Monday 20th February. Landed in Christchurch this morning after a beautiful descent via the Southern Alps and Mount Cook. It seems almost impossible to remember that we have been in the air for over 24 hours; however I am reminded when the floor disappears from under my feet, and I feel the sensation of the turbulence as we left Australia and crossed the Tasman Sea. The views were incredible and their beauty is not done justice by these iPhone pictures.
Tuesday 22nd. Watched the blue eyed penguins come ashore in 'rafts' and make their way up the beach to their burrows. After an incredible nights sleep we are driving down the east coast via Dunedin to Te Anau. See you later! X
Arrived in Te Anau from Oamaru taking the coast road via Dunedin, Balclutha, the Catlins and Invergargill. Stopped at Moeraki to see the boulders (weird geology going on, similar to the Death Star). Drove on to Dunedin (feel good town) through to Balclutha to see the coolest curiosity shop, where the lost gypsy makes the most bonkers sculptures from literally anything. There's one of a dead sheep riding a bike, barbie doll heads that light up when you turn a handle and crazy mermaids made from bits of bikes.
Wednesday 22nd. Up early this morning after T woke with a numb hand, which is now ok. Phew. I love this time of day, everything is so still, plus no one else is using the net; meaning I can actually airdrop millions of pics. So for your viewing pleasure that is what I'm going to do. Something I am unable to capture is the vast unspoiled majesty of this country. It is equally difficult to demonstrate its quirky ness. Everything is a bit bonkers, unique, eclectic and completely random. The roads are like those in Scotland, but with American road signs, driving as we do in the UK. When you leave a 100k stretch, any hint of a town creeps up on you suddenly; massive billboards celebrating their existence appear out of nowhere and suddenly we are driving at 50k. The wide American roads are flanked by prefab bungalows with tin roofs, isolated petrol stations and the odd bakery, and that's it. That was the town; back to 100 kilometre speed restriction. Cities are just bigger versions of this. They host beautiful architecture and vibrant colours. Everyone is friendly and helpful. Within moments leaving a city we are suddenly immersed back into mountains, hills, sheep and cows. Everything is green. Everything is a complete surprise, from the lost gipsy sculpture curio shop, "teapot land" -someone's house and garden absolutely covered in all sorts of teapots (nailed to the roof and walls) to "old sods cottage" and waterfalls, penguins and tropical plants.
Arriving at the sound we met some Australians (Judy and Barry) from Melbourne and Americans Ron and Nancy from Wisconsin. That's a lie. Ron is actually named Ian, but I really wished he was called Ron, and I told him this, much to my wife's embarrassment. They were really good fun, and coped with my dry humour and random nonsense (just about), securing many photographs and cheers as i got soaked by a waterfall holding two coffees. The boat took us out to the stretch of sea known as the roaring forties; fierce by reputation, not so today despite T confiding in me that she felt sick.
Thursday 23rd February. Te Anau to Glenorchy and Queenstown.
I am particularly excited today. Glenorchy is the destination and personally a special place; T would tell me stories about it when we met. Somehow in my mind bit has become something iconic.
The drive to Glenorchy lived up to my expectations. It is the most amazing place.
Drove from Glenorchy to Queenstown - the extreme sports adventure seeking capital of the world. Arrived late afternoon and missed many of the attractions; however we have seen amazing pipers on the quay, eaten the best Thai food I have ever had and spoken about activities we would like to try. After much chatting about skydives, zip wires, paragliding, bungee jumping and rocket boats (travelling at 80k we hour before torpedo diving under water and then being fired backed out into the sky) we have concluded that we are either too unfit, sick, damaged or too scared to do any of these. Frankly, I'm disgusted with myself, because I want to skydive if my life and safety is 100% guaranteed. These are the fears born of being a mother. So skydiving is out. Bungee jumping out (2 prolapsed discs and a retina repair - can't afford the pain or the blindness). Rocket boat (Terry still in plaster with a broken arm, my back - need a physio as we speak). So... paragliding (I'm on my own for this - Ts arm - same for zip wiring like superman). We will see. The fun is doing it with the one you love. Aside from this, it is fair to say that I'm also a bloody terrified big fat gay.
Friday 24th February. Queenstown to Mount Cook with evening stopover at Twizel.
Left Queenstown on a three hour drive to Mount Cook. It's a really hot day, and our lovely bashed up old Nissan has no thermometer. Our guess is that the temperature is somewhere between "f****** hot" and 80F. The town quickly dissapears into enormous arid hills that go on for miles.
