'Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today, to make a brand new start of it, in New Zealand, New Zealand ...' as Frank Sinatra once sang and here I was making a fresh new start to a different country. On arriving in New Zealand I got a big Kia Ora (..no not the delicious orange drink but 'Welcome' in Maori) and tried to settle in to the much more British like weather following the sweltering humidity of Darwin. On the plane over I noticed the country was very very green compared to Oz and also read in the in-flight mag that there is almost 13 sheep to each person in New Zealand - a Yorkshire-mans fantasy some might say. I also noticed that they speak a bit funny over here too, I swear down to you that I heard the following conversation within 2 hours of being in Auckland.
"Hey hows it going bro"
"Yeah Everythings going good bro"
"What you up to bro"
"Just surfing the net bro, are you going to gainsborough tonight bro"
"Yeah I'm going down about 9 bro"
"Sweet bro I'll prob see you there bro"
The strange thing was that they didn't even look like brothers either. Anyway on arriving in the airport we found out that like Australia they have very strict rules on what you bring into the country as lots of things are considered as bio-hazards to the environment - even the outback dirt on the bottom of my hiking boots which I had to declare at the customs section. It was a good thing to declare as the nice people at the bio-hazard unit cleaned my boots up for me. Anyway we were in Auckland in the North Island for a few days before making our way down towards the South Island via a few more stops. Auckland's quite a nice city with a nice vibe to it. On the first night there we went down to the harbour area where there are some America's Cup boats parked up. There's also loads of nice little bars around there and most of them have some live music on too so all very nice.
On the Saturday it was the official St Patrick's Day parade so I caught that. I love the way the whole world celebrates St Patrick's, he's like a universal patron saint. There were all sorts of nationalities in the parade including Korean, Japanese and Scottish and they were all lovin it. After the parade I went to Auckland Domain which is basically a big park but called a Domain. Here I caught a bit of Saturday afternoon cricket and football. The football was awful, I'm not surprised they're not a major force in world football - rugby thoughs a different matter. While in the domain I went to the Auckland museum which was cool for two particular exhibits, one was a children's exhibition which showed lots of toys and sweets through the ages, brought back some nice childhood memories from the 80's. The other cool thing was a big exhibition on volcanoes which was really interesting but best of all was a big room with a living room setting in it and in there it shows what it would be like if a volcano goes of in Auckland harbour. Apparently there's shed loads of under water volcanoes around the north island so the potential for seriously big eruptions is there. The following day we were on the Naked Bus heading south to Rotarua - 'Naked Bus' was just a brand name for the service though, so I had to put my pants back on when I realised this half way through the journey.
Rotarua smells of eggy farts. There's more to this rather pleasant town however. A short walk from the city centre takes you to the main park where there are plenty of geothermal pools and boiling mud pools (the sulphur in which creates the eggy fart smell). Then further on from here you'll get to the bay area that surrounds Lake Rotarua and this is very nice - the lake is massive. But after that there's not a great deal to see really and I'd clocked the lot up in less than 3 hours and that was taking it slowly. I spent most of the rest of my first day watching a game of bowls at the local bowls club and reading a book - quite impressive bowls club by the way. I even got so restless I cut all my hair off to pass the time. The night time scene wasn't too great either but it was a Sunday night after all.
The next day we went on a shuttle bus up to the Wai-o-tapu geothermal park where we saw more thermal pools and bubbling mud. On the way we stopped of at the Lady Knox geyser that we were told goes of at 10.15am each morning. I was curious as to what geological event took place to ensure that this geyser went of at the same time each day. Was it a movement in platonic plates under the ground? Was it a redistribution of the water pressure under the earth? Nope it was because a guide drops a bar of soap into it. How disappointing, but the geyser goes of nonetheless spurting unnaturally 10 metres or so into the air. Couldn't help feeling a bit cheated though. The rest of the attractions were more thermal pools called such grand names as the devils ink-pots, the artists palette, rainbow crater, inferno crater and the devils bath (the devil needs to see a doctor judging by the bath colour as it was lime green). The best of the pools was the champagne pools which was particularly smelly but good for photographs.
That afternoon we left Rotarua and headed for the town of Taupo. This was on the 17th March and the Irish pub across the road from us was banging so we had to go and join in the celebrations. The following day I did something I've always always wanted to do and that was jump out of a plane. I jumped from 12,000 feet and all I can tell you is that it was absolutely awesome and an amazing experience - everyone should jump out of a plane at least once. I paid for the DVD of the experience and with my very fast and uncontrollable hand movements during the free-fall it looks like some sort of Benny Hill does skydiving video.
After the rush of the skydiving I spent the rest of the day doing the more serene activity of a 10km round trip walk to the Huka falls. On the way I saw the Taupo bungy, which is about 40 meteres above a river. It looked cool and gave me a bit of a desire to do one at some stage. The Huka falls themselves are really cool also, and very very blue. The rest of my time in Taupo was spent just milling around and waiting for the next bus to Wellington, but Taupo is a very nice place to kill some time.
On arriving in Wellington we struck a problem on the accommodation front. It was Easter weekend which I'd completely forgot about, but more importantly there was a rock festival that weekend featuring Ozzie Osbourne, Kiss, Poison, Alice Cooper and Whitesnake. So needless to say getting beds was difficult but we managed to get some, and having to pay a premium rate because of the gig. The first night there we checked out the nightlife as usual and it was pretty good with some cool bars, including one sports bar where you could hire a lazy-boy in front of the sports screens for the day with some beers and food chucked in for $50. The following day we checked out the Te Papa museum which had lots of interesting stuff including an exhibition on earthquakes which was similarly as good as the volcanoes one in Auckland, and had an earthquake reconstruction room which shook about. The harbour area down by the museum is nice too and a good spot for a few post museum drinks to help soak up all that info you've spent the last few hours cramming into your brain.
On Good Friday we decided to try and get to some other areas of Wellington on the train. When I left the hostel I couldn't believe how empty the streets were. If you've seen the opening scenes of the film Vanilla Sky then that's exactly what it was like. Bearing in mind that this is New Zealands capital city, I started to become very scared at the potential scenario that the whole world had been wiped out overnight but eventually we stumbled on a few people but not many. Anyway at the train station we got on our first train to Upper Hutt which is where the lord of the rings was filmed. After 45 minutes on the train we arrived to find out we'd just missed the bus which would take us to the Rivendell area and there wouldn't be one for another 55 minutes. We couldn't be bothered waiting (never was a fan of that lord of the rings stuff anyway) so had some breakfast and headed back to Wellington Central. Next idea was how about a nice train ride down to the beach on the west coast. Another 1 hour train journey took us to Paraparaumu from where we had no idea where the beach was. With mountains to two sides of us we decided to head in the opposite direction of this and after 45 minutes of walking realised that we were getting no closer to a beach. So we headed back to the train station grabbing a bag of chips on the way and headed back to the city. So total time on trains = 3.5 hours, total attractions seen = 0. Oh well we managed to kill some time anyway until beer time, but then tragedy struck.
In New Zealand they don't serve beer on Good Friday. Arghhhh. In fact places would serve beer but only if you were dining there and I'd already had my dinner. I did temporarily consider buying several bowls of chips so I could have beer but thought better of it. So it was a very sober night, but probably just as well given the very early start next morning to get the ferry to the South Island.