Rap, Raft n Rock!!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Sunday, October 5, 2003

Hi all,
Well haven't we been busy since we last spoke!! Its been 10 days and our feet haven't touched the ground!! I may have confused some of you on the photo front but every entry now has photos listed against them - I have just added some for the last entry and this one! Hope all of you are well. Keep the emails coming!

Monday 29th September
James kindly took us to the airport to pick up our Camper Van. We said our goodbyes to James, Joe, Brendan & Kevin and collected our new home for the next 5 1/2 weeks, Vinnie the Van (in memory of Vinnie the Vespa!). It was really cool, loads of storage space and we unpacked our bags knowing we didn't have to pack them again for a while - Bliss. We headed to the supermarket and spent 2 hours doing a big shop to fill our cupboards.

We then headed to Farmers (thanks for the tip Mum!)which is a sort of BHS and bought some clothes as the South Island had just had its worst snow in 20 years! The good things was seeing it was supposed to be spring all the end of winter season sales were on so we both got pretty well kitted out with new trainers, skirt, tops, trousers, socks. It all came to $70 (about 25 quid - thank you for the strong pound!!) We headed out and loaded up Vinnie and headed South to a place called Waitomo which is famous for its caves and glowworms.

We got to Waitomo and found a nice campsite with a hot tub and pool (both outdoor though and it was peeing down!) We parked up and plugged in and had some soup and hot chocolate. Vinnie came pretty much equipped everything you might need. The campsite had a laundrette so we did all our washing and then sat in the van reading. We headed to the Tourist Information Centre across the road and booked ourselves onto a Rap, Raft and Rock trip for tomorrow at 10am. We then went to use the internet but it was soooo slow we gave up. It was raining pretty hard so we pretty much stayed in the van and then had a really comfy nights sleep.

Tuesday 30th September
We got up and had some cereal and coffee and then headed across the road to wait for a pick up. We were thrown into the back of a landrover and taken about 20 mins drive into farmland to a little shack where there were changing rooms and showers. There were 6 of us altogether and we were all pretty lucky because the trip hadn't run for a few days due to the heavy rains. We had a really nice guide called Howney who handed us all wetsuits (which were already wet!), harnesses, hardhat with light and rather fetching white wellies. We got changed and then headed out to do a bit of Rap (Rappel or abseil) Raft (Black Water Rafting) & Rock (Rock Climbing). We headed out towards this ledge where we began our 100ft descent by abseil into the abyss! At the bottom you landed in a river in a cave. We then collected our rubber rings and headed upstream, in quite strong currents, waist deep until we were deep in the cave system. Howney told us to switch off our head torches and we were flung into darkness, then as our eyes adjusted you could see thousands and thousands of glowworms. If you made a buzzing noise (like a mosquito, as that is what they are trying to attract for food) they grow even brighter.

We sat for a while watching them and then it was time for the real fun to start. We jumped into our rubber rings and travelled at pretty high speeds, over small waterfalls, down the rapids. It was wicked. We jumped out of the rings at the end and headed slowly back up stream. We stopped in another cave and Howney got out a flask of hot orange and Dairy Milk which was so good. We then continued on to where we started at the bottom of the abseil, got harnessed up and rock climbed our way up the 100 foot. This had been an amazing day. We headed abck to the shack and had hot showers before making our way back to the campervan for pumpkin soup. We stayed in the Camper for the rest of the day with the heater on full whack while it rained some more outside!

Wednesday 1st October
We headed off from Waitomo to Rotorua, stopping in Cambridge along the way! Cambridge is the home of New Zealands thoroughbred horse industry and is worth $100million in export a year. Thats a lot of horse! On to Rotorua which is quite a big tourist destination due to the vast thermal activity. Steam literally pours out of every grate in the street, every park, gardens, I even saw a football pitch with steam coming though it. It absolutely whiffs as well. A pungent rotten egg smell caused by the hydrogen sulphide gas.