Arrival from Mount Cook to Twizel. Twizel is an odd place. Also boiling hot, it is in the middle of nowhere - literally. We are staying in a motel. Or is it a hotel? What is the difference? According to my wife; "a motel is where you have this situation, as opposed to hotel rooms". Well I'm glad we cleared that up.
After a bit of unpacking we decided to have a well earned lay down on some sheets impregnated with 50 years of sweat so pungent that I experienced immediate flashbacks of the headrests of a British rail train carriage. In order to erase the unwanted odour from our minds, we went out for dinner in Twizel town centre, navigating our way through a sea of Japanese motel guests en route. Twizel town centre is almost identical to a big car park with retail outlets - think Lakeside Thurrock but 10 times smaller. It has a handful of eateries and about five shops.
After enjoying a delicious burger, we headed back to our room catching a glimpse of four Japanese ladies in their ground floor room chatting and laughing. We both found this so heart warming. In fact it made a real impression on T, as she likened it to a scene from Saturday Night Fever. What????? "No, I mean Grease! You know when they are all sitting in Rizlas bedroom chatting and smoking fags" Eerr, no? I have no idea what you're talking about.
Saturday 25th February. The drive from nowhere to Haast.
And we're off after Terry's amusing encounter with the girls from 'Grease' at reception; they behave like schoolgirls and fizz with joy at chucking their keys on the desk before running to the coach that has patiently waited for them to get their backsides into gear.
Wanaka is a beautiful place; a lake town with some great shops and really great places to eat. Today we had breakfast at Kai; the choice place to eat of locals. It is here we shared a table with Stan and Ann and their Maori great grandson "little Stan". Big Stan and Ann are from Timaru (South of Christchurch), a place where Stan assured me "the kids have no manners", unlike Wanaka; where the kids are so polite and considerate to everyone. Big Stan and Ann speak with pride about their family, and inform me that their great grandchildren live in Japan for nine months of the year and are fluent in Japanese. Stan and I got chatting about politics and my increasing distain for small mindedness and the social strata. Stan summarised my unease by simply telling me that Kiwi's mostly believe that their abilities and opportunities are limitless. This says it all. He proudly told us that he is currently learning to be paraglider pilot and is on his fifth lesson, and that for his 70th birthday he did his first skydive. Last year he climbed Mount Fuji (apparently 72 metres higher than Mount Cook which is 3750 metres). I don't want to go home.
After breakfast, Stan's experience of polite kids is demonstrated by a group of kids playing on the jetty. They run up and down diving into the water laughing and squealing. Seven year old Marley introduces herself to me by offering me a haribo from her supply of favourites. I graciously accept and we get chatting about hometowns and school. If I did this in the UK I'd be accused of all sorts, especially as the kids end up in our photos.
From Wanaka we drove to Haast pass, stopping briefly at Fantail falls - a beautiful little waterfall in a secluded clearing. Strewn across the river bed were lots of cairns left by travellers; monuments of thousands of visitors during the dry spell. The falls were small but beautiful and fed the crystal clear glacial stream which on wading through was absolutely freezing.
There was an Argentinian, a German and an English woman......
On wading back through the river, the deserted riverbed now entertained two young travellers, Sebastian (German) and Francesca (Argentinian). After chatting for a matter of moments the three of us were semi naked and holding hands plunging ourselves under the icy cold glacial water. Apparently I am now Francesca's hero. Similarly, Sebastian thought it was Christmas.
Arrived at Top 10 - my favourite campsites! This one is an old aerodrome with a huge communal kitchen and our own shower room (it's true about the water going down the plug hole the opposite way)
We took a drive to Haast beach. A driftwood heaven for me.
Sunday 26th February - driving the west coast from Haast to Hokitika
Lots of driving today and a fair few stops, the first being Ship Creek - a beautiful stretch of coastline where we're lucky enough to see a pod of Hector dolphins. Again, masses of driftwood and again not enough room in my suitcase. We stayed briefly, as the sand flies were out in great numbers today.
Onward! After a fair drive, we stopped at Fox Glacier, but sadly it has it has shrunk since Terry climbed it over 10 years ago, so much so that avalanches are a regular hazard, preventing us from reaching it.
We continued North up the west coast after stopping for some hoki poki via Franz Josef glacier, taking in some amazing views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, this time from the west side. We are now in greenstone country - home to nephrite jade, much revered by the Maori settlers, which is only found in rivers to the west of the southern alps. Hokitika (our stop for the night) is where you need to be to lay your hands on some decent greenstone.
