Thurs 20th – Lazy morning then took bus into Auckland. Wandered Queen Street & harbour but still feeling the jet lag. Evening went out with Nina & Blair for an Indian meal.
Fri 21st – Better day. Into town and first changed dates on our RTW ticket – cheeky people at Qantas charged us 25 NZD each! Our return flight is booked for April 15th 2008! And we're leaving Christchurch, NZ for Sydney on Friday 19th October.
After, we went up the SkyTower blagging discounted backpacker rates by showing our RTW ticket. Great views. The city looked much nicer from up there. After we went to swimming pool for a swim & steam/sauna/Jacuzzi.
Blair had got us box tickets for the rugby – Auckland v Otago – in the HSBC box as he is one of their clients – great view and free food & drinks! Great night and we went on for a few drinks afterwards. Bed at 3am. Adding to our viewing of National Sport… Chicago for the Baseball, Kansas for American Football (albeit it a kids game) and now Auckland for NZ Rugby. Hoping to see an Aussie-Rules Football game in Melbourne.
Sat 22nd – Picked up our Campervan! Had planned to hit the road but feeling a little tired so spent another day with Nina & Blair in Auckland. N&B kindly drove us to some of the sights & beaches outside Auckland: lovely sunny day. Fantastic beaches! Shame we're here in the Spring and not the Summer but hey, can't be everywhere at the right time. Stayed in Saturday night with NZ fish & chips and the Godfather film.
Sun 23rd – Got up and started our campervan travels around NZ. Stopped off on route to buy supplies to fill up our fridge & cupboard. Arrived at Bay Of Islands late afternoon and we found a "holiday park" near Paihia at the foot of Haruru Falls – a cute mini waterfall – wider than it was tall but pretty all the same. Holiday parks usually have cabins, powered campervan sites and tent sites: there are very few tents this time of year and lots of campervans, but we've not had any problems finding space.
Mon 24th – Went to Waitangi – where the Treaty of NZ was signed in 1840 between the Maori people and the representatives of Queen Victoria's government. The area north of Auckland was one of the first areas settled in by the British and so has lots of historical places & buildings to see. We visited the Treaty House which was built in 1832 for a British resident. It's now been restored and houses a museum all about the signing of the Treaty. Next door there is a Maori Meeting House built in 1940 to mark the centenary of the treaty. The craftsmanship is amazing and I enjoyed taking photos in there although the lighting wasn't great. I think a few came out really well though.
Tues 25th – Drove further north heading for Ninety Mile Beach. Stopped off at Kerikeri – nothing much to see, had a coffee. Went to the oldest Stone building & Wooden Missionary House. The Stone Store was similar to the Steamboat Arabia in Kansas City but here they were selling replica items from the era. The Mission House next door looked like it was ready to fall down soon. Nice to see and the weather was good and location pretty but I wouldn't rush back. A nice stop off on our journey further north. Was feeling at this point that NZ was pretty much like the English countryside… I probably wasn't too far off in that thought given this was where the British first colonized. Ben assured me there was MUCH more to explore! Camped at a lovely spot just back off Ninety Mile Beach; pulled in and went for a walk on the wet and windy beach – beautiful quiet, undeveloped beach. Beautiful shells – reminded me of seahorses.
Wed 26th – Went on our first organized trip in NZ. Bus picked us up at 9.30am and we went on a trip up to Cape Reinga, right at the top of the North Island and back via Ninety Mile Beach… a coach on the sand! Stopped off at another beach on the way with really white sand. This beach had fab shells too but different colours and a swirl-type shell. At Cape Reinga there is a lighthouse and the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet – you can see the waves crashing into each to other and the blue-greens combining.
After lunch we went sand tobogganing! Great fun! Ben went first and showed me how NOT to do it. He used his legs for brakes which caused the sand to fly up in his face. The climb up was the hardest, similar to climbing up snow; the ground beneath you gives way so for every 3 steps up you take 1 back again. I adopted the let-the-sledge-choose-the-best-route and I kept my arms and legs inside the sledge. My first run was reasonable… halfway down I took on a curve and had to shout at several kids to get out of the way as I cut across the kiddy slope but most importantly I didn't fall off and didn't get sandy. My second run was perfect and I went so far I almost ran into the crowd watching at the bottom. Did I mention on Ben's second run he took a tumble and I got it on video?? J hee hee.
