New Zealand Week 5: Paihia -> Auckland

Trip Start Jan 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 17, 2006

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Kia Ora once again! Normally I start off with "I'm afraid it's that time of the week again" or some kind of apology for being a bit late, but seeing as it was only about 4 minutes since I finished writing the last update, I'll skip that. Just assume I've gone through all the pleasantries and I'll jump right to the good stuff.

I last left you after a night out in Paihia with some of our new friends. We had no coach to get up for the next day so we were allowed us a lie in and slept until a whopping 10am. All together now: Oooh! Thankfully due to lots of sleep and a lovely hot shower, we didn't feel too hungover and decided to take a walk into town. I'd forgotten quite how far the supermarket was and after we'd been walking for half an hour the heavens opened and killed any desier to keep going. We retreated back to the main street to have a coffee and sat out in the [now] lovely sunshine and gave the passers by the once over. We saw Richard's bus pull up across the street so we trotted over to say happy birthday and make sure Spike hadn't overdone it the night before. Unsurprisingly, he was no where to be seen.

We walked into the souvenir shop and spent a small fortune on some new t-shirts for Dan, some sun hats and a cool kiwi to complete the NZ toy collection. The highlight was definitely Dan's new top which says simply "Same Shirt, Different Day". You couldn't really get a more apt slogan for a backpacker. We then popped into the visitors centre to check quickly if Dan's old neighbours (who now live in Kerikeri near Paihia) had replied to his email and then popped outside to phone them. Unfortunately they were actually over in England (something we said?) so we didn't manage to meet up with them. We spent most of the rest of the day relaxing and catching up with our journals in the sunshine. Watched Charlies Angels on TV with some Swedish travellers who had to turn off Moulin Rouge after 10 minutes because they had no idea what was going on. Talked to some of our friends for a while but Dan felt quite ill so we had another early night and read our books.

The early mornings came back with a vengeance the next day as we had to get up at 6am for our trip to Cape Reinga, the northern most tip of mainland New Zealand. We met our guide Murray, a 60-something incredibly fit man with no shoes, and jumped on the coach for an hour of hostel/hotel pick-ups. We set off up through the Bay of Islands and had a brief stop at the Puketi Kauri Forest where we took a Short Walk Through A Rainforest(tm) to see some kauris which paled in comparison to Tane Muhata. We stopped at a kauri museum for tea and a quick bit of shopping for postcards. Apparently the date stamp from Cape Reinga is unique and a collectors item. Either that or Murray gets commission from postcard sales.

After a few hours we made it to 90 Mile Beach, which is actually 55 miles long, and before we could even make it onto the beach we spotted a campervan stuck in the sand. It seems to happen a lot and before we knew it, Murray was marching people off the coach to give them a hand. Didn't take too much before they were free and we were back on the coach and driving onto the beach. Murray did some great commentary on the dangers of beach driving from getting stuck parking in the soft wet sand to being caught by a "sweeper" - a rogue wave that comes onto the beach much further and faster than the other waves. The change in speed between the sides of your car when one set gets hit by the water can make you spin and tip over and several people have died as a result. We stopped on some firm sand and had a look around, particularly at a Mercedes that had been caught out by high tide and had sunk / been covered by sand almost up to the roof! During the photo-fest of this amusing wreck, a driver from another coach company came and asked Murray if we could help get his bus out of the sand. We all trotted gleefully up to the stranded coach and its forlorn group of passengers hanging around nearby. I took my position as camera woman while Dan got stuck in with the other volunteers. The first attempt wasn't very successful but after Murray ordered a worried group of Chinese girls to sit in the back corner to weight it down, one more heave-ho was enough to push it out of the marsh. It was great fun with everyone cheering and patting each other on the back after their triumph. Another camera woman and I agreed that this was far more fun than just driving up a beach!

