Trip Start Sep 03, 2002
Trip End Sep 27, 2003

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Friday, February 14, 2003

And then it was time for North Island.....

Fortunately the ferry crossing was a bit smoother this time - or was it just that we were not hung over? After a quick stop in Wellington to say hello to Bex and Si again and grab a curry, we drove up to New Plymouth with a view to climbing Mt Taranaki.....After a couple of days no-go because of cloud we drove over to Taupo to do the Tongariro Crossing.......after cancellation because of high winds we packed up our hiking boots and moved on (Well we were bored with walking anyway...).

We could not pass Rotarua without visiting the geysers, mud pools, and various other examples of thermal activity. Billed as the "Queenstown of the North" there is plenty to do here - but we didn't feel inclined to stick around because:

1. We had done all the activities in Queenstown

2. There is a permanent stench of eggy farts throughout the town (Sharpie - if you ever decide to move here you could stop blaming the dog !)

Up to Auckland for a quick visit to apply for our Oz visas and a couple of days chilling and letching at the multi-million dollar yachts in the harbour for the Americas Cup. Neither of us is particularly into sailing, but some of these boats were GORGEOUS. All absolutely immaculate, and not a gin palace in sight. Also it was cool to check out the sheds for the racing yachts - very similar to the pits at a F1 meet. The GB challenge seemed to be housed in a portacabin (think Minardi), whilst the Oracle team have their own waterfront resaurant complex in addition to their boatsheds (think McLaren on a spending binge).

Flying proud on many of the larger boats was the Swiss flag - I guess UBS senior management think being part of the $100 million investment in Ahlingi is a pretty good deal! Certainly the Americas Cup, and the 'defection' of Russell Coutts to the 'Swiss' team, is the major (only?) news story down here. I guess the longevity of Coutts' infamy will depend on the result. We will not get to see it because the competition starts the day after we leave.

Finally whilst we know nothing about sailing, Mandy did pronounce Alhingi the clear winner in terms of its merchandise - much classier than the TNZ goodies. Also Alhingi had a really fun interactive centre with lots of computer games and hydraulic rigs which simulated things like being a bowman or a grinder on the boat whilst it's racing.

There is a company that runs trips out on a couple of 'old' competition boats and we couldn't resist - so we went sailing on an Americas Cup racing yacht NZL41 - cool eh? Unfortunately it was a bit windy so we couldn't race the two boats (and had to sail with a reefed mainsail), but it was still a brilliant experience. Everyone on the boat got a chance to helm and 'grind' i.e. work the winches on the boat. Mandy keeps threatening to use the commands 'GRIND' and 'HOLD' in the bedroom - she should be so lucky......

After Auckland we wandered up north, going up the spit of land along Ninety Mile Beach until we ran out of land at Cape Reinga. After a couple of days mooching around Doubtless Bay we drifted back to the Bay of Islands and stayed in the small town of Russell for a few days. This is just across the water from Waitangi - where the much discussed treaty with the Moari tribes was signed, an event considered to the the founding of modern New Zealand. We hired a couple of sea kayaks for a morning - these were single seaters and a lot less stable than the boats we had in Abel Tasman. Paddling out of the harbour was fine as there was no wind and the sea was like a mill pond. However on our return three hours later a 30-40kmh wind had got up and things were a lot more interesting. We both made it back without capsizing but each had a few 'magic moments'. The guys renting the kayaks packed up for the day as soon as we were back.

From Russell we travelled back via Auckland - picking up our Aussie visas on the way. The Visa Office is not what you would describe as "welcoming" perhaps due to the combined impact of Bali and a major refugee crisis (The papers hare are full of stories about all the refugees which the Aussies seem to be offloading onto NZ). We had clearly aroused deep suspicions by applying for our visa in NZ rather than in the UK, and the 3 applications in front of ours were refused, so it was with some relief that we finally got our visas.

On to Whakatane (the WH is pronounced F here - work it out). This is the base for trips out to White island "New Zealand's only active marine volcano". The trip was excellent - and well hyped up as we were issued were hard hats and gas masks before setting foot on the island (apparently this is normal and not just cos Nick was on the tour). The volcano was pretty impressive and definitely more interesting than Rotarua... To cap it all the sun was shining and we had huge pods of dolphins swimming alongside the boat both on the way out and on the way back.

That night we went to see the NZ film "Whale Rider" - excellent if a bit of a chick flick - and definitely enhanced by watching as part of a predominantly Maori audience - there are clearly a lot of 'in' jokes and observations in the film. We spent our 1st wedding anniversary on nearby Ohope Beach watching a surfing competition - chilled and blissy. Thanks to all those who sent us good wishes for the day.

