Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Last installment! Sylvia had been reading the guidebook on our journey where it suggested that a visit to Auckland is not complete without a trip to one of the gulf islands just off the coast so to Waiheke island we headed! Finding the car ferry was the trickiest part - you know when signs just stop as if visitors to a city are just supposed to 'know' their way, or when you suspect nobody wants you to actually ever get there! The ferry took about an hour and on arriving we drove on the only main road of the island to the largest 'town', Oneroa. The island has about 8,000 residents, most of whom commute to Auckland, but this number can swell to 30,000 in holiday season.It's a bizarre place! It's difficult to describe why it just felt odd and there were lots of things that seemed strange - maybe it's just a closed community so people do laugh or stop talking when you walk into a shop. Maybe it was just us! It has several vineyards and olive groves, though we went to visit one and it was like we were invisible; nobody served us or spoke to us, other customers seemed to ignore us. Maybe it was us! Anyway, we decided to stay the night and our accomodation was a lovely house with stunning views out to both sides of the island. In the morning we had to be pretty assertive getting a place on the car ferry - we got the feeling we'd have just been left there otherwise!
Back on the mainland we caught the bus round the city and took another ferry over to Devonport so we could see the whole of the skyline of Auckland - good photo opportunities! At 5pm we went up the Sky Tower for dinner in their orbital restaurant; your booking lasts 2 hours and in that time the restaurant revolves round twice so you get to see out across the city as you eat. The meal was amazing and, as we were there at dusk we saw the city in a different 'light'.
When we left the Sky tower we drove Ken & Sylvia to the airport to catch the plane back to Singapore. We'd had such a good time with them and got so used to them being around that it was very strange - a few tears.
I've not really mentioned accomodation much because it was all good & a big treat for us to stay in motels but this night's hostel does need some comment. We'd picked a backpacker hostel that said it had car parking because we still had charge of the hire car. There weren't many to choose from but we did suspect it may be dodgy when we drove past it on the bus earlier in the day. I really don't think it was because we'd become accustomed to a higher standard - this place was bad! The bathrooms were grim, Neils was outside and I blew the electrics when I turned on my hairdryer!The real downside was the ants nest in the bin in the bedroom which the owners didn't seem bothered about when we told them the next morning! As you can imagine we checked out the next morning but it had all added to the holiday experience!
We spent our last day in Auckland walking! We went round the museum, though by that stage we were a bit museumed out. We wandered to different shopping centres and sat in parks and also went to an underwater world (sting rays were their speciality and now we can identify a male from a female!) which had a fascinating antarctic exhibition and a replica of Scott's hut. In the evening we had dinner with Paul & Laura Kingsley-Smith (for those who know them) in their new, swanky apartment and it was really good to catch up with familiar faces and hear about all God's doing with them here in NZ.
The final night was spent in a Youth hostel which was much more comfortable (and we got a car parking spot!) and we flew home the next morning. Done the North island now - joke! But it does seem we've done lots more than most Kiwis but that's always the way. I can't believe the places I haven't been in the UK...

Maori Experience

After leaving New Plymouth we embarked on another mammoth drive across to Taupo. We saw glimpses of Mount Taranaki again and also the snow-capped volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park - Mount Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe & Tongariro. The scenery we drove through varied quite a lot; the most interesting was through the 'Forgotten Valley' which ended up being an unsealed road that the car struggled with somewhat! We'd have probably got to Taupo in 2 hours tops on the M1 but as it happened it was after dark when we reached the lakeside town (though we did see an awesome panoramic sunset en route).
The following morning was beautiful and we saw how popular Taupo is as a holiday/weekend town - there's fishing and water sports as well as easy access to the ski fields. It was a relatively short drive to Rotorua (via pretty dramatic Hooker waterfalls) and it was a destination I'd been really looking forward to - mainly for the Maori cultural experiences on offer as well as the vast amount of geothermal activity. The latter means the town hums with a strong sulphurous odour which can be quite over-powering - depending on which way the wind is blowing! First we went to Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve. Here we had a tour of a the NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute which included seeing Maori carving & weaving and Maori buildings. The guide was very enlightening and we came away feeling like we understood significantly more about the people & the culture than we had before - and had had some misconceptions addressed. The other aspect of the village were the goothermal attractions - boiling mud pools (I bought some for a face mask!) and various geysers, some of which shot superheated water upto 30 metres out of the ground.
In the evening we visited the Tamaki Maori Village - a very commercial Maori cultural experience though excellent nevertheless. You are not allowed to drive to the village; part of the experience is being collected by coach from your accomodation and getting to know your bus driver & fellow visitors. The idea is that your bus is like the 'waka' - the boats that the Maori's first arrived on. Our bus driver's name was Ngata (or 'nutter') and he had a remarkable ability to remember people's names & various aspects of personal information and he knew a stack of songs from every country that visitors came from so he could sing to us on the way home! The most random English song he knew was 'On Ilkley Moor bar 'tat'!
When we arrived we (well, our elected chief of our 'waka') were challenged by a Maori warrior in traditional dress and then roamed around the woods seeing various demonstrations of Maori warfare, dancing, singing etc. We then saw a 'concert' (including the 'haka') and then ate a traditional 'hangi' - food cooked in hot rocks in an earth oven. The highlight of the evening for me was another tribe from Hawkes Bay who had actually come to visit the experience. They were invited to perform one of their tribes songs and the fact that everybody from the tribe got up and joined in and it was completely unrehearsed made it all seem much more authentic to me.
On the Sunday morning we headed back towards Taupo so that we could visit another goethermal area with spectacular geyser that they 'set off' at 10am every morning. It's timed so well because they pour soap flakes into the mouth of the geyser which lowers the surface tension & causes the superheated water to erupt. There were also other geothermal pools in very pretty colours due to the different mineral deposits, but once you've seen one, you've seen them all!
Next stop the Waitomo caves; here we visited caves with impressive limestone formations and an incredible glowworm cave. Glowworms are only found in NZ & Oz. At one time in their life-cycle they emit light which attracts insects into the cave, they then catch the insects using tiny treads they have spun and which hang from the roof into the cave. We travelled through the main body of the cave on a boat in silence (any noise causes the worms to 'turn off' their light!) and it really was quite amazing.
We stayed in Hamilton over night but there was nothing of note there , then we headed onto Auckland

