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Published: April 9th 2008
Tracey fits three 'cowboys' on her face
Thursday night, 9pm, and after 3 weeks of flying (or so it seemed) the lights of Auckland finally appeared on the horizon. It wasn’t just that Auckland, via Sydney was a long way, it was more the fact that on our first leg the in-flight entertainment system was faulty and not showing any new movies. Arrrrrrrrrrrgh. Not that the cabin crew really cared. Then on the second leg we had a pretty tatty old plane with just a single movie screen. Get with the times Qantas. Having flown around the world many times with Singapore Airlines, their service, food, entertainment system and overall comfort puts Qantas to shame.
New Zealand’s economy is dependent on agriculture so arriving here is a funny experience. Try and smuggle in some drugs and you might ruffle a few feathers, but bring in some dirt on your shoes and all hell breaks lose. Because we had been camping and tramping we declared our evil dirt and got whisked away through a side lane. Here there were special food and dirt police riffling through the suitcases of (mostly Asian) people pulling out bags of curried rat and pickled cheeses that might be illegal.
Nurse Tracey fixes AJ's foot after an unfortunate barefoot v broken glass frisbee incident
After pulling our whole packs apart we surrendered our tent and boots to the official who gave our dirt the once over (he may even have tasted it, but maybe we were just tired) and then handed them to another man who took them away to be disinfected. Then we passed through another scanner, presumably to check we weren’t also smuggling compost up our backsides, and finally emerged an hour later to be met by Dave’s friend AJ.
Auckland is a beautiful place. Imagine a great big city where people go to work just to fund a lifestyle based around hundreds of beaches, thousands of bars and cafes and tens of thousands of yachts and waterfront activities. On our first day we wasted no time in heading to Viaduct basin, the former home of The Americas Cup and now a thriving bar/restaurant packed marina. An international boat show was about to start so the marina was packed with multi million dollar super yachts and people quaffing champagne on their sun decks. We paused to quaff some excellent wine and tapas of our own before heading off to explore.
We spent four days in Auckland
Cafe Eutopia on State Highway 1 Kaiwaka
mostly wondering around shops (for Tracey) and cafes (for David) and soaking up the sunshine. The only drama occurred on Sunday at an excellent “Jazz in The Park” picnic on Auckland Domain. While playing frisbee AJ stepped on a piece of glass and gashed his foot, which bled like a stuck pig. Not to be fazed by anything Nurse Tracey quickly borrowed some plasters from the nearby Auckland Museum and found some 20-year-old bandages in AJ’s car and patched him up like a 1st class first aider.
Who'd hang around taking photos outside a toilet?
AJ had rather excellently lent us his car (with a wicked stereo!) so on Monday morning with the windows down and the music blaring we headed north up State Highway 1. Our first stop was the historic town of Russell in the beautiful Bay Of Islands region. Here 144 islands with holiday homes, campgrounds and native bush make up New Zealand’s premier holiday destination. Russell was NZ’s first capital and was once a globally notorious whaling port full of violence, drunkards and prostitutes. These days it’s rather a lot lovelier with beautiful old colonial buildings and seafront restaurants, but in honour of
Hole in the Rock
If the wind changes she'll stay like that
it’s seafaring history we also took to the water in a super fast jet speedboat called ‘Excitor’. Our destination was ‘Hole In the Rock’ an 18 mile thrill ride away and then a very delicate manoeuvre in surging waves to pass through a pretty small hole. On the other side of the rock there were so many millions of fish feeding at the surface that it looked like you could bend over and scoop them out with a bucket!
From Russell we took an hour detour to Kawakawa to explore some public toilets. Some public toilets? you might be thinking, what kind of weirdo tourists are we? Well, these are no ordinary toilets, they were designed by a world famous Austrian architect Frederick Hundertwasser, who lived there as a recluse and then designed them as a thankyou to the little town who ‘adopted’ him. It was rather hard to take pictures that show their true magnificence but the urinal picture will give you an idea.
After Kawakawa we went to Waitangi an area made famous by the most significant and controversial event in New Zealand’s history, the signing of the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’. This was basically an agreement between
A wee bit of art
The world famous toilets at Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands
the Maori Chiefs (the natives of New Zealand) and the British to make New Zealand a British Colony in 1840. As well as some beautiful old colonial government buildings the site includes an amazing meeting house with carvings made by tribes all over New Zealand.
