away.

A little bit about New Zealand - it's one of those countries that everyone is raving about and you just can't wait to get there to see what all this fuss is about. Well we reckon, inch for inch, mile for mile, there probably isn't another more beautiful country in the world, the South Island is especially beautiful where you really don't travel for more than 5 minutes without seeing breathtaking scenery. The North Island is pretty good too but everything is relative in this world and when compared to the South Island I think the South wins out. Sometimes we find that because we've been on the road almost 6 months, we start to take things for granted and when we reach a beautiful sight we often have to remind ourselves how lucky we are. Well there was no need for that in New Zealand - it's a country that demands your appreciation.

So before we left Chile we had booked a hire car for a whopping NZ$19 a day (approximately €10s) - great value altogether. We expected to get a super saver Toyota Starlet but low and behold they didn't have any at that time so we got upgraded to a Toyota Corolla - about 7 years old but perfect for us two. The guy in the office was pretty laid back, highlighting the current scrapes on the car and advising us if we really wanted to put more scrapes on the car the ideal spots to do it. We drove off and checked into our hostel - it was located in the Mount Eden area of Auckland. The hostel was ok but the room smelled of damp. We took a nap when we arrived in the hostel - I did feel a little disoriented for a few days after our flight but nothing serious.

Our first few days in Auckland were spent getting organised for our adventures in New Zealand - stocking up on food and getting as much information as possible to plan our trip. On Thursday evening, Maurice starting his new fitness regime went for a 10KM run with a local running group in Auckland Domain. At the end there were spot prizes and he managed to win a box of lovely (NOT) truffles. We noted how out-doorsy everyone is in Auckland, there were tons of people out doing all kinds of sports and exercises - it was great to see.

We went out for a drink one of our nights in Auckland - we decided to stay local and went to the Belgian Beer bar. Maurice ordered a half litre of Stella Artois and I ordered a sparkling water, we both nearly fell off our high stools when he said that would be NZD$15 (approximately 8 Euros), that's more expensive than home we thought and resigned ourselves to many quiet beers in the hostel from then on.

NATIONAL PARK (North Island) - Fri 16/03 to Sat 17/03

As it was Autumn and the days were getting colder we decided to hightail it down through the North Island and do the South Island first and save our exploring of the North Island until the end. We left Auckland and drove for hours until we arrived in National Park - it's a nice spot but for us it was really just somewhere to lay our head for the night. Next day we drove again for hours to reach Wellington - our destination for Paddy's day.

WELLINGTON (Bottom of North Island) - Paddy's day to Mon 19/03

We arrived in our hostel at about 3pm, it was just about 20 minutes outside Wellington in Plimmerton - Moana Lodge - a beautiful homely hostel overlooking the sea. We settled in, made something to eat, had a few glasses of wine and headed into Wellington city on the train with our map of Irish bars in hand. We arrived at the first bar to a sea of green, including big green hats, rugby shirts etc. and a band blaring out the old Irish favourites. We knew there were 4 Irish bars in Wellington and wanting to find the perfect spot for the night, decided to do an early pub crawl to decide on the best settling in spot. So it was Paddy's day what can we say - it's kinda universal worldwide - we did a pub crawl, drank lots, met lots of Irish and had lots of crack, then at 1am we got the last train home.

Fantastic service on the train - after a few too many beers you slip away into oblivion, at home this is a problem- you miss your stop (trust me, I should know!!), in New Zealand, not a problem, they see you falling asleep so they tap you on the shoulder and ask you where you are going, "no worries mate, I'll wake you up when we get there" - Iarnrod Eireann take note!!

The next day, a little worse for wear, the sun was shining down and we spent the day exploring Wellington - the capital city of New Zealand, it's a pretty city set on the coast but quite small - we did wonder why Wellington was the capital city of New Zealand and not Auckland or Christchurch but I guess it's a little like Canberra in Oz. The following day we were booked onto the ferry to the South Island. 3 and 1/2 hours and beautiful scenery later we arrived in Picton on the South Island.

PICTON (top of South Island) - Mon 19/03 to Wed 21/03

Picton was a nice town and while there we had planned on doing the Queen Charlotte Track - this track is located in the Marlborough Sounds, it is a 71km track with stunning views and landscape, historical landmarks and variety of bush and wildlife (don't worry I checked, there are no snakes or nasties in New Zealand). In order to get to the starting point you need to take a water taxi.

Once checked into the hostel we decided to gather information on the Queen Charlotte track, we were told that it was NZD$80 (about €45s) each for the water taxi to get to the starting point. Our jaws dropped open, this wasn't a guided tour just simply a water taxi - it seemed a bit excessive. After a bit of investigation it was clear that there were no cheaper 'backpacker' options for getting there. On review of our budget and learning that there were many walks around Marlborough sounds just from Picton itself, we decided that there were other things in New Zealand that were higher up on our list of priorities and decided against it. So we spent the next few days doing local walks around the Sounds taking in breathtaking scenery. So on Wednesday we headed south to Blenheim, deciding to go down the East Coast and back up the West coast.

BLENHEIM (South Island) - Wed 21/03 to Thu 22/03

Blenheim,also in the Marlborough region, is situated on the Wairau Plains, it has a lovely sunny climate which is why it is New Zealands largest producer of wine. While there we did of course visit some wineries and take in some wine tasting, we learned that the region is particularly famous for it's sauvignon blanc and I must admit it was pretty good - especially the sparkling variety!! The next day we drove further south to Kaikoura.

KAIKOURA (South Island) - Thu 22/03 to Fri 23/03

Kaikoura is a lovely coastal town overlooked by magestic mountains. After we had settled into our hostel (which had a swimming pool and jacuzzi by the way) we took a walk down through the town. Feeling peckish and being on the coast, we decided to try fish and chups and see what all the fuss was about. I tried a half scoop of chips and fish bites and Maurice tried the blue cod (no it wasn't blue in colour) and chips, it was all pretty tasty and I feared the worst for my waistline for the weeks ahead!! Especially since we discovered that a half scoop was the same size as a full scoop but half the price!!!

So to walk off some of those calories we took a walk out along the seashore when the tide was out and managed to catch some fur seals just lazing around as they do. Kaikoura is a big town for whale watching and while we spent many hours along the coast trying to spot these big fellas we were not successful!

The next stop was to the largest city on the South Island - Christchurch, about mid-way down the South Islands' eastern coast.

CHRISTCHURCH (South Island) - Fri 23/03 to Tue 27/03

So we arrived in Christchurch and found our hostel 'The old countryhouse', a really clean and lovely place with beautiful gardens about 1km walk from the city centre.

Christchurch, known as the 'garden city' has a very English feel to it, it's not hard to figure out why - it was a planned settlement founded by the English upper class, the history is still apparent, both in the city's style and architecture. For us Christchurch was probably the most attractive city in New Zealand - there were many inner city parks including the beautiful Hagley Park & it's botanical gardens through which the Avon river flows - as you walk through the botanical gardens you can see many people enjoying the Avon river in Punts/Gondolas.

Enjoying the vibe around Christchurch we decided to settle ourselves in for a few days.

Well New Zealand would not be New Zealand without Rugby and the All Blacks, so when in Rome and all that.... The Super 14's was on while we were there (that's 14 teams from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand competing) so we thought it would be fitting to take in a game. The Crusaders are Christchurch's home team and they happened to be playing the Stormers (a South African team) that Saturday night, that coupled with the fact that 5 of the All Blacks play for the Crusaders we figured it would be a good one.

The build up to the game was electric and they really put on a good show, Maurice particularly liked the scantily clad cheerleaders! However, to be honest the game itself wasn't up to much and the atmosphere from the crowd during the game was tame, maybe it's due in part to the cocky Kiwi attitude when it comes to Rugby that they would win - ok they did, but that's not the point! They really are so cocky about Rugby, they assume they are going to win the world cup when everyone knows it's Ireland's year!! We heard that they even talk about having tickets to the 'All Blacks match' and when you say 'Oh which one' they say 'the final' (without once cracking a smile might I add).

The weather was beautiful throughout our stay in Christchurch and we enjoyed many walks through the Botanical gardens and other parks in the city. So after what felt like quite a long stay for us (4 nights) it was time to move on.

