New Zealand North Island

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Apologies for being so tardy, but I've been having too much of a good time to sit down and write up everything. I thought I'd better get up to speed though. Here's the first instalment.

When the carousel for our flight stopped and our bags had not arrived, it was pretty obvious that the bags were having a holiday somewhere without us. After filling in all the requisite parerwork with Qantas (there's a whole department that deals with this), it was upstairs to the benches for the night. We'd planned to sleep in the airport in any case, as it was too late/expensive to get to a hotel. If you ever find yourself sleeping in the airport (I am a veteran of this) the best bet is to go to the viewing area, as no one goes there and you can have a good nights sleep. If you make the (schoolboy error) mistake of sleeping by the shops, sod's law indicates that they'll open at 4am and there'll be hoards of screaming kids waking you up. To the viewing area it was.

With no sign of the bags and a message that 'we've located an item similar to yours and are awaiting confirmation' on the phone, it was finally off from the airport after breakfast. Mike and I decided a while ago that we'd split in New Zealand, as he's here for 10 weeks, whilst I'm only here for 5, and he'd be taking longer going around than I would be. He also chose to go on a backpacker bus called the Kiwi Experience (you may have heard of them, as one plunged off the road between Franz Josef and Fox Glacier a week or so ago down a 30 metre ravine. All survivied, so no dramas), whilst I rented a car (very cheap in the off season). Whilst Mike stayed in Auckland, I headed down to stay with Mike and Anne Goold (friends of John Ogle and occasional Kinclochewe fishers) near Hamilton. They very kindly put me up for a few nights, and after a day Qantas finally found the bags and shipped mine down to me, and Mikes to wherever he was.

Whilst down at Hamilton, I went over to the Waitomo Caves, famed for their glow worms and black water rafting. Being off-season, it's so easy to get into places, as you don't need to book any more than a day in advance, if at all (I've got into the habit of just turning up and getting onto things, generally at a good price too). I chose to do something called 'black abyss', which was a 5 hour abseling, waterfall climbing, jumping into underground rivers and floating in the inner tube of a tyre extravaganza. For the first part of the trip, there were only two of us and two guides. Not bad. After an abseil/crawl through an opening (you'd probably miss it if you walked past), going 30 metres down into the limestone, it was onto a flying fox, whizzing through the caves in darkness with glow worms overhead, before finding an inner tube that fitted, putting it over your arse, and jumping off a ledge into the water below. The depth of water in the caves is not natural, and was created by a (rather eccentric) farmer who dammed the river, in the hope of guiding tourists around on a boat. However, he failed to work out how to get a boat down a two foot wide hole into the cave, so the whole scheme went belly up. Floating down an underground stream with glow worms glowing above (all in total darkness) is quite surreal - the cathedral like structure of the limestone caves is surprisingly lit-up by the excretions of little worms to great effect. Though we had headtorches, we only used them when we actually wanted to see where we were going. For the rest of it, We just lay back and watched the glow worms go by. As there were only two of us, we went to places that they don't normally take people, and at the end climbed out up a couple of waterfalls. All pretty cool. On the way back to Hamilton, I though I'd take the scenic route. Though it was indeed scenic, it took an absolute age, and what I thought would be a relatively short detour took absolutely hours.

From Hamilton, I made a quick trip down to Taupo and the Tongariro National Park (think Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings, and that's it) and into the geothermal heartland of Rotorua. The smell around the place is like going into a chemisty class where everything's gone a bit wild. As I had a car, it meant that I could get to places before everyone else got up. A couple of places I had entirely to myself were the Huka Falls and The Craters of the Moon (created when the nearby geothermal power station was constructed and upset the underlying geothermal-dynamics). First thing on a crisp, clear autumn morning, the mixture of the heat from the rushing water of the falls (a relatively hot river) and the gases spewing out of the craters made the earth look as though it was smouldering after a huge fire. Quite incredible. On the way up to Rotorua, where I'd arranged to meet Ronnie Downey, the daughter of someone who lives in Warkton, Ursula Jones, I called in at the Wai-o-Tapu geothermal area. Here, there are perhaps one of the greatest concentrations of different hot things in the area - boiling pools of mud, geysers, rivers of sulphuric water, seatming pots of magnesium, and more. All pretty smelly, though still nothing on the barn at home after it's not been mucked out for a while. That really knocks your socks off.