Windy Wellington

The first stage of our journey North was to Picton, which was not an unfamiliar route for us and was pretty uneventful. Though having said that, loading the car was a bit of a drama! Ken & Sylvia had their month's supply of clothes etc. plus numerous souvenirs & gifts purchased and we couldn't do our usual 'just chuck it in the back of the car' trick because we would be flying back down from Auckland. Convinced I needed heaps of room I packed the largest suitcase and then it wouldn't fit in the car so I had no choice but to cram it all in a smaller container. I should of been pleased at my skilful repacking, however it does mean that in the future there will be no excuse for taking oodles of stuff with us, as I'm sure Neil will remind me! The hire car did do very well considering the weight it had to carry and it took very skilful manouvering on and off driveways so that the bottom of the car didn't get left behind!
Right, so on to Picton. Just remembered another drama; an emergency dentist's appointment in Kaikoura for Neil who had an infection of his wisdom teeth. We tried dentists in Rangiora before we left and they all laughed when we said we needed an appointment that morning, so we kept trying places on our way up the country. The Greek dentist in Kaikoura took pity on us when we gave a sob story about going on holiday etc and he agreed to see Neil even though it was his day off.
Only other remotely interesting point was the number of seals & sea lions we saw as we drove up the coast; normally seal colonies are deserted whenever we visit so we'd given up, but we could see dozens just from the side of the road - lots of babies too.
Right, Picton. Stayed there over night and then, after an hour or so delay the next morning, we were on our to Wellington. The 'ferry' was fine but not the 'cruise' that it advertises itself as! The weather was beautiful and the views through the Marlborough Sounds were stunning - it was bizarre to see little batches/holiday homes that clearly only were accessible by boat.
By the time we reached Wellington the wind had picked up and the whole time we were there we were reminded of why it's the 'windy city' - permanent bad hair days. It felt like we should have been in a different country, though I can't really put my finger on why. It was much busier than anywhere we've been in the South and we liked that! The highlight for me was definitely the Te Papa museum with a wide range of interactive exhibits on all kinds of topics which tell the stories of the different cultures in NZ. I discovered how precariously placed on fault lines the country is and the potential for natural disasters is much greater than I knew - though there were tips on how to earthquake proof your home so that was reassuring!
We stayed over night in Wellington and just really enjoyed the buzz of the big city. And the fact there were lots of different people around - far more multi-cultural than Christchurch. We also caught the cable car to the botanical gardens and though the view of the lights across the city was cool I think there is lots more to see in the daylight! The following morning we caught the circular bus tour around the city's 'top spots'! We stopped at the cathedral and parliament, known as the beehive, and happened to be there at the right time for a tour. It certainly helped us understand the whole MMP thing.
We then set off on a mammoth 5 hour drive to New Plymouth on the far west coast. The trip was uneventful but we got a good impression of how much more densely populated the North island is compared to the South; when you reach a settlement of the same size writing on the map as one on the South island, there's actually something there, quite alot there actually! As the sun was setting we caught amazing views of the volcanic Mount Taranaki but it was dark by the time we reached New Plymouth.
I was quite nervous the following morning as we headed for the library in search of information about great, great, great, great, great grandfather's land purchases back in the 1840's. Sylvia had a photocopy of the land deed and was hoping for more information but we really hoped the archives would have something so it wasn't a wasted trip. Much to our amazement, they typed in 'Paul Fletcher' and there he was! When Neil and I came to find her, Sylvia was reading the original land deeds over 160 years old! There was also a map of the plots of land as they had been divided up at that time but apparantly, Mr. Fletcher would have had to come to NZ to actually claim which plots he wanted so we couldn't go and stand and claim the ground now. Though the deeds do say things like 'for his decendents & ancestors from here on & forever' (words to that effect!)...We're still none the wiser as to why he never came to claim the land he purchased but Sylvia's off to dig further into family history back in England.