We drove further south towards Dunedin, along the route we made an unplanned stop at a town called Oamaru when we spotted a sign for Yellow-eyed Penguins - the world's rarest penguin. It was starting to get dark so we had to hurry before we lost the light, we got down to a viewing point which is very high up and you can look down to the coast to try to spot the little fellas. We barely managed to catch a glimpse of two in the distance then as we were walking towards the second viewing platform, there right beside us (within touching distance) were two of the gorgeous little fellas. We tried to get a picture without the flash so as not to scare them but since it was really starting to get dark, the quality of the picture is not great but hey you can tell what they are! So by the time we finally managed to drag ourselves away from them, darkness had fallen and we got back into the car for the remainder of the journey to Dunedin.

DUNEDIN (bottom of South Island) - Tue 27/03 to Wed 28/03

We had been given advice before arriving in New Zealand to always have enough petrol in the car or know where the next petrol station is. However, it's not until you are actually driving in the south island that you actually get a feel for how big and sparsely populated it actually is. Well, after sitting on tender hooks for a long time, freewheeling it downhills and driving through dense fog praying the car wouldn't cut out before finally arriving in Dunedin, we agreed it was probably a good idea to listen the advice we had been given.

Dunedin is New Zealand's oldest city, it was found as the principal site of Scottish settlement - the name Dunedin comes from the word Dun Eideann - which is gaelic for Edinburgh. It's a big university town and it's main attractions are the Cadbury factory and the Guinness book of records acclaimed - 'steepest street in the world' - and yes, we paid a visit to both.

So after one night in Dunedin and with no time to spare we had to get going on Wednesday - next stop Te Anau. We had a beautiful drive south through the Catlins region to Invercargill - at the very south of the south island. The Catlins region is a beautiful uninhabited place with amazing scenery and not a house or telephone pole interrupting the view. We had a brief stop in Invercargill for coffee and then it was back on the road for the long journey to Te Anau.

TE ANAU (South Island near Milford Sound) - Wed 28/03 to Fri 30/03

We arrived late into Te Anau and had booked into a hostel in the heart of the country, it was pretty dark when we were trying to manouver our way down the steps into our wooden lodge, all we could hear was what sounded like a cow calving but next realised that it was just a deer calling !!

Our main reason for staying in Te Anau was to visit one of the main attractions in New Zealand - Milford Sound. So next day was an early start for us and having picked up a few pieces of literature in the tourist centre, we knew that with approximately 30 scenic stops en route to Milford Sounds an action packed day lay ahead.

The drive to Milford Sound is truly amazing, we somehow managed to get a beautiful day for it - with 7 meters of rain a year and the second highest rainfall in the world, it seems this is quite an achievement!! Along the 119KM stretch, some of the sights we were lucky enough to see were, the mirror lakes, Cascade creek, Homer tunnel & Kea birds (birds that have absolutely no fear of humans in fact are quite curious and will nearly land on top of you).

We were starting to understand why our car only cost NZD$19 a day when we were trying to climb up over mountains - it being an automatic it would not go over 30KMs per hour foot to the floor - no joke - can you imagine the frustration of the string of traffic behind us

Oh yeah, one other problem with the car was the radio, it only had AM no FM so when we did manage to get reception all we got to listen to were current affairs chat shows. By the time we were handing the car back we had an opinion on just about everything in New Zealand, like Sue Bradfords anti-smacking bill, New Zealand's progress in the Cricket World Cup, the All Blacks conditioning programme for the RWC & how bad the Australian Super 14 referees really are.

We finally arrived at Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park and it really is stunning however, true to form our beautiful blue skies disappeared when we arrived only to be replaced by a mist. Not to worry, it's a spectacular sight regardless, however, I lacking in poetic skills, find it hard to use the correct words to describe the scenery on view, but, some of the words/phrases which have been used to describe it in the past and are quite fitting are - 'majestic', 'the eight wonder of the world', 'the most stirring sight in the pacific', 'mystical' - are you getting the picture? Good because our pictures really don't do it justice!

So after a picnic lunch in the car (our normal daily ritual as we soon discovered that eating outdoors within reach of the New Zealand's sand flies was impossible) we headed off around the fjord on some beautiful scenic walks taking in fantastic sights - mountains, bush and waterfalls, then it was back to Te Anau for a good 'aul night considering the day that was in it - yes our 6 month anniversary.