Rotorua has some beautiful buildings, in particular the Old Government buildings with gorgeous gardens. It was turning into a nice sunny day so we went for a walk through Kuirau Park which had dozens of thermal pools and boiling mud pools. Starting to feel a little queasy from the overwhelming smells we headed to an Internet cafe for a couple of hours. We decided to head down to Lake Taupo rather than stay here in Rotorua so we made the journey south about 80km. We found a campsite in town at Lake Taupo and headed to a nearby Thai restaurant to get some dinner. (New Zealands national food in Fish & Chips or pies, so forgive us for not often eating traditional foods!) It had been dark when we arrived here so we hadn't actually caught glimpse of Lake Taupo as yet which is New Zealands biggest lake (240 sq miles).

Thursday 2nd October
We woke to find ourselves on the banks of the river which feeds Lake Taupo which now in daylight could be seen in all its glory. We headed out to have a wander around Taupo which is a decent sized town with some decent shops. After lunch we headed South of Lake Taupo towards the snow capped mountains to see if there would be any point in fitting in some ski-ing. We got to a ski resort called Whakapapa in the Tongariro National Park (in the Maori language "Wh" is pronounced "F" so you have to be careful when asking for directions, especially a name like Whakapapa!). Whakapapa ski field is one of the largest developed ski areas in the whole of New Zealand with 30 groomed trails. We got to the village and enquired about weather conditions and it looked liek they were having gale force winds all weekend with Avalanche warnings but fresh snow on Sunday and clear sunny weather on Monday and Tuesday meant it would be perfect after the weekend. We decided to head to the East Coast to a town called Napier for the weekend and head back on Monday.

The ski mountain is called Mount Ruapehu and is one of three active volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park and stands 9,176 feet tall and last erupted in 1996. On the South of Ruapehu is the ski town of Ohakune which hosts the Turoa Ski Resort and on the East of the mountain there is another privately owned ski club. We stopped in Ohakune to get some bits and pieces from the supermarket and had a look in the ski shops. It is so cheap here compared to home especially as the season is coming to an end and the shops are trying to clear their shelves. We thought it would be good to invest in a good coat while we were here and would maybe see what the shops in Napier were like. Napier was a 200km drive away so we thought we would make a start now and stop off enroute. In New Zealand it is legal for you to park anywhere overnight with your campervan so you are not restricted to campsites. Vinnie's fridge and lights are powered by a battery which recharges when you drive and the cooker is gas so you only miss out on electricity which we only use for the heater and to reacharge our minidisc players.

We hit the road and as the sun started to set we thought we would keep our eyes open for either a camp site or a picnic site near the lights of a village. We drove and we drove and then we drove some more. The road was now a gravel track and had been for the last 30 km and was snaking through the mountains. It was now dark and we still hadn't passed any form of life or picnic spot. Not wanting to park at the side of the road in this dense forest with images of the film Blair Witch flashing through my head, we pushed on.

A few hours later we came to some lights - Napier! 200km without even a village ! It makes you remember how few people live in this country! NZ is the same size as the UK and has a population of 3.9 million, of which 1 million live in Auckland and another 2 million elsewhere in the North Island. That leaves just under 1 million in the whole of the South Island!! (Did I mention there are 4 sheep to each New Zealander!!)

We found a car park on the beach with half a dozen other campervans parked up so we found a spot and cooked some tea. The councils here are really on the mark when it comes to tourists. You literally pass dozens of picnnic sites on the main roads, all well maintained with picnin tables, bins and toilets that are always clean and some even have showers. Some of the car parks have dump stations (if your camper is posh enough to have its own toilet!) and taps with drinking water so you can fill up your vans water supply. It felt like a little community of campers in this car park. Gives Vinnie a chance to catch up with his friends!

