Saturday, 26 February 2011

Safe and well

Hello there everyone, sorry we've been out in the bush for a few days and out of reach of the technology. We are both safe and well and have not been caught up with the sad goings on in Christchurch. We where in the Picton / Nelson are when things happened and fortunately didn't feel any earth quakes.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Art Deco and Poor Curries

Well here we are in Wellington. We left Taupo on Thursday and got the bus through to Napier on the East coast, we had heard that it was a city renowned for it's Art Deco architecture (all built at the same time in the 1930s following an earthquake that flattened everything else). When we arrived we weren't really impressed, there didn't seem to be too much to see, we were wrong. At the campsite we were just getting set up when a White Tailed Spider was spotted on a rucksack, thankfully Ruth had wandered off somewhere or she would have probably been on the next plane home, as it was we spent the night with bags, shoes and everything else in the tent with us just in case! Starvation overcoming us, once again, we wandered back into the city on a fish and chips hunt, this time we did have a wander and were amazed by all the Deco stuff, still not sure if we actually like it though. The weekend was to be the annual Art Deco Festival and as a result the city was filled with old cars, steam engines and loads of people dressed in 1930s costume, quite a bizarre sight. We eventually found a chippy and with Ruth's amazing accent she ended up with chips and corn fritter instead of fish, she was gutted! Chips eaten, seagulls fed we went on a search for the Guffle Bar, as we are dragging a stuffed Gruffalo around it seemed appropriate, beer here is expensive $15 for two small bottles of lager, extortionate! Also the seagulls are very polite, they don't mug you for chips like in the UK, they just hang around muttering to themselves until you feed them. The following morning saw us dragging our increasingly heavy bags back into the city to buy some 5 toe shoes, there's always room in the bag for something you want to buy! These are fab, basically exactly what they sound like and ideal for kayaking in a few days, look a bit mad though, especially Ruth's pink ones, like freaky hobbit feet. The city was actually buzzing by now with mad old people dressed as flappers and jungle explorers and stuff, that evening was the Depression Dinner where they wandered around begging for food and going to soup kitchens, they pay to do this, Ruth says in St Helens half the druggie scumbags just do this day to day! The sun had come out (gloomy the evening before) and the sea looked lovely, there was a cruise liner in and it all just seemed good fun. We got the bus to Wellington.

5 1/2 hours later we arrived in Wellington, hopped in a shuttle to our hotel (yes hotel, she said she wants luxury and towels before bike torture), dumped the bags and hot footed it back into town to the Westpac stadium to watch the Super Rugby union match (Hurricanes v Highlanders). Maybe this was a bad game or maybe union is just really pants, an experience anyway, final score 6 - 11. The next stage was an experience too, we were hungry so followed the masses back into the city (they all got on buses so we got abandoned and lost!) in the search for nourishment, "luckily" Ruth remembered the name and street of a curry shop highly recommended in the Lonely Planet guide, after about an hour we found it. It was bad, we've had better curries out of a tin, if this is the best curry Wellington can offer then I pity them, it was bland with poor quality chicken, the only bonus is that we didn't get food poisoning (at least not yet). We were sat next to three people who we'd met at the Taupo campsite, she was from Leach Lane so practically a neighbour, they warned us that we were in for a disappointment but it was too late as we were already sat down. The poppodums came as little crisps with teeny bowls of chutneys and no spoons to fish what there was out, maybe they reuse so don't want you to get too much out? We miss The Taste Of India in Earlestown!  Oh well moving on.

The following day we had a huge breakfast at the hotel, they kept taking away our plates and we kept going back for more, we smuggled muffins out too, excellent. We wandered over to Te Papa, the big national museum, where we bumped into a couple of German cyclists, also from the Taupo camp. The museum was good but nowt really to report, we then headed over to the I Site to book ferry tickets to Picton for Monday, there we met three French cyclists, also from Taupo, it was turning into a very small country. We got the ferry tickets plus booked onto a Lord Of The Rings tour and Zealandia tour for the following day. We then went shopping and had a ride in the famous Wellington cable car. At the viewpoint at the top there is the Carter Observatory which was fortunately open late that evening, we went into there to have a look at the displays and museum and then to watch the David Tennant narrated show in the planetarium, Ruth fell asleep, it was fab though.

For our tea this time we went to a different Lonely Planet recommendation (backed up by local info), this one was called Sweet Mothers Kitchen and is fab, we had loads of tasty food, mostly fried in some way, peanut butter milkshakes and the best coffee ever, Wellington has redeemed itself! We'll be back.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Taupo, Tongariro and a small skydive