We decided to splash out on dinner and wanted to make it a good one, so we carefully investigated all the restaurants/menus in the town before making our decision. We said we'd head back to our hostel first and have a few glasses of wine while getting dolled up before walking into town for dinner. We arrived in town at about 10pm and it was like a ghost town, not a sinner in sight and our restaurant had shut up shop, in fact every food establishment in the town had shut up shop. Just when we had resigned ourselves to going to bed hungry we spotted a chipper van and settled on fish and chups for 2 on a park bench

Friday and it was off to Queenstown with us - the adventure capital of New Zealand!

QUEENSTOWN (South Island) - Fri 30/03 to Sat 31/03

On arrival in Queenstown we booked into a hostel which wasn't great however, once we saw the gardens out the back, it was clear, what it lacked in homeliness it sure made up for with it's spectacular views over Lake Wakatipu!

Maurice headed off for a run and I explored the town, it was very touristy with all bars advertising happy hours to get you in, nonetheless it was a nice town ( I mean we're ok with happy hours yeah - especially the extra long ones!). That evening we went to the supermarket to get some groceries for the dinner and some wine of course. Maurice cooked up a storm and we ate dinner and drank wine in the beautiful garden overlooking the lake just as the sun was setting! Later on we headed into town to cash in on some of those happy hour prices.

The next day we wanted to head out to see Mount Cook, however, there is no road over the mountains that allows you to drive from Mount Cook over to the West Coast, it means that you must drive about 250 KM's out to see Mount Cook and drive right back the way you came. This is about a 500 KM round trip from Queenstown so unfortunately we couldn't afford another night there, although we would have liked it.

OMARAMA (near Mount Cook, South Island) - Sat 31/03 to Sun 01/04

Did you know that New Zealand is the home of Bungy jumping, more specifically the Kawarau Bridge near Queenstown became the worlds first commercial bungy site in 1988 - it's a 43m high jump. Of course we had to take a trip out there on our way to Mount Cook to watch some people put themselves through hell, I was hoping that Maurice wouldn't go getting any ideas that might set us back NZD$150 for a 2 minute thrill!! There wasn't a chance that I would get up there, I could feel every bit of their pain as I watched them jump and listened to their screams - that was enough for me - you can get a taste of it if you click on the Bungee video at the top of the blog!

We drove out to Mount Cook and there was yet again spectacular scenery. One of the most striking features on our drive was the lakes - the colour of them - an amazing turquoise colour that you wouldn't believe could appear naturally in a lake. According to the lonely planet, this colour is due to 'rock flour' in the water which was created when the lakes basin was gouged out by a stony-bottomed glacier moving across the land's surface, the friction of the rock-on-rock, ground out fine particles that are now suspended in the glacial melt water - the sediment gives the water a milky quality and refracts the sunlight. Enough geography eh!

We had heard great things about Lake Tekapo so before turning off for Mount Cook National Park we took a drive out to see Lake Tekapo and it's true - it is amazing, it also has that brilliant turquoise colour to it. Surrounded by such beauty we decided to have our picnic lunch by the lake.

After lunch we headed for Mount Cook National Park, the weather up ahead started to change to rain however, in the rear view mirror there was sunshine - it was the craziest mix of weather.
Lake PukakiLake PukakiLake Pukaki

Unfortunately the photograph doesn't do the brilliant turquoise colour justice!
We arrived at Mount Cook which is the highest peak in Australasia only to be greeted by clouds and we couldn't see a thing. It was quite eery, the weather was really dull and misty and the clouds were low and you could sense there was something huge behind the clouds! It was a bit of a disappointment considering the long drive to get there. So we turned around and headed back.

When it was getting dark and we were getting pretty tired from all the driving we decided to just pick somewhere to lay our head for the night and that we did in a town called Omarama - there was nothing there and our hostel was in the middle of the country - it really was just a resting spot.

So the next day, well rested it was up for our drive to the glaciers.

FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER (South Island) - Sun 01/04 to Mon 02/04

The two most famous glaciers in New Zealand are on the West Cost and are Franz Josef and Fox, we decided to visit both but stay in the village of Franz Josef for the night.

The glaciers were good, especially Fox as when we arrived there seemed to have been quite some movement and there was a gush of water carrying mounds of icebergs down the river (check out the video at the top of the blog). However, we have to be honest and say that after being at Perito Merino in Argentina we weren't blown away by these glaciers.

After our night in Franz Josef it was time to head over Arthurs Pass to Hanmer Springs.