Whilst shopping here, we learned a bit more about the Maori designs; the fishhook, spiral, infinite knot and tiki. The shop owner was very knowledgable about such things. We got chatting about Terry being a kiwi from the north island. He confidently informed us that she is a jafa (just another fucking Aucklander) as opposed to himself who from the south is in fact 'feral' like a dirty old cat.
We are staying in a beach cabin with a verander - perfect place for a drink as the sun sets over the ocean, and chats about Morris minors with Darcy and Betty Lupton from next door, who are also jafa's but who are on a vintage car rally with their mates. They are a lovely friendly couple, and at 6pm Darcy is already pissed.
The beach is rugged and windswept with dunes, grasses and a sea of driftwood cairns and tipi's created by its visitors. I am completely seduced by this country, even more so upon the discovery of a fish and chip shop.
Back from fish and chips. Absolutely delicious chips and Hoki fillet, served by an irritated looking woman in a black baseball cap. Mrs baseball cap informed us she doesn't like Hoki, instead favouring elephant fish (not on the menu). We left with our order which was wrapped in proper newspaper to eat on a bench overlooking the sea at sunset. It seems Hoki comes complete with maurading seagulls standing inches from your eyes, in addition to a slightly pissed German backpacker who chose this perfect moment to practice his English with a bit too much eye contact for my liking. After watching a beautiful sunset, we are back at the cabin amusing ourselves by reading the obligatory folder of blurb supplied at every establishment.
I'm checking the sturdiness of the table as I type and wondering if I would recognise a foreshock. This thorough examination has briefly been interrupted by Darcy, who is still pissed but who has come to say goodbye on account of leaving early tomorrow to see his cousin in Greymouth. What a genuinely lovely guy and yet another fine day.
Monday 27th February - Hokitika - Westport
After an excellent nights sleep interrupted once by kiwi calls (seriously - yes! how lucky were we to hear it) the drive on the coast road from Holitika to Westport was stunning. Wild beaches covered with driftwood are unrelenting; as is the heat today - but I'm not complaining. We are repeatedly told by the kiwis that this is the first good week after a terrible summer.
We arrived in Westport! I am still shocked by the scale of everything in NZ. This town has a population of 6000 and is enormous. As a treat for me, Terry has booked us into a surfing lodge, complete with fit surf instructor, guitars for loan, amazing artwork on every surface, communal BBQ and dining area, cool blues music over the tannoy and Buddha shrine to complete my midlife crisis. The place is amazing and ticks all of my midlife crises hippy boxes. Surfs up at 6, and how lucky that I happen to be wearing my midlife crisis shirt to compliment this occasion.
Went out with a group of people staying at the hostel for a little surf tonight, mostly much younger people, fitter people but YOUNGER people. MUCH YOUNGER, with muscles and spots and incredibly poor communication skills. I got chatting to a German girl who's name escapes me but begins with F, something along the lines of frankfurter (in my mind anyway). Within minutes we had covered careers, places visited, and hometowns. All was going well before she stated "there are no Germans left in Germany because its full of refugees". I asked her to clarify this further in the hope that her explanation would sound less right wing, but it didn't. We arrived at the beach, and it wasn't long before Gruppenfurer Frankfurter was organising everyone. I took great delight in behaving like a rebellious teenager with my selective deafness and an air of nonchalance reserved only for middle aged women courageous enough to wear an unflattering and overly snug wetsuit. I don't need shepherding by a 19 year old tanned, fit, blond bikini wearing German supermodel. I'm marvellous and I'll do what I bloody well like.
Had a good time on the white water, and lucky to catch a green wave too, managing to stay upright! Whoop whoop!!
Back at the ranch, we ate well tonight on BBQ monkfish and prawns and got chatting to two lovely hostellers from Germany (Mona and Nadia) who we are now giving a lift to tomorrow when we head for St Arnaud, Nelson.
Tuesday 28th February - Westport - Saint Arnaud
Another gorgeous day of hot sun, cool mountain breeze and beautiful birdsong. We drove from Westport stopping at Buller gorge, where we said goodbye to Nadia and Mona, who were hitch hiking to Collingwood. We really enjoyed helping these girls, and the experience has shown us that NZ is a safe place for such activities. Both Nadia and Mona told us about their travel experiences elsewhere and confirmed that they have felt most safe in NZ. We chatted about languages and cultures and how Nadia came to be born in Mexico, following her grandparents fleeing Nazi Germany for a safer life in Argentina.
At our stop, T and I tried our luck at gold panning. We did so well that we require a truck to transport our treasure back home ready to be fashioned into a crown for me and arm bands for T. Not really. We are now in possession of a test tube containing two minute fragments of purest gold, which I actually think might be glitter sprinkled along the river bed by the landowner. We did get to walk on a rickety old swing bridge across the river, which I very much enjoyed all for the price of $25 NZ each. Bargain.