I managed to meet Ronnie without any problems (thank goodness for mobiles) and we decided we'd go and do a Zorb. Zorbing is basically where you get into a giant plastic ball and roll down the hill. We chose to do it unhinged (ie you just roll about wherever), down a zig zag path, with water (warm, mind) thrown in. It was like going in a washing machine, and was an absolute blast. I think we should put one up in the fields at home!

After I'd been down to the hot stuff and swapped info on where to go/what to do with Ronnie (who was heading to Australia) I headed back (all rather circuitous) up north, to the Coromandel peninsular, where Mike and Anne had invited me to stay at their place at Hahei for the weekend. On the way, I stayed for a day at Jonathan and Chrissie Currall's place (more friends of John Ogle) near Thames, where I had a great time with a hydraulic log splitter (the way forward Dad) as well as climbing up several hills in the area.

Crossing over the peninsular on a rather potholed road, the weather could not have been better in Hahei. I think I've broken several of the 'don't do this' things for the car already - unsealed roads are not liked by rental companies, and crossing fords is probably something they don't want you to do either. The ford crossing, to the Curralls place, did have me wondering whether my little car (2005 Diahatsu Sirion) would have it, as the clearance is pretty low, but it was fine and she survived. The road across the peninsular was not too bad, and I've not become a master at dodging potentially catastrophic potholes at speed (don't worry parents, not too fast). With Mike and Anne, I had a fantastic couple of days fishing off the coast. Nothing quite beats riding out on the tractor first thing in the morning with the boat in tow, lowering it into the water (some times easier than others!) before heading off to fish. Mike's devised a rather ingenious floating trailer, which makes it a lot easier getting the boat in and out of the water. This is just anchored off the beach, until the end of the day, when the boat's driven onto it, then up the beach. Out fishing, we caught quite a haul of red snapper on the first day, as well as John Ogle's old friend Spiny Norman (an utterly useless fish shoudl you ever try to eat one). Whilst out, there were some dolphins relatively near the boat, and at one point the swam right underneath the boat. They weren't interested in playing around though. On the way back in, there were also a couple of penguins in the water. Not something you see back home! On the second day out, we didn't have quite the haul we had on the first day, but still caught some snapper, one red snapper, and one tarakihi. Though we did catch loads of snapper, most were far too small to be legally caught, so they had to go back. The cheeky fish also cleaned up all of our lines on quite a few occasions - they just chewed everything off!

Mike and Anne headed back to Hamilton on Sunday the 22nd, and let me stay for another couple of nights - I intended (and did) drive from Hahei to Wellington in one go, to catch the ferry to the south. In my day around Hahei, I did some snorkelling in the marine reserve (the water was freezing) and saw quite a few snapper and very nearly swam over/stood on a huge Eagle Ray in very shallow water. Quite a different snorkelling experience to Australia - seaweed/kelp for a start. I found out what time low tide was (6pm) and made a move for Hot Water Beach a couple of hours before. This is because, for two hours either side of low tide, thermal springs on the beach are exposed, and if you're armed with a shovel, you can create your own hot water tub. Getting the temperature right takes a bit of pot luck - some areas are freezing, whilst others are scalding hot. Ideally, getting a mix of the two is the way to go. After a bit of digging, I managed to create my hole, and had a good soak for an hour or so, periodically jumping into the sea to wake myself up. Unlike pretty much every other hot tub, you have to keep digging it to get more hot water up, as it cools once exposed.

The trip down to Wellington was pretty uneventful, and I managed to get up for the dawn Anzac service on the morning of my crossing (which was the first one of the day as well). There was quite a huge turnout for this, though I think I prefer the timing of UK remembrance services!  
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