HANMER SPRINGS (South Island) - Mon 02/04 to Tue 03/04

To get to Hanmer Springs we drove over the mountains through Arthur's Pass - it was (yes you guessed it) beautiful (what can I say, this country is way too beautiful). The only problem we encountered again was our car - chugging along!

Hanmer Springs is a nice town and we booked into a really nice hostel and on arrival Maurice went for a run and I went for a long walk.

The next day we were up bright and early for our drive to Nelson.

NELSON (top of South Island) - Tue 03/04 to Wed 04/04

We booked ourselves into a hostel in Nelson called 'The bug' and there were pictures of VW beetles just about everywhere - even on our bedroom door which was called 'the love bug'. It was a really nice chilled out place. As were were heading off for 2 days on the Abel Tasman track we used the Tuesday to get prepared for that - buying the necessary supplies.

That evening I arranged to call out to Una - a friend of my sisters from back home, she was living in Tasman, close to a town called Motueka (Mot for short). We met Una and her friend Megan and had a few glasses of wine and a chat. Una loaned us a single ring cooker for our trip, along with the necessary pots and pans - she and Megan were very good to us insisting that we stay with them on our return from the Abel Tasman Track - we kindly obliged.

ABEL TASMAN TRACK (top of South Island) - Wed 04/04 to Thu 05/04

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is located in the Abel Tasman National Park and is at the North of the South Island. It is a beautiful walk across a series of beaches and high cliffs and through forests, you walk alongside the really clear blue waters of the the Tasman Sea. The exciting thing about this walk is that there are tidal crossings which can only be crossed within a few hours either side of low tide. This means rolling the trousers up an tredging through the river - fun eh!. It really takes some planning though to ensure you arrive at the crossing at the right time otherwise you're there for the night.

There are huts and campsites along the way, we booked ourselves into one of the huts (albeit for the wrong night but lucky enough it wasn't busy so the ranger let us stay), it consists of a room where you can cook and a room with a bed - if you can imagine a double bed with 8 people on the bottom and 8 people on the top.

We drove to Marahau to catch a water taxi to start our trekking. The water taxis allow you to enter or leave the track at any point - we chose to start at Totaranui which was 41km away from where we parked up the car so we knew it would be a tough 2 days. The first day we walked about 18kms before we reached the hut, it was a great day with the most spectacular coastal views and secluded beaches.

On arrival in the hut we cooked up some dinner - dried pasta meals - yum. Maurice and I had bought a bottle of Tullamore Dew for the trek figuring it would be nice to have a hot whiskey to send us off to sleep (yes of course we took some lemon and cloves). Well before we knew it we had about 10 hot whiskies each and the bottle was gone, everyone else was in bed it was only the two roudies left drinking hot whiskey. So by 10pm with no whiskey left, there was nothing else for it but bed. I have to admit I was a little worse for wear the next day and the pace of walking had slowed down considerably and I was so delighted when we finally arrived back at the car.

TASMAN (top of South Island) - Thu 05/04 to Fri 06/04

We were awfully smelly and tired and were so grateful to Una and Megan for the offer of a bed (might I add a huge queen size bed at that) for the night in Tasman where they live, not sure how grateful they were to us, arriving into Megan's beautiful house so smelly and dirty.

Anyway, not wanting to arrive with one hand as long as the other, we stopped to buy a bottle or two of wine. Maurice went to the counter to make the purchases and I wandered. Maurice came over to me with an anxious look on his face, I thought he needed money but no, he needed his ID, well he was delighted with himself. When the lady looked at the ID, she said 'Oh sorry about that sir' and Maurice said with chuffed delight 'oh not at all, any time'. Yes, well as you can imagine he's been going on about that one ever since and has even revised his age down so that when people ask he is now a spritely 28!!

We spent a lovely evening with Una and Megan and their friends Simon and Josie, Una made a lovely steak dinner and we learned all about life in New Zealand - smoke-go's, BYO BBQ's, the local Bretherns and the like!

Next day was Good Friday and we were up early for the drive back to Picton to catch our ferry back to the North Island.

A big thanks to Una and Meagan for their hospitality

NATIONAL PARK again (North Island) - Fri 06/04 to Sat 07/04

Once off the ferry we made the long drive to National Park as we wanted to do the Tongariro crossing. The Tongariro crossing is a 17KM trek through the Tongariro National Park on which you can view some of the most scenic volcanically active areas of the park. It played the role of Mordor in the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy.