We left Buller gorge, so too had our travelling companions, and headed for Nelson Lakes, again a milestone place for me. The lake is as magnificent as much as all of the others I've seen. I wanted to swim here but didn't on account of the enormous black eels that occupy the waters. These eels are not like their British cousins. They are like sea monsters; so we walked around the lake instead.
Late afternoon and arrived at Saint Arnaud. We are staying at Tophouse farm, the site known as the "murder house" where in the late 1800's, the farmer murdered his wife's lover before turning his gun on himself. The owners take great pride in preserving the scene of the crime, which demonstrates how rare murder seems to be here.
Wednesday 1st March. Saint Arnaud to Tasman, Nelson.
After a another lovely evening dining and befriending Aucklanders Jeni and Nigel, we had another lovely nights sleep witnessing the most amazing stars I have ever seen. The constellations look so different in the Southern Hemisphere, plus there is no light pollution - at all.
We left Tophouse farm, taking a relaxed drive in the sunshine to Nelson, en route to our accommodation this evening. The way into Nelson has become busier and more industrial since Terry's last visit 15 years ago and there is a palpable shift in culture, in what is traditionally recognised as a classless social structure. We had a pleasant stroll around the city, and I found NMIT - the university where my colleague worked for a while, just to check it out in keeping my options open. People seem helpful and friendly, but there is a different feel to this place, more competitive and reminiscent of back home.
We stopped at the quay heading out of town to buy some fish, and remain staggered by how expensive local produce is - 30 bucks for a box of prawns. The local fishmonger has a varied selection of local species, crayfish and green lipped mussels and is run by an old trout, devoid of any humour or joy whatsoever. This is our first encounter with an unhappy kiwi, who perhaps is not overjoyed at spending her time with dead marine life and tourists whinging about the price of fish. We left promptly with a box of overpriced crustaceans and headed for the supermarket in Motueka.
Nothing to see here...
Just a few kilometres away is Motueka, a small town with a decent supermarket reached by a nice drive flanked by the Tasman sea. As with every supermarket shopping trip, Terry and I slip into our roles we have perfected resulting from a few years of marriage. It is a familiar pantomime to many I suspect, characterised by my wanting to buy all of the chocolate and her saying 'no', before I sneak it into the basket, and her finding out, and so on. Today, our NZ routine of selecting pick and mix nuts and seeds, found us sampling a grand total of three individual nuts each - a try before you buy exercise which was perfectly acceptable in Te Anau. A customer was laughing at us, warning us not to get caught, yeah ha ha!
We reached the checkout and had a lovely chat with the cashier, who was quickly joined by the store manager who very pubicly condemned our 'try before you buy' exercise. Apparently we were in a lot of trouble for eating three nuts, as it is a capital offence here, punishable by flogging and a harsh fine. My offering to pay for the three nuts didn't help things at all, nor did T's giggling. By this time the cashier and bag packer had assumed the posture of toboggan racers by well and truly keeping their heads down. Like scolded children, T and I sulkily left the shop, vowing never to purchase nuts there again.
This ordeal has confirmed our observations of this community, snobbery is very much alive and kicking here. We arrived at our accommodation in Tasman, owned by an Essex couple (originally) which has more than made up for 'nutgate'. Steph is retired nurse and is so lovely, taking great pity on our supermarket experience as briefly she worked there, confirming that the store manager is indeed an old bat. The accommodation is amazing - by far the most gorgeous yet.
Took a drive to Mapua wharf; a beautiful regenerated dock which was where the fruit was loaded onto ships in the 1950s to be transported to England. I was taking a photo of this gull when I saw a giant bird behind it, later realising it was stuffed and going nowhere.
There are a couple of bars and beautiful restaurants, and the views are incredible. Sadly, it is spoiled by elitism. There is some seriously full blown snobbery in action tonight. Just add some hipsters and you could be in Leigh on sea. Bloody hipsters.
Thursday 2nd March, Tasman - Takaka
Heading away from 'civilisation' today for the hippy enclave of Takaka, which boasts more dreadlocks, bare feet and tie dye per square foot than anywhere else on earth. It also has a lack of wifi, which is actually a very good thing. I've got my mid life crisis shirt on again, complete with hippy aroma of not being washed. See you in a couple of days.