Next stop was Hawkes Bay - some of the best weather in New Zealand and not bad wine either. However whilst Napier with its Art Deco architecture was more interesting than many places (Westport for one), its not exactly the most fascinating part of NZ. Having carefully checked the weather forecast we decided it was worth a gamble and trying for the Tongariro crossing once more. So we scooted back to Taupo and booked our bus for 5.40am the following day.

The Crossing is a long but fairly easy days walk over some stunning volcanic scenery - and is often described as the best one day walk in NZ. The early start is designed to avoid the masses which flock to do the walk, particularly at weekends. We had a great day with hardly any cloud in the sky, however our plans to climb Mt Ngauruhoe as a side trip were reconsidered as its basically a big pile of scree, so we climbed the less impressive (but still very nice) Mt Tongariro. The views are absolutely spectacular. We could see across to the snow covered volcanic cone of Mt Taranaki on the East Coast, Mount Edgcumbe on the West Coast, all with the huge volcanic cones of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu (again snow covered) towering in the foreground. The minerals in the ground produce incredible colours in the Red Crater, The Emerald lakes and the Blue lakes - hopefully some of this will come across in the pictures. Unfortuantely after a great climb up, the descent takes forever, finishing with a particularly tedious slog through a forest. The bus back was filled with the sound of snoring punters.

Apart from the Crossing, Tongariro's other claim to fame is its trout river. Fired with enthusiasm from our fishing trip in Queenstown, Mandy was keen to go fishing again and catch some supper. Nick was not so keen - until he realised that he would get to dress up in rubber again, at which point we hired a guide for a mornings fishing. The Tongariro is a very fast flowing and challenging river, and at this time of year our guide suggested any catch would be as much a matter as luck as skill (who mentioned anything about skill.....).

Anyway after trying a couple of pools Mandy landed a decent sized trout - only to be gutted to be told it was too small and had to be returned. Just when she was reconciled to steak for supper she hooked a 2.5kg brown trout. Bringing the fish in to shore was quite an experience as, unlike the tiddlers we had caught before, this one was strong enough to break the line if given a chance. Suffice it to say that Mandy did an excellent job, and was given a round of applause by the many (obviously very experienced) other anglers - none of whom had caught a thing all morning.

Mandy was ecstatic and couldn't stop grinning. Nick was equally happy, despite not catching anything, as he now has a treasured photo of his beloved (no not himself) in rubber waders. That evening we had the surreal experience of going into a restaurant which cooks BYO trout. For NZD15 your fish is taken away and then presented to you filleted, grilled, with chips, salad and tartare sauce. (Best not to think about the total cost after paying for guiding, licences, etc).

After Taupo we wandered up to the Coromandel Peninsula. Similar to the Bay of Islands only probably a more dramatic scenery. Property (and coffee) prices reflect this area's weekend retreat status for well heeled Aucklanders. After a final couple of days on the lovely beach at Hahei, we drove up to Auckland, ready for our final Dolphin encounter and the flight to Oz.

On arrival in Auckland we were advised that our dolphin trip the next day was cancelled, so we hastily rescheduled it for the following day, our last afternoon in New Zealand. The next day we left the harbour at 1.30 on a boat which is clearly earning its keep since it also doubles as the Louis Vuitton Media Boat, so comfort was not an issue. As we motored into the Hauraki Gulf we were lucky enough to see the tail end of the Millenium Regatta and so were treated to the sight of multiple "Super Yachts" ocean racing - an awesome sight. Sadly the dolphins were not about - but on the plus side we have tickets for another trip next time we are in Auckland. We did however have a lovely afternoon cruise and it certainly felt right to spend our last afternoon here out on the water. Thanks to everyone at CSFB for the lovely gift.

And so it's time to move on to Australia. The two and a half months that we have spent in NZ feels like just the right amount of time. We have had a fabulous trip, seen some amazing things and will certainly treasure our memories of this beautiful country. Memories that we may not yet have shared with you include:

Road Kill - the possum is NZ's biggest pest which is hard to understand when you see how bad they are at crossing the road. There has to be more roadkill per square inch here than anywhere in the world.

Southern Man - there is a distinct NZ male form for the over 50's. Apparently normal from behind, the typical SM has a huge round pot belly hanging over a pair of shorts that are WAY too short for his age.

Blenheim Motors - the town mechanic in Blenheim clearly detests exhaust pipes judging from the load roars emitting from 90% of the cars we saw and heard.

Sammies - NOT Sarnies (that's sandwiches for the non-Brits).

Blunt as a blunt thing TV Advertising - Sun Glass Hut's latest "they don't look like real sunglasses - let's kill him"

And a final word for those not in the know. You may have seen the picture in our "Seedy Dives" update which is apparently of Nick playing tennis sans kit. This picture was actually taken from an article about a male nudist camp that appeared in "Mens Health" magazine. Cox has vehemently denied that he was that man - but I can now reveal that even his own mother thought it was him (and she should know.........)

Haere Ra New Zealand (goodbye in Maori) and

G'Day Bruce...
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