The walk takes 7-8 hours and along the way you walk through many craters including Red Crater and you see the beautifuly coloured Emerald lakes, the view from up there is amazing. However, alot depends on the weather but we got an absolutely beautiful day for the crossing which meant stunning views all around when we reached the top. The climb was tough enough but I kept thinking back to the Inca trail and then saying 'ah yeah, this is a piece of cake'. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

TURANGI (North Island) - Sat 07/04 to Sun 08/04

As it was Easter weekend and the kids were on holidays it was pretty busy around New Zealand hence it was really difficult to get accomodation. We finally managed to get a bed in a town called Turangi. There wasn't a lot there so we went to the supermarket to get some groceries for dinner and of course some easter eggs for easter. Could you believe it they were all sold out of easter eggs as was every other shop in New Zealand it seems, poor Maurice and Siobhan would have to go without this year!

Maurice cooked dinner that evening in the hostel and we settled in beside the TV. What movie was on TV only 'The Committments', excellent, so we settled in for the night to watch it. After it finished we headed off to bed and had an early morning for our drive to Rotorua.

ROTORUA (North Island) Sun 08/04 to Mon 09/04

So we arrived in Rotorua early enough on the Sunday and checked into a really nice hostel called 'Funky Green Voyager'. Rotorua has got to be one of the stinkiest towns in the world, it's definitely the stinkiest I've ever been in. As you drive into it you think 'Oh God, who opened their lunch box' if you get the picture. The reason it's so smelly, is that it's an area of large geothermal activity resulting in a very strong smell of sulphur.

Rotorua is situated on Lake Rotorua so we had a walk around the lake and noticed geysers and boiling mud pools everywhere in fact you could actually feel that the ground was warm underneath you.

However, our main reason for visiting Rotorua was the deep rooted Maori culture that exists there and having spent almost a month in New Zealand we felt it was time we experienced this culture first hand. To be honest the only knowledge that we had of the Maori culture was the Haka that the All Blacks perform before any match. So in order to get the best experience we decided to attend a Maori Hangi concert, however, since everyone is offering you this service we took some advice from our hostel owner as to the best one. He recommended the Mitai family Hangi concert as being the best so we bought some tickets for that night.

So a Hangi is the Maori method of cooking in an outdoor pit oven. It takes a lot of time and preparatory work. To "lay a hangi" involves digging a pit in the ground, heating stones in the pit with a large fire, placing wire baskets of food on top of the stones, and covering everything with earth for several hours before lifting the hangi.

Our evening with the Mitai family was very enjoyable and involved looking at the food going into the Hangi, watching the warriors in their traditional dress paddling a waka (canoe), taking a walk through the bush, spotting glow worms, watching the traditional Maori concert of song and dance including of course the Haka and finally eating the Hangi food. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening however, the food would definitely not feature in my favourite foods list but it was great to experience it.

AUCKLAND again (North Island) - Mon 09/04 to Wed 11/04

Monday it was back to Auckland for a couple of days of well deserved rest before heading out to Waiheke Island. We definitely felt we deserved a little bit of rest after driving almost 6,000KM's in our Toyota Corolla over the course of the month. Although Maurice did take in another 5KM run while we were there, we waited around for the spot prizes which this time were bottles of wine (tons of bottles) but to no avail we left empty handed!!

WAIHEKE ISLAND (near Auckland) - Wed 11/04 to Fri 13/04

We had heard great things about Waiheke Island and felt privledged to be going out to the island to join in the celebrations of the wedding of our travel buddies - Noel and Poina. We arrived on the island and got the bus into town. We finally found our hostel and to be honest it wasn't the best we had stayed in, but sure it would do.

For dinner that night we decided to check out the RSA (Retired Servicemans Association), ok so we weren't retired service men but we had read about good cheap food and drink and who were we to turn our noses up at cheap food and drink. We arrived at the door and one of the members was going in and held the door open for us and told us he would get the guy to come out and sign us in. Five minutes later he returned to tell us he couldn't find him so he would just sign us in himself. Grand, so we went to the bar to order drinks and the lady asked us if we were members, 'eh, no, but someone signed us in'. She said sorry, our license doesn't allow us to do that any more you must be a member to come, 'but' she says 'I'll let you away with it this time'. 'Great, 2 pints so' we said and then we went in for dinner, in fairness the food was good - NZD$10 for an all you can eat buffet.