Driving along the beach was cool. Reminded us of the Salt Flats in Bolivia. Getting from the Sand-Tobogganing to the beach we went through a "quick-sand" area where the vehicle would gradually sink if you didn't keep up a certain speed. Needless to say it's written in our campervan contract that we cannot take the van onto any beaches. Darn! J
Got back to the campervan and decided to make a start on our journey back south. But half hour in I remembered I'd left my salomons (trainers) on the floor outside the van – so we had a 40min detour to go back for them- whoops. Pretty big whoops as I'd already left clothes at Nina's house in Auckland.
We were hoping to camp north of the ferry crossing at Hokianga but arriving in dark we couldn't find anywhere to stay except a hotel and just missing the 7o'clock ferry we waited for the 8o'clock ferry and spent night in Rawene.
Thurs 27th – Drove most of day stopping off to see a very large Kauri Tree. They are humongous beasts. Can you spot Ben?! Fri 28th
– Waitomo Caves. (Try saying Wai-tom-o in a Geordie accent. Ben finds it hilarious and says most NZ towns in Geordie-speak….okay maybe you have to be here). Ben's other "funny thing" is whilst up in the Far North, everywhere there are rolling hills, blanketed in green grass and sheep. So Ben reckons it looks like Tellytubby Land… how does he know this we ask?? Anyways…this brings me to our Waitomo Caves adventure to see the Glowworm. There are many ways to see the Glowworm of Waitomo Caves the easiest/wussiest option being to go with the bus loads of Koreans on a floating boat. We chose the "Rap, Raft & Rock" option and used another Wedding gift – thanks Janet, Len, Mark, David & Lisa!! Postcard is on its way!
This began Rappeling/Abseiling down 27 metres into the cave entrance. Then carrying a large black inner tube we walked upstream into the cave… oh back to the Tellytubby reference… the gear we had to wear for this mission was a wetsuit, coloured baggy pajama-style pants over the top (the 4 of us had a different colour each), white wellyboots (known here as gumboots), a battery pack round our waists and a red helmet with a lamp on the top. Our shadow as we waddled (wearing climbing harnesses too) towards the hole in the ground was SO EXACTLY like a Tellytubby! I was in giggles. Unfortunately we don't have any photographic evidence as we obviously didn't take our camera and the tour wanted to charge 25NZ$ for a few blurry shots. Shame!
So back to the caving. We're now walking upstream (no harnesses, have left them at cave mouth in order to 'rock' climb back out again) and we have our headlamps on initially but then we turn them off and in the dark follow the guide by putting our hands on the person in front's shoulders, and as soon as we turned out the lamps we saw millions of little blue-gold lights; the glowworm. Amazing to see. Shortly after we had turned off the lights our guide, Tim, made an almighty bang and scared the living daylights out of me! I was quite angry until he explained why he did it. The burst of adrenalin from the fright widens your pupils so that more light is let in and you see the Glowworm better.
We walked in the dark, in up to waist deep water at times and we were highly likely passing through some smaller caverns as you could tell where the walls & roof roughly were due to the proximity of the "lights" but I didn't think about that and just concentrated on looking at the glowworm J We stopped in what was called the Cathedral Cavern. From there we sat down on the inner tubes and rafted back downstream; sometimes with headlamps on if there were rocks to maneuver and other times in the dark, floating downstream under what looks just like the nights sky. Spectacular.
We then went on to do some caving which was referred to in the pamphlet as "squeezes". I'd been reassured there was an alternative non-squeeze option but having walked in the dark I was feeling brave. Plus I could see both sides of the hole so with my new found small-space-confidence I tackled them all.
More floating on the tubes under Glowworms and it was time to climb back out. Good rocks to climb on; lots of ledges and good hand holds. Whole trip lasted 5 hours and I was absolutely shattered! I never felt cold but I think the adrenalin in my body was keeping me warm and alert. Would recommend it.
Tune in next week for the Week2 installment of Ben& Sam in New Zealand J
What's coming up… Zorbing, Mud Pools and Smelly Geysers…