Ha ha! Wifi... briefly. Shortly after leaving Tasman, we stopped at Kaiteriteri beach to admire its green waters and golden sand. Of course I left with a bucket of seashells. Further around the coast we discovered the secluded bay of Marahau. It is a quite beach littered with clam shells and the odd stand up paddle boarder, and appears to be yet unspoilt and out of reach of the American real estate monster that has caused much of the resentment we experienced in Nelson.
The drive from Tasman to Takaka is stunning. Most of the drive being spent ascending Takaka hill, low gear all the way until reaching a jaw dropping view across the state of Tasman, reached by a beautiful wooden walkway.
On reaching Takaka we stopped to browse in the artist studios and enjoyed the best coffee and feta muffins in the Dangerous Cafe. It's nice to be back among really friendly inquisitive people again. We found a beautiful glass studio, where we met Daniel who took us into the workshop to show us how he turns Bombay Saphire bottles into jewellery. The artists here are so resourceful and waste nothing.
Approx 10k away from Takaka, is Pohara, our home for the next two days. The accommodation is incredible and built entirely from cob. It reminds us of lodgings in Sri Lanka, and has amazing composting toilets and a cob oven. The place is stunning and an incredible achievement considering the owners build it by hand, making the 9500 cob bricks used to construct it.
The shells here are beautiful.
Waiting to cook, we are in the queue to use the BBQ, as the owners of San Souci are currently catering for the whole of Germany, and we have been banned from the kitchen until approximately 8pm. T has been occupying herself by playing cards and quizzing me about my favourite places in NZ, which I cannot answer. I think the contrast between experiences is the most overlooked wonder of this trip. T has interrupted her card game to tell me off for using our only emery board for fashioning a piece of paua shell into a key fob as a way of distracting my yearning for prawns. "There's all bits going in my shoes!" she exclaims! " but I'm making you a present!" I reply, "by filling my shoes with razor blades!" she counters. Some people are so ungrateful.
We have just had a fantastic experience of cooking a feast of chilli garlic king prawns, BBQ corn cobs, green salad and beans in a professional kitchen in the middle of a dinner service. I have to say, I'm utterly impressed at anyone sharing their kitchen, despite T and I being a fantastic double act and that our cooking around the staff was a stunningly choreographed ballet. On sitting down to our feast, we received a couple of envious enquiries regarding how we came to be eating king prawn. For dessert, we are both having a bowl of smug.
Friday 3rd March - Pohara - Farewell Spit
We are loving our stay at Sans Souci, the cob house build around an Indian style courtyard. This design has begun to prove challenging to me, as I have already let myself into someone else's bedroom - luckily the lights were out and I scarpered.
We seem to be getting on well with the composting toilets too. These are incredibly sanitary as long as you don't run out of sawdust. In fact these loo's really suit me; I'm sure those who know me well will support this claim, particulary regarding my frequent need to wee, mostly in the woods, beaches and country parks etc. However, I did feel a bit worried before bed, as shortly before my visit we were treated to what we assume was a possum on the roof - yes a possum, definitely not a fiddler, however if Topol was to pay us a visit, I might be even more scared. Anyway, there was a lot of banging, dragging, thumping and high pitched sqeaking overhead. It sounded like an X-rated episode of the Sooty show, the one where Sooty catches Sweep bonking Sue, and then confronts him with a large spoon. Anyway, after Sooty had beat Sweep to a pulp the noise stopped, and I was brave enough to run for the loo. I made it a quick one as I now held a terrifying thought that killer Sooty might pop up in the composting toilet just as I was wiping my bum. Thankfully, that didn't happen, but instead I made my way to our German neighbours room quickly realising before I opened the door. Grateful that I managed to avoid being in a German sausage sandwich I settled down in bed, thanking my lucky stars not to have had a starring role in Knackwurst Nights.
This morning we have a long drive to Cape Farewell, the northern most point of the South Island, and according to locals 4 kilometres of the whole 35 is as far as you can go along the spit without a guide, as it's now protected by strict conservation laws and there is the matter of quicksand. The spit is a unique ecosystem with over 90 species of bird living here, as well as seals, and is a regular destination for pilot whale strandings.
Saturday 4th March. Pohara back down to Nelson.
We have arrived back in Nelson, via a few nice stops at various bays. We took a winding mountain unsealed track to reach the start point of the Abel Tasman walk which was a beautiful bay with golden sand. The way back down was a bit hairy, particularly as I had Shaun the sheep staring at me from the back window of the bus in front. From here we took a gentle ride to Tata beach, where we met some friendly kiwis and then on back to Takaka for one last coffee at the Dangerous Cafe.