We decided to cash in on the cheap drink while we were there, so we settled in for a few. We were meeting up with Noel and Poina and some of the folks going to the wedding in town so we said we'd get the last bus into town. Maurice checked out the bus times and said the last bus left at 9.10pm. It was after nine and our bar lady said ' did you say you were getting the bus back into town cause I think it's just gone, if it is don't worry I'll drop ye in'. 'Oh no', so we ran out to check and sure enough, the bus was gone - Maurice had read the timetable wrong. Two bozos with our tails between our legs returned to the bar where our bar lady was shutting up shop and asked if it would be too much trouble to grab a lift from her. 'Not at all she said', 'I hope you were going this way anyway' we said, 'no I'm not, but it's no problem', oh we felt so bad but this was yet again another indication of the friendly, warm, welcoming Kiwis. Anyway we arrived in town and headed to the bar to meet the others. We had a great night and got chatting to loads of the people who were going to the wedding, which meant that we wouldn't be Billy no mates for the wedding day.

The next day, Thursday, was the day of the wedding, we woke up and the rain was belting down, could you believe it, after all the nice weather we had. I headed off in the rain and got my hair chopped and when I came out it had started to clear up.

So we got ready for the wedding, put on our best duds, we nearly didn't recognise ourselves after 7 months in backpacking gear! The taxi picked us up to take us to the ceremony venue. We were dropped off at this amazing house, we didn't know what to expect, when we walked in and everyone was standing around chatting. We had a look around and all of a sudden we knew exactly why Noel and Poina had picked this venue - it was set on a hilltop and had the most amazing view over Auckland in the distance - a pure paradise. The ceremony was to be held in the garden (assuming the rain held off) with the view in the background.

Noel scrubbed up well, and after a fashionable delay, Poina walked down the garden on her Dads arm looking radiant - it was strange for us to see them out of backpacking gear too! The ceremony was beautiful and they looked so happy they could barely keep the grins from their faces for the whole ceremony (bar the odd tear here and there!) Thank God the rain held off for the ceremony but proceedings had to be moved in doors for the formalities afterwards as the heavens opened.

So we drank champagne, ate canapes and chatted for the next hour or so and then a bus arrived to take us to Mudbrick winery for the reception. Mudbrick was a beautiful spot but unforutnately we didn't get to see it in its full glory due to the rain but that didn't take away from the celebrations. As Poina is half Maori, and there were plenty of Irish over for the celebrations, they had the local school kids from Waiheke put on a traditional Maori concert. They were fantastic, the passion was oozing through their performance - you can see the kids do the Haka on the video at the top of this blog but unfortunately the quality isn't great.

Next it was into the function room for a beautiful meal - mussels to start for both of us then Maurice went for lamb and I went for beef - beautiful. In Maurice's own words he fell in love with the Mudbrick Chardonnay and couldn't get enough of it. Inspired by the Chardonnay we we danced the night away and had a great night, then a bus arrived at Mudbrick to take us home (how organised!)

Knowing the planning etc. that goes into a wedding, I cannot imagine how Noel and Poina managed to organise the whole thing while swanning around South America but hey, way to go lads, congratulations and thanks again for a great day!

Friday it was back on the ferry to Auckland for us where we had to return our hire car and get to the airport for our flight to Melbourne. A great end to a great month in New Zealand!

However, our memorable trip came to an abrupt ending a week or so later when we received notification from our car hire company that they were kindly debiting our credit card with a $30 administration fee for each of the 2 speeding fines we had received. Bummer, we had been warned 'do not speed in New Zealand, you will be caught'. We were so careful, Maurice even had his own inbuilt alarm in the passenger seat when he went over 100km per hour, however, the inbuilt alarm must have fallen asleep at totally inappropriate times. Anyway, we have yet to hear further from the NZPD on the extent of our fines, fingers crossed no more are on the way.

Additional photos below
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Cabin CrewCabin Crew
Cabin Crew

This one's specially for Les, the search for one as big as yours goes on but we thought this one was at least half the size!

Tot: 1.44s; Tpl: 0.053s; cc: 14; qc: 75; dbt: 0.043s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.6mb