From Waitangi we headed north, as far as the road would take us, which turned out to be a car park about 100 metres from the northernmost tip of New Zealand. This place, Cape Reinga is marked with a lighthouse and an interesting view as the oceans of the east and west coasts collide. We had met a couple from Argentina the night before and had taken them to the cape. Since we were getting on well we invited them to come body boarding with us down giant sand dunes at Te Paki. These dunes were about 30 mins south of the cape and at the start of a coastal road called 90-Mile Beach, made famous by the fact the road is in fact the beach. Tour buses and 4WD’s drive along the water’s edge kicking up spray and avoiding the quicksand. Ordinary cars are not supposed to do it as so many of
One hell of a doorstop
Inside the meeting house at Waitangi Treaty Grounds
them get stuck and we didn’t think AJ would appreciate his car being washed away to Australia so we simply watched a few buses and then rented some body boards to ‘surf the dunes’. These sand dunes are big, very big, but until you climb one it is almost impossible to get a sense of scale. We must have lumbered up the first one for 20 minutes before collapsing exhausted on the top. Then it was 40 second, high speed, brake free ride to the bottom. If you wiped out (like David did three times) it was an ear filling, throat clogging, clothes destroying sand explosion. Bloody good fun though. Our last visit was to the giant Kauri forest in Waipoua. These trees are thousands of years old and are HUGE. The girth (or circumference) of one of them named ‘Tane Mahuta’ meaning ‘Lord of the Forest’ was 14 metres with a total tree height of 51 metres. Now we don’t want to get all ‘Lord of The Rings” on you, but standing in these ancient, silent forests with enormous towering trees blocking out the light we could certainly imagine an Ent or two creeping up from Middle Earth.
Sand scrub anyone?
Body boarding on the giant Te Paki sand dunes near 90 Mile Beach
Kickin' it with the Couch clan
After 5 days on the road we returned to Auckland to return the car and have a final night with AJ. We then picked up a rental car for a four-day trip down the North Island via Rotarua to the capital city of Wellington. From there we returned our car and caught the ferry for a three-hour trip to Picton at the top of the South Island. This was a beautiful trip with the added ‘fun’ of an incredibly windy section where you could literally lean into, and be supported by the wind. Luckily (for Tracey) the sea was calm and the ferry was large so we had a smooth crossing without feeding any of the fish!
From Picton we caught a five-hour scenic train ride called the TranzCoastal down the east coast to Christchurch. This train offered the superb addition of having a carriage with no windows you could walk to from your seat so as we raced past beautiful coastline populated with seals and whales we could also smell and taste the air. (This feature was not quite so good every time we went through a tunnel)
Tracey's homage to Cromwell - 'the fruit capital' of New Zealand
is New Zealand’s second largest city and David’s home town so we were met at the train station by his parents and sister. To ensure we wouldn’t miss them Dave’s mum was wearing a huge pair of bunny ears. To be fair it was Easter Friday and they actually quite suited her.
For the next week we mostly hung around home playing lots of games and going for long walks around ‘the Garden City’. Christchurch is known as ‘the most English City outside of England’ as it is where many of the original settlers first arrived and is therefore full of lovely old stone buildings and colonial architecture. It also has vast acres of recreational parks, botanical gardens, bush walks and beaches so it really is a lovely place to wonder about.
Little Willy No Nuts (sorry - in joke!)
After a week we took a four day side trip to Queenstown to visit Dave’s mate Dave. Now if New Zealand is the outdoor adventure capital of the world, Queenstown is its adrenalin gland. This is the place were bungy jumping came from and where it is possible to jump, fly, swim, fling, roll or propel yourself
Boys will be boys
Drinking with Dave's mate 'Little Willy No Nuts' in Queenstown.
down, through or off just about anything. We had experienced many of these adventure last time we were here so this time we took things are bit more serenely. We spent a day wine tasting, swam in the beautiful (but freezing) lake and just ate, drank and talked ourselves silly with Little D and a few friends. Dave used to go to Queenstown when he was a teenager as it is huge party town in both summer and winter. This time, at about 1am when he was lagging badly on the dance floor he had a 30-minute “I’m getting so old” early mid-life crisis!
From Queenstown it was back to Christchurch for another sunny week at David’s parents. Christchurch is surrounded on one side by the Port Hills that act as a barrier between the city and the main harbour in Lyttelton. These days getting to Lyttelton is easy as there is a car tunnel. However for the early settlers who arrived by boat they had to walk over the hills via the now famous Bridal Path. During this final week we walked over the Bridal Path and down into Lyttelton for a swim and some amazing fish and
At 74 degrees celcius you wouldn't want to drink it though. Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua
chips. Due to their secret low fat oil recipe this shop had just won the “Best Chips in New Zealand” award and they deserved it. It was nice to eat fresh fish (picked from a choice of 6 types) and a big scoop of chips and to not feel the least bit greasy afterwards. Well done Lyttelton Fisheries (Enjoy the free plug!)
As we write this it is Sunday morning and our flight to Indonesia leaves in a few hours. We’re flying Christchurch to Sydney and then on to Bali on Jetstar, the budget arm of Qantas, so our comfort expectations are low. Dave is pretty sad to be leaving his family but also very excited about the next stage of our adventure. We’ve got five months to get from Bali to Hong Kong with just a small matter of China and The Olympic Games in between. It should be fun. We’ll keep you posted!
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