Arrived at Woodsy House, Nelson. This place is stunning. An original wooden Victorian house with original features, it is gorgeous. The owner is a bit weird though. He is Australian and he doesn't smile, or blink. There is no lock on our door and he has already come in once by accident. He has weird taste in DVDs too, plus he prides himself on the addition of 'robes' which resemble those that are worn before a surgical procedure. The house though is BEAUTIFUL, and is a short walk through the towns botanical gardens to some lovely restaurants.
Sunday 5th March. Nelson to Havelock.
Sunday 5th March. Nelson to Havelock.
Up early and creeping about to avoid Mr. Strange. We are going to a flea market and I am excited. Who knows what delightful crap I will buy to ram into the ever expanding suitcase! Next stop Havelock.
Nothing much at the flea market; on par with a bad Essex boot sale; i.e. Nazi memorabilia, well thumbed issues of Penthouse, some clothes and some bullets and big knives. Did see some nice old cars though, and popped into the Japanese gardens too.
Onward to Havelock and s stop off for breakfast at Pelorus bridge for a quick walk and some breakfast. Here we met an American couple who have been cycling around the world for 15 years. They are visiting their 49th country and are managing to pay their way by singing and playing guitar at schools and rest homes. We think they were missionaries.
The Marlborough sounds are beautiful. However it's proving impossible to even dip your feet in the water here, as most foreshore access is residential, boat club owned or restricted access by industrial fishing. This is the Mecca of the green lipped mussel. Havelock itself is hot hot hot (tarmac is melting). We are staying close to the harbour in a cabin on a nice site run by a lovely friendly guy who is an amalgam of Kris Kristopherson, Noel Edmunds and my friend Malcolm Green. Terry has a big crush on him and has been flirting with Kris big time. After getting told off for teasing her, we took a nice walk around the harbour before having to retreat from the sun and lack of shade. We scoured the campsite for anywhere cool to sit. I suggested that Kris might be able to help her out there.
This is our last full day on the South Island. Tomorrow we catch the ferry from Picton to Wellington, North island. Looking forward to part two of our trip.
Monday 6th March. Havelock to Picton. Picton ferry to Wellington, North Island.
Getting ready to leave the South Island after waking from the weirdest nights sleep (or not). We spent the night in a metal bed with a nylon duvet. This would account for the many "snaps!" and green flashes that coincided with our fidgeting. I even woke T up to show her own very own northern light show under the covers. Whilst I was marvelling at this, she remains unimpressed!
Cloudy start to the day as we arrive in Picton. I'm going to miss the South Island; the bullet holes in the road signs (moving target practice from the back of Ute's), possum road kill, the kiwi obsession with flannels, and astonishing awesomeness of just about everything.
The crossing across the Cook Strait was calm and sunny. It was a lovely way to spend three hours out on the open deck. We got chatting to a couple with a baby from Wanganui (North Island); really good people. James has just had surgery for a broken collar bone and grows veggies for a living. Ruby is part Maori and English, and is the mum to eight month old Violet; possibly the happiest baby I have ever met.
On arriving in Wellington, I was surprised by how windy it was. Apparently this is normal, all of the time. Driving out of the port was interesting; a sort of combination of Florida highways meets the A303 to the west country with fierce gusts. The beauty of the South Island is consigned to happy memory. This island is very different. Drivers are a little more assertive, we saw some litter and graffiti for the first time too. State road 1 "to Palmerston North" is like the A303, in that it starts out bleak and urban, with McDonalds and bulk stores and ends in Teletubby land with wind turbines, by the time we had taken the 57 to Palmerston.
Palmerston North is the place of Terry's birth. We skirted the area (Ashhurst) where she lived briefly en route to Hastings which is a long drive and happens to be on the opposite side of the country. After passing through, it began to feel like NZ again, with signs of kiwi humour present (owl sanctuary named "Owlcatraz") albeit a less dramatic one than the South Island.
After some winding highways and vineyards we have arrived in Hastings for a brief stop overnight at Cape Kidnappers, before we head to Napier tomorrow. We had a quick stroll on the beach to watch local lads fishing and catching snapper.
Tuesday 7th March. Cape Kidnappers, Napier - Roturua
Aside from beautiful Art Deco buildings and great places to eat, Napier has a beautiful promenade park filled with familiar and exotic plants and a bronze statue dedicated to Pania of the reef. Maori legend says that Pania heard the call of the sea people who lured her out to sea, and turned her into a reef when she tried to return to her lover. Similarly, in Essex, we have Tania, who tempted by the smell of food, was lured into the nearest KFC and ordered a zinger tower meal but changed her mind. On returning to the counter to get a bargain bucket, the KFC people simply told her to sod off.