We carried on further up the shore and pulled off by some massive sand dunes. We parked by the coach we'd just rescued and listened to Murray giving a safety talk on sand boarding. After hearing all the various easy ways of breaking all the bones in the body, I was getting rather nervous about doing it! Still, I'd jumped out of a plane now so I couldn't wimp out on sliding down some sand. We grabbed some boogie boards and joined the masses (aged from 7 to 70) climbing up the dune. What a killer! This was the cloest I've been to literally taking one step forward and ending up 2 steps back. One asthma attack later, we reached the top and watched everyone else zoom down the dune after being pushed gleefully by Murray. I also realised with some horror that I'd decided to wear a skirt that day and as I slid down the dune I would provide and interesting view for anyone standing at the top. Still, I threw myself down the hill before I could change my mind and thoroughly enjoyed it. It doesn't actually look that steep from a distance but when you're zooming down head first with 4 inches between your chin and the ground, it feels like a vertical drop! It was brilliant fun and I managed to reach the bottom intact and jumped out of the way in time to miss Dan flying down behind me. Dan ran - well, wheezed - up to have another go (wasn't much chance of me getting up there again without collapsing!) while I attempted to get him on video, successfully managing to make it look slow and boring.

After a competition between passengers to see who got the furthest, we piled back onto the coach and drove to Cape Reinga at the top of the island. The weather was pretty crap but seemed to hold back whenever we got out to have a look around. We walked up a hill and had a look at the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. Apparently at times the meeting can be quite fierce and spectacular but today it was just a white foam with opposing waves washing over each other. We walked down the other side of the hill to the lighthouse and the directional signs pointing to and saying how far some of the major cities in the world were from that point. We took a hundred photos before shuffling back to the coach, narrowly avoiding a downpour.

We headed back home by road and stopped in Whangaroa for fish and chips that Dan and I tragically chose to turn down. This was, obviously, regretted the moment everyone climbed back on with their beautiful smelling food. An hour later we stopped by a fruit stall on the roadside owned by "young Steve" who turned out to be slightly older than Murray. They had some free fruit samples so we had some golden kiwi (much sweeter than normal kiwi) and some feijoas that I'd kept seeing around but wasn't sure what they were. Didn't taste too bad but Murray seemed to think they were the Devil's food and would rather starve than eat one! We got back to the hostel at about 6pm and were too tired to cook so went and got some fish and chips from a nearby bar that were twice the cost of the ones earlier and no where near as nice. I'm writing about this almost a month later and I'm still bitter about it.

The next day was Anzac Day so most things were shut until lunchtime. After the long day we'd had yesterday, we were happy to have a relaxing day and moped around the hostel for a few hours. We said goodbye to Gemma and Hayley and some of our other friends who were leaving that day and then headed into town to see if anything was open. Got a coffee and some hokey-pokey ice cream which is more or less vanilla with toffee bits and a New Zealand favourite. Very nice it was too.

I still had the 3 hours of free internet time that I was given in Rotorua after I lost my email to Mum so we found another of their branches and spent a few hours updating our online journals and emailing home. Dan made one last attempt at contacting his old neighbours with no luck (we didn't know they were in England at this point) and walked back to the hostel. We bought some drinks from the bottle shop and saw some sailors walking around in uniform. I never really know why they have to stay in their suits and hats (the Anzac celebrations were over hours before) other than I'm sure it must guarantee them some female companionship for the night...

Didn't sleep too well that night thanks to some, ahem, noisy bed springs in the room next door. Got up early and got our stuff together so we could check out at 9.30am. It was quite annoying to be in a hostel with the earliest check out time in New Zealand when we weren't due to be picked up until 1.30pm. We hung around outside in the sun and wrote our journals. I ran into the people staying in the room next door to ours who asked me if our room was soundproof! When I said no and asked why, they asked me whether I had heard noises last night from "down the hall". I asked them what kind of noises (I enjoy torturing people) to which he raised his eyebrows and I laughed and lied that I hadn't. I'm not sure whether the noises genuinely were from down the hall or whether they were hoping to shift the blame but either way I enjoyed their embarassment!

