Day 240 - Tuesday 4 May
A taxi drives me down to 'Base Backpackers' in the centre of town who have kindly agreed to store my backpack whilst I am up in The Bay of Islands. I have squeezed enough clothes to last me into my day bag and secreted my laptop in the backpack. I walk down to the pick up point for the coach but am half an hour early. In the adjacent mall I order a juice from a surly teenager who informs me, from behind her magazine, that she isn't open for ten minutes. I tell her to forget it and go and buy a paper instead. I had thought that the coach would be an 'Awesome Adventures' one but it is just a 'Northlander' on it's scheduled daily four and a half hour run up the island to Paihia at the Bay of Islands. Therefore it wasn't full of other crazy adventurists like myself
. We each have a double seat to ourselves and we wait for a late arrival. She turns out to be a mental Chinese woman who scolds the bus driver in uncertain Chinese terms before taking the seat across the way from myself. Rather than sit in the window seat like everyone else she sits in the aisle seat. She sits scowling at me, occasionally saying something nasty sounding in Chinese or some other language all of her own. The tattered material bag she is hugging seems to be full of shoes. I engross myself in the newspaper. Thankfully she falls asleep after half an hour. She is talking in her sleep and slowly starts leaning over sideways towards the aisle. When she is past ninety degrees and about to fall into the aisle she awakes with a start and screams at me as if it was my fault. This drama repeats itself over the next four hours. It is a relief to get off the bus in Paihia and as far away from the mad woman as possible. I have forty minutes before my trip on The Excitor which is, according to the fat Awesome woman, not enough time to check into my accommodation. The town is quite lovely and the sun is actually shining. I cross the road and order a fish supper from an award winning chippy. It is worth at least a star. Back at the 'Excitor' office about twenty people have gathered. There is a group of young English girls who seem to be cousins and who are with one of their mothers/aunts. The other group is made up of eight English teenage fellows, all sporting the same Mohican haircut and wearing 'team' white t-shirts with their nicknames in red lettering
. The lads' leader, 'Lingus' I think his name was, is chatting up the female skipper of the 'Excitor'. This seems to upset the mother/aunt of the young English who goes about chatting up 'Lingus' to the horror of the girls. We are donned out in waterproof trousers and jackets. Mine smell of BO. Lifejackets are then issued and demonstrated with the warning that they are very expensive jackets and not to accidentally inflate them. In 'The Excitor' the front of the boat has seats like chopper seats which the girls and boys straddle. I sit in the more conservative benches at the back. Soon the skipper, seated at the rear/stern is asking everybody across the PA system if they are ready for the ride of their lifetimes. Yes we say. I can't hear you she says. YES we shout. We pick up an embarrassed looking middle aged chap from across the bay on 'Russell'. He sits on the bench on the other side of the boat. Again we have to shout that, YES, we are indeed ready for the ride of a lifetime. As the boat picks up speed the music starts. Freddie Mercury tells us that he will, he will, rock us. Although the boat is fast, the waters are quite calm. The skipper tries to get the boat to rock us but it is having none of it. She decides to stop and relay stories of Maori legend before starting up again and heading out to The Hole in the Rock Island. As we pass another boat the skipper decides to veer off into its wake. As we cross, somehow the boat decides to ship a wave into my, and only my, face. We go through the hole and get back home two hours later
. Thankfully my bag, full of all my stuff, is still in the office and I wander along to check into my lodgings. The Pepper Tree Backpackers lodge is nice but by now cold. My room has a double bed and a set of bunks as well as an en suite shower room. I go across the road to the bar at 'Pipi Patch Backpackers' which is bunged. I sit at the end of the bar chatting to the Canadian barman but decide on an early night after all the day's excitement. Back in my room it is freezing. The heater doesn't work and I spend the night putting on progressively more clothes.
Day 241 - Wednesday 5 May
Dolphin Day. I have changed my trip out from the morning sailing at 8am to the afternoon at 1pm. After a lie in I get up, get undressed then shower. I decide to follow a trek into the forest beside the lodge. Instead of taking me into town I find myself, twenty minutes later, back where I started from. I make it into town in time for the cruise, but not for lunch. On board I discover that I am the only one not to have brought their swimming trunks. No matter, we head out into the bay. The skipper tells us that he is heading to a spot where some dolphins were spotted the day before. After three hours chasing splashes in the sea we have to head back to Paihia. On the way home we come across four large Bottlenose dolphins swimming out to sea
. The skipper tries to keep up but they are disinterested. We are all offered our money back or another cruise. I decide to book onto the morning trip as my bus doesn't leave for Auckland until 2pm. Back in the harbour a large crowd has gathered around a fishing boat. A large Marlin (apparently the 3rd largest caught off NZ this year) is winched onto the pier. A pompous looking asshole (possibly German) gathers his wife and two young kids around the defeated beast for photographs. The blood drips steadily off the beak of the fish onto the shoes of the big brave hunter. I hope it stains. Some of the crowd actually applaud. I walk away after taking some photos. I spend the night in 'Pipi's' again and chat to an Irish guy. I retire after midnight.