We left Napier heading North on the 'thermal springs highway (5) for Rotorua, passing along the way through Hobbit country, fields of cows oblivious to the steaming random geysers sharing their pasture, and geothermal power stations, which kiwis are very proud of. After a long drive we stopped for groceries for the first time since "nutgate". The cashier was very friendly, but it flashed through our minds that behind her intent gaze, her memory was recalling our faces from the 'wanted' posters after our exploits in Motueka. Phew... we got away with it and are now enjoying a log cabin in Rotorua - listening for the first time, to rain on the roof.
Tomorrow we are off to Wai - o - tapu thermal wonderland to see some hot geysers. On googling it up I got a different sort of thermal wonderland.
Wednesday 8th March - Rotorua
It has rained continually all night and continues into the morning. NZ rain is different from UK rain. It doesn't stop for a rest at all. It starts and stops. Simple. I have made the most of it though by enjoying a geyser hot pool. The water temperature is 24-25c and is pumped directly into a pool. It's amazing.
My fantasy of being in a hot tub with some NZ rugby players didn't quite live up to expectation though. I was joined by five of them, effing and jeffin their way through stories about rugby, poo and working for the same construction firm. To them I was invisible, until they said bye when the time came to get out. Definitely feels a bit more of a mans world in this town.
I've been learning about Maori. It is thought that they make up only 15% of the NZ population (about 600,000) and of the entire population of both islands, there are thought to be just over four million people, of which three million live on the north island. There are two main Iwi (bloodlines) in the South Island and countless in the north, however it is thought that there are no pure maori's left owing to integration with European settlers over the last couple of hundred years, and that as recently as 1947, there was a test that if a man were 5/8 ths Maori, then he could legally register as Maori.
It is still p****** down. Terry is tucked up in bed reading, as am I. I have been reading a fascinating story about Peter Drouyn, one of surfing first superstars in Australia. He is one of histories finest surfers and a total rock star with women during his hey day. One day whilst surfing he face planted causing a burst eardrum and concussion, resulting in him becoming a woman.
Wow! Nature is incredible, unpredictable and certainly bigger than us. After watching boiling hot pools of mud and gaining a better understanding of the complexities of the Indian, Australasian and Pacific plates, I now no longer give a shit about Brexit or that total arse-basket Trump, for there are much scarier things occurring beneath our feet.
The walk through boiling hot mud pools, sulphur mounds and steaming 100c lakes force you to refocus somewhat. Aside from spending a good hour gagging and wretching at the rotten eggs odour (Kev, you would breeze this) we were distracted from the cessation of the earlier unrelenting rain.
Last night tonight in Rotorua. It has stopped raining and I have enjoyed a hot pool, which was a much more civilised affair than this morning with the the local rugby team the "All Twats". This evening for company, I had a gentle elderly Dutch couple, young German family and a fierce Thai woman and her reluctant henpecked northern husband Willy Eckerslike.
Popped out for a nice Thai meal. Terry had noodles, I had Lamp.
Thursday 9th March. Rotorua - Whakatane.
Today we are leaving Rotorua, coast bound again heading north to beach front accommodation, and hoping to get some SUPing in.
It's been my least favourite place on the trip, despite the amazing geothermals, and I can't really pin point why. Certainly the weather wasn't great, but it's more than that. I don't feel any soul to this place.
We have arrived, and are staying in a beautiful cabin on the beach. It is dry but overcast; and we have received news that coromandel - our next stop in closed due to state wide flooding, land slips and fallen trees. Watch this space.
We stopped in town for coffee and a stroll along the beach. Again, we have seen some lovely architecture and street art.
The beach here is beautiful and deserted, but for a couple of Maori fisherman who have been catching Kauwa. They are beachcasting, and spinning with rubber squid lures. Each fish is the size of a decent cod, but are an oily fish; therefore muscular like a mackerel and thrash as they are landed. The breaking strain of the monofilament is around 100lb! One of the men had caught five of these, and unlike fisherman in the U.K. who use a priest (or a rock in my case) to end their lives, they bleed their fish by slitting their throats. I am told this has something to do with acidity of the fish. Perhaps this is a Pacific thing; mercury levels and all that? Or it could be to do with the warning sign we found later, regarding toxic algae and a warning not to eat green lipped mussels and clams.
Friday 10th March - Thornton beach.
The best way to start the day that I can think of. Watching the sunrise as the fisherman haul in more Kauwa, and a good meditation sitting in the dunes. How amazing.
The sun finally came back out as we drove to Ohopi beach via the scenic route. The beach is vast, like all of NZ's beaches and had some nice surf.