After some soup for lunch we got on our coach with Rob, our last Magic Bus driver of the trip. It was a shame we didn't have him before as he was good and told us, being Maori himself, a lot about Maori traditions. He explained the meaning of their facial tattoos: the patterns on their cheeks represent their mother and father (I forget which cheek represents which), the pattern on their chin represents his own life and the lines on his forehead represent the level of wisdom and respect they'd earnt within their community. These tattoos don't really 'exist' now and tend only to be seen on old chiefs and young gang members, who are apparently rife in certain parts of Auckland.

We didn't get to Auckland until 6pm but we still had time to walk to Toni & Guy to book a haircut appointment for tomorrow. I was desperate to have it done as I haven't had it cut or coloured for about 8 months so I looked a mess! We then went to the pub to take advantage of happy hour. Spent a few hours online at the hostel and then passed out in bed.

The next morning we awoke to bagpipes which transpired to be from another graduation parade similar to the one we'd seen in Christchurch. We had a quick baked potato for lunch and poked round a bookshop wasting time until I was due at the hairdressers.

Despite being initially quite impressed with my hairdresser, I was quite annoyed to be left waiting around for a long time while he finished with his previous client. I had to leave halfway through the cut to have my hair dyed and had a chat with the lady about skydiving. She and her husband celebrate their anniversaries by alternating doing something relaxing (they spent their first anniversary camping up in the Bay of Islands) and doing something that scares them (on their second anniversary they got tattoos of each other's initials). Their next anniversary was a scary one and they were planning to do a skydive so naturally I burst into my spiel of how great it is. It's always great to find someone I haven't bored witless yet!

After almost 5 hours at the salon, I was more or less "finished" but was quite worried to see that the way she'd done my highlights made it look a bit like I had grey hair. She didn't appreciate my telling her my concerns but did offer to re-do it. I couldn't bear to sit there any longer so declined and actually in normal light it doesn't look too bad. Anything would have been better than the birds nest I was sporting beforehand! It was quite late by the time I got back to the hostel so we went and got some tapas for dinner and retired back the hostel.

The next day was our last full day in New Zealand so we started it off beautifully by having a lie in. We eventually got up and did a bit of shopping, buying a lead for our iPods so we could connect it to the computer and upload more of The Ricky Gervais Show podcasts and some new music to listen to. We had some Turkish food for lunch and then returned to the hostel. The next couple of hours were spent doing laundry and trying to shoehorn all our luggage, including the stuff we'd had in storage for the last month, back into our bags. We went exploring for somewhere to eat and discovered (typically) a huge collection of restaurants and food courts we didn't even know existed. We finally settled on a pub that had only opened that day and were selling their food at special discounted prices. We watched some rugby on the huge screen and then left once we realised we might have been gatecrashing what looked like an Indian wedding. (Edited to add: I read this back and thought this might come across as a racist comment of some sort but it isn't. I really think it was actually an Indian wedding!)

We got back to the hostel and foolishly stayed up til almost 2am uploading things to our iPods and emailing home. We walked back up to the room and I did a double take at one of the funniest and most tragic things I've ever seen, so much so that I had to call/whisper Dan back so he could have a look. There, slumped on the floor, was a drunken young man passed out only inches from his dorm with his key still in his hand pointing at the door. I can only guess that there may have been 5-10 minutes of heartbreaking fumbling for the lock before giving up and collapsing (rather skilfully still vaguely vertical) into a drunken sleep. I wanted to run and get the camera but Dan wouldn't let me. I really wish I had now! Still, it gave us a good giggle and seemed a fitting end to our time in New Zealand.

This concludes our 5 week journey through a beautiful and exciting country that will always remain one of my most favourite places in the world. It's so similar to parts of England and yet completely different. There's so much to see and do and I have no doubt that Dan and I will come back soon.

So this is haere ra (goodbye) from New Zealand. I hope you've enjoyed our tales from this part of the world. Stay tuned for our updates in Australia which will hopefully be just as much fun and just as adventurous.
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