Friday 3rd October
Napier is a really cute city with a well maintained seafront with lots of gardens and play areas stretching for about a mile along Marine Parade. Most of Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and an earthquake proof building code was enforced and it was rebuilt in the then fashionable Art Deco style. The buildings are all pastel coloured with really bold lines. There is even an Art Deco Trust which is responsible for maintaining the buildings. We parked up and had a wander round the shops. There were a few ski shops with clearance sales on so we got ourselves some nice warm ski jackets and some tramping trousers (tramping is the NZ word for walking, hiking, rambling etc). They would be great for skiing and ideal for some of the big walks in the South Island. We will have to ship them home before we get to the warmer climates of Oz.

We headed back to the camper to get some lunch and then we headed to Marineland. Marineland is a recovery workshop where the staff care for marine life, seabirds and penguins that may have been injured or deserted. They are mainly brought in by the public when they are better a decision is made as to whether the animal would survive being put back into the wild or whether the risk is too great in which case they stay at Marineland. They had some big sealions and dolphins too. The animals are obviously well cared for because one of the dolphins was rescued in 1976 and was till alive. The average age for a common dolphin to live is 18 years and this one had just had her 33rd birthday. There were 2 dolphins in while we were there and they were loving every minute of it. Its amazing how human they seem. We were allowed to swim with them and 2 people at a time can get in the pool. We got into wetsuits and jumped into the pool which is next to the sea and the water is fed by the Pacific so it was blimin' cold. The pool is split into two and you are only allowed in one area so if the dolphins don't want to interact they don't have to. We had half an hour in the pool and at first the dolphins just ignored us. They had a bell that they played with at one end of the pool ans they played with that. Then after about 10 minutes they started coming upto us. They would swim under us upside down and then jump right over you before swimmimg away, you could almost hear them laughing at us as if they thought it was really funny. If you sang to them or hummed you could hear them respond with their high pitched clicking. It was amazing. They are just incredible animals and it sounds weird but you really feel like they connect with you. They mimic you and play with you, coming up really close and then diving away. It was such an amazing experience. When we got ready to leave they were jumping up alongside the pool as if they now recognised you.

After our swim we had a wander round to look at the other animals, some "day guests" some "residents". There were some tiny blue penguins and a huge sealion and some local fur seals. We headed back to Vinnie on a real high. We parked up on the car park having had a hot shower at Marineland we were not in need of a camp site yet!

Saturday 4th October
We did a bit of driving and sightseeing today. We first headed south towards a town called Pamlmerston North where we had some lunch. If one thing is as changeable as the New Zealand weather it is the New Zealand landscape. One miunte you are in luscious green hills, greener than you can ever imagine and then you will be in really flat land full of Orchards and Wineries, then you are in the mountains with huge thick dense forests that seem to go on forever with huge meandering rivers bigger than any river I have ever seen with masive waterfalls coming off the cliffs. Its just so diverse and all so beatiful. Everyone tells us this is nothing on the South Island so I can't wait for that.

Someone told us New Zealand is just like England but 10 - 20 years behind. I would agree, not in a bad way at all but in a very good way. Things like, they have phone books in phone boxes, they fill up your car and wash your windscreen at the petrol station. Not to mention an average 4 bed home costs about 50K pounds but if you want to push the boat out and get 6 beds with a lakesdie setting and 6 acres you are talking nearer 100K. So if someone tells you New Zealand lives in the past its not from a technology point of view, not at all, it because their towns are still filled with independantly owned shops and you buy your veg from the farmer at the side of the road and there is nothing, in my view, backwards about that.

After lunch we headed across to the West coast to a town called Wanganui. It was a really nice town with the huge Whanganui River running through it. The only downside everything was closed. Most shops shut at Saturday lunchtime until Monday morning which was a shame as there were a lot of people milling around. We took a trip through parts of the Whanganui National Park which was stunning and found somewhere to stay for the night.

I am going to leave that entry there for now and try and get the last week done later today or tomorrow. We have our ferry to catch at 2.00 and I don't want to miss it. Off to the South Island now.
Love as always
Liz and Simon xxxx
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