It's a cloudy evening and the sea is raging. I am enjoying a drink on the porch of our cabin watching the kids on the trampoline, and feeling a bit disappointed that I can't get on there to be incontinent again.
I have instead had some fantastic creative ideas today which I mostly attribute to having not worn pants all day due to running out. I have indeed felt the wind beneath my wings. This certainly is an inspirational and free environment full of positive people who aren't afraid to show their passion or share it.
This trip has been incredible in a number of ways, both aesthetically and personally, and I hope to be able to sustain some of the epiphanies I have had. This environment and the people here are incredibly positive and resourceful. They hold a deep respect for their environment, animals and people. They are quirky and fun.
Number 8 wire mentality
This refers to the gauge wire used in sheep farming since forever. Going back a few years, if something broke it would be repaired using no 8 wire. This mindset continues. Kiwi's waste nothing. They can fix almost anything. If they have a bunch of odd shoes they say "what can we do with these?" "I know we will tie them to a fence and make a shoe-fence".
Saturday 11th March - Thornton - Tauranga via Mount Maunganui
Ki ora! After I stormy night, we are no longer heading for the coromandel today, as they are experiencing floods and lanslips. Instead we are off to Tauranga.
It's no longer raining, and the beach is busy with the local youth occupying themselves drawing Tiki in the sand. Kids of today eh!?
After finding a mountain of shells and pumice stone from that there volcano (work chums - these are your holiday gifts to help you with that thick skin developed from years off NHS service), we are on our way again.
Arrived at Mount Maunganui for a look around. It's a busy town with parades of shops at its base. It's also on the beach and has a busy port with a dock for cruise liners.
It was hammering down with rain and driving here it became obvious that the north has suffered state wide flooding on a large scale. Radio reports, the reality of flooded grazing lane and highway warnings gave us an idea of the scale of the damage.
So, in order to make the most of our last day we went to a dub meet and enthused with the owners about our love of dubs.
It has stopped raining and the air is warm. We stopped at a commercial fishing quay to eat fish and chips. Kiwi's know how to make good fish and chips. Everything is triple cooked in pure beef fat. This probably accounts for the amazing taste and the high rate of heart disease here. The fish of the day was Tarakihi - the cashier couldn't explain what it is, but assures me it's nicer than Hoki. And it was.
I have had some interesting conversations with local people about dolphins and sharks in New Zealand waters.
A bottlenose dolphin regularly visits the harbour at Whakatane and has become a local celebrity.
In fact yesterday on national news was a story about a dolphin leaping in the surf near some body boarders, and actually landed on the body border as he caught a wave.
Bazil (surfer I met in Westport) says the best way to tell if there's sharks in the water is to dip your finger in it, pop it in your mouth and if it tastes salty, then there are probably sharks in it. Having said that, he confidently assured me that people don't get attached here. He tells me that Westport is the nearest point in New Zealand to Byron bay, Australia - a surf Mecca and placxe where "sharks are always eating the bastard aussies".
Yesterday, Glyn (campsite owner) tells me that there have only been two shark attacks in NZ since the 1930's, and one of the victims was 'asking for it' as he had a string of fish attached to his dive belt. Of course I looked it up, and it's not exactly true, although rare compared with other places.
Glyn told me that since he as a boy, he has body boarded at Mount Maunganui where there are no sharks at all, or so he thought. His friend started paragliding there and tells him that only a few metres out, their a loads of sharks sunbathing, yet shark attacks are relatively non existent.
Down on the South there is an enormous great white living off the waters of Stewart Island. The locals have named him Freddie, and that tour operators now offer cage diving experiences, which has created problems for local Paua divers.
Glyn tells me that a motel owner he knows, told him of a guest who was mauled inside the cage by Freddie. Asking for it I say.
Tauranga is vibrant and diverse. It's also a bit like English seafronts too. We wandered down the 'strand' to check out the restaurants. There were three police cars, with officers handcuffing a big Maori lad and with more officers trying to separate the sea of opposing white and Maori baseball capped youths like Moses in that Red Sea caper. Many people think that Moses was simply trying to pedestrianise it, when actually he was probably just trying to sort out a punch up over who has the most 'gangy' tattoo. Needless to say, that tensions are rising down at the strand, and I have the dilemma of what I want to eat on our last night. First world problems.
Sunday 12th March - Tauranga - Auckland. Flying to Singapore today.
Well this is it. Chilling at the airport before we head home. Along the way we saw more of the flooding. It goes on for miles. However, as predicted the locals are making the most of the swollen rivers by arriving in hoards with kayaks!