Day 242 - Thursday 6 May
Alarm goes off at 6.45. I decide not to bother with the damn dolphins and turn over to go back to sleep. Twenty minutes later I am feeling guilty about calling the dolphins damn and get up. I have to shower, pack, check out and run to the pier to catch the boat. I make it in time. This time we catch up with a pod of 3 Bottlenose dolphins after about an hour. Our skipper radios the other dolphin boats and soon there are three of us. I lie on the bow as the dolphins ride the bow wave inches from my nose
. It is magical. Ours is the only boat which is licensed to allow passengers to swim with the dolphins. Soon, all but me are in their swimmers and itching to get in the water. Each has been instructed on how to quietly slip into the water and make dolphin noises to attract them. The skipper decides that the dolphins are at ease with our presence and gives the order to get into the water. First in is an overly enthusiastic Englishman who I had heard tell someone that he writes travel guides and had swam with dolphins all over the world. He bombs into the water with a great splash and starts making noises akin to, what I would imagine is that of a harpooned dolphin. As the others slip quietly into the water the dolphins are seen disappearing into the distance. The crew call everyone back on board. This takes some time as most are busy making frantic don't go away dolphin noises through their snorkels and don't hear their recall. To my glee the crew roundly scold the English guy for his shocking disobeyal of orders. Everyone drips whilst the boat takes off in search of the poor dolphins. We catch up and three more times the passengers slip into the water. I am glad I haven't brought my trunks and by the time we have to leave everyone is shivering on deck. None got close to swimming with dolphins and all ignore the Englishmans explanation as to why the dolphins weren't interested. Back ashore I walk into town and sit at a café eating a great plate of nachos. One of the crew from yesterday's dolphin search recognizes me and asks if we got lucky today
. I thought that was nice. The coach leaves on time. Luckily there is no sign of the Chinawoman. Four hours later we are back in Auckland. I check into 'Base Backpackers' in the centre of town. My room is minute but has an en suite shower. I dump my stuff and go down to the marvelous bar in the hostel. It serves a mean buffet every night for $10 including a beer. I also get a buy one beer get one free voucher when I check in. I forgot to mention that before leaving Auckland for TBOI I had booked a ticket to see (forgotten his name - young Geordie comedian with long curly black hair - winner of Edinburgh Festival). The Comedy Festival of New Zealand is on this week. Walk up to Sky-Tower were the show is taking place. On the way through the casino I notice a Black Jack table with nobody at it. I ask the young croupier to explain the betting rules which she is glad to do. I play a couple of games then am joined by a lovely local fellow who is just back from the States who keeps me right. I am up a few dollars when it is time to go to the show. The show starts of slowly but by the end I am laughing often. Rather than go back to the casino I decide to have an early night. I go straight to my room but by now the bar, five stories below my room, is pumping out music full blast. This goes on until 3 o'clock in the morning.
Day 243 - Friday 7 May
I am up for seven to catch the 8 o'clock bus to Rotorua to meet up with my Mum's penpal of fifty odd years and another couple of friends who have moved there last September
. The journey takes an uneventful four hours. The scenery is wonderful with the whole place looking like one giant golf course. At the bus terminal, Ian Burrell, my mum's penpal's husband meets me and takes me back to their gorgeous house. The guide books warn of the smell of rotten eggs from all the thermal springs in the area but it is not as strong as I'd feared. The land is very odd though with plumes of steam rising from springs across the city. Elspeth, the penpal, shows me to a lovely room with my own bath room. After lunch and a chat Ian takes me down to his local Racing Club for a beer with some old chums. On the way down we call into Rotorua Golf Club where Phil Crawford from back home is enjoying a post round pint. He comes down to the Racing Club and then, when Ian goes home for dinner, we sit on for a few pints with some of Phil's mates. Tomorrow is the biggest day of the racing calendar in Rotorua and an auction is held for the horses running in the big race. Phil and I buy one for a few dollars. Everyone knows Phil even though he has only been here for 8 months. We head into town and chat to many around the bars. It is great to speak with someone who speaks properly. Phil's partner, Donna, joins us later on to drive us home. I think I get home around twoish and sneak up to bed.
Day 244 - Saturday 8 May
Ian is the Treasurer of the race course and, as such, kindly invites me along as his guest
. Elspeth and myself drive to the course in time for the racing. We are sitting in the VIP lounge. I meet Phil in the stands and we do a few bets before he has to leave for a pub bus trip to Hamilton to watch the Super 12s Rugby. I rejoin Elspeth and Ian and have no joy with my bets. Ian does rather better and I begin to wonder if he has some insider information that he is not passing on. We go down to the owner's tent before a couple of races and meet some of the owners. They are a mixed and pleasant bunch. Ian also takes me into the winners lounge and also shows me some of the back stage stuff. It is very interesting and a nice warm day to crown it out. A lot, about half, of the jockeys are female. One cadges a fag off me. I suppose it is to keep her weight down. She comes in third in the last race to bring up Ian's second tricast despite telling me that she didn't stand much of a chance. After the racing we have a couple of beers in the racing club whilst watching the rugby before going back for a lovely dinner prepared by Elspeth. The wine is rather good as well.
Day 245 - Sunday 9 May
Phil has organized for us to play in the Sunday Rotorua Golf Club stableford competition. Although enjoyable, I play like a tube. Phil, who plays off a two handicap plays very well
. I do however win a bottle of wine and a frozen chicken in the raffle. That evening, Ian and Elspeth take me for a lovely meal in a restaurant called 'Herbs' in town. I had a lovely lamb dinner and Elspeth and myself shared a sweet.
Day 246 - Monday 10 May
As I recall, Elspeth took me into town where we booked an eight day tour of the South Island with Kirra Tours through the travel agency that Elspeth used to own. We also booked a flight on Wednesday from Rotorua to Christchurch from where the tour departs on Wednesday. This evening, I gave Phil and Donna a hand to move to their new rented house not far from their old place but much nicer. We didn't finish until 10 and then Phil dropped me back to Ian and Elspeth's.