Gruffalo tackles the Tongariro Crossing
When we arrived at our campsite in Taupo we booked for our Tongariro Alpine Crossing walk the following day, this involved getting picked up at 5.30am to get there for 7am. We boarded a right wrecked old bus and set out in the dark, most people dozed! The lady driving the bus was very nice but dead slow after Rally Rex, the bus crawled up hills and then for the first time ever apparently got pulled over to the weighbridge by the police. So much for the early start, we arrived at 7.40am along with a couple of hundred other people. We made use of the facilities, a pit toilet with a smell that cannot be described and the we set off following the trail of hot pants, handbags and flip flops/plimsolls - approved mountain wear! The trail was easy at first, Gary having a bit of a fit at how poorly equipped people were, once the route started to rise folk dropped off but there was still plenty of us. I think we didn't really get a full appreciation of things at first, a bit yeah another walk type attitude, it was when you looked around and saw lava flows and realised you were walking in ash that it dawned on you that you weren't in Ambleside climbing Wansfell now! At the top of the Devils Staircase a number of people were branching off to climb Mount Ngauarhoe (alias Mount Doom in the LOTR films - more hobbit stalking see!), Gary elected to give it a go as there were hot pants in front, Ruth and Gruffalo decided to wait at the bottom and eat jelly sweets. Two hours fifteen minutes later Gary returned with tales of horror of the sheer slope, crawling up on all fours in ash and then happily gliding down in the same ash - the hot pants and Reebok classics brigade didn't know what to do about falling rocks so a constant vigil had to be kept for dangers from above. Happily he survived and we continued along the summit crater which was really like something from the moon, volcanoes all around, steam rising from the crater floor, sheer cliffs, we would be stuffed if there was an eruption. Another, shorter uphill and we arrived on the rim of Red Crater, pics attached as an amazing place to see, can't really believe St Helens is on the same planet as this place (still prefer the Lakes and Cheviots though!). A lot of people were having a snack as the ground was warm all around with thermal activity. Another sliding trip down through ash and we were at the Emerald Lakes and Blue Lakes - nice looking pools but not for swimming as they are acidic. At this point the clouds lowered and we didn't see anything again for about an hour. The trip down took a very, very long time but we got back to the buses and just a short while later were rattling along back to Taupo with driver Dave who went much faster. A shower was the main job for the evening as you get very filthy in all the ash, picking off peeling skin exposed lovely clean pink bits underneath, sweet!
Ruth and Gruffalo at Red Crater

Gary on the rim of Mount Doom

The following day we were booked to do our skydive however when we woke there was a lot of cloud and a strong wind blowing, we phoned at 9.30am as requested and were advised to ring back an hour later to see if we were good for a go Johnny go go go go. At 10.30 we rang and at 10.40 the bus picked us up, what were we doing! We basically signed our lives away on the mini bus and then quickly arrived at Freefall Skydive at the airport. A view of a demo DVD and a decision on the packages (all chose 15,000 feet freefall with DVD and CD) and we were away getting suited up and introduced to our tandem partners. No time for hesitation, we were given an oxygen mask (!) and hustled onto the smallest plane in the world. There were five of us clients with our instructors and five film crews, one each, joy. The plane took off and went through some proper turbulence, it would have been a long trip bouncing around like that but thankfully the higher we went the calmer it got, it took 20 - 25 minutes to reach 15,000 feet, it shot by, oxygen masks went on at about 12,000 feet, all the way the instructors were buckling us in and checking and double checking. At last they got the go ahead from the ground crew and the door opened. The first film man climbed out and Simon the German guy who'd looked terrified since we took off was swung around to the edge, whoosh and he was gone! We all shuffled forward on our seats, swung our legs over and out, assumed the position and whoosh gone, no time to change your mind, a brief glimpse down and you were off. I was third out, Gary last at the back as he'd done it before and wouldn't get freaked. The noise as you fall is amazing, the wind whistling past your ears, I was totally bewildered, the others posed for the cameras etc but I didn't realise my instructor was tapping me or anything, usual befuddlement! All of a sudden the chute is pulled, the cameraman disappears below you and it all goes quiet, the most amazing thing. We free falled for about a minute and then float down for about four, it all passes in a blur, except for the twirling which I didn't enjoy! Down on the ground there was handshakes and a general disbelief in what we'd all just done, a great experience and one I would do again, but not yet!

Sheer terror at 15,000 feet
Too late now!
Not much else you can do at 15,000 feet

Around The Cape With Rally Rex

The East Cape crew at Te Kaha
Sunset at Te Kaha
A hideously early start, up at 5.30am, for our trip to the East Cape. The bus turned out to be a shuttle taking people to buses for various tours so by the time we actually got on our Kiwi East As bus we had been travelling an hour and been on two previous buses - we must have looked like immigrant workers being shunted from one mini bus to another! Our driver and guide for the next four days was an older chap (73) called Rex, the first stop was at a tree sacred to the Maori tribe that owned and lived in the East Cape we were going to visit. The tree was supposed to protect travelers and how well we needed it, Rex (ex truck driver) thought himself a rally man and drove at the speed of light! It takes a very long time to get to Gisbourne on the south of the East Cape, you have to go up to Whakatane in the north and then 60km through a gorge, it's all very winding and lots of trees and rivers, very pretty at 100km p/hr! We arrived at Tatapouri, a surf lodge, for our first nights stay, we opted for a double room (didn't fancy a dorm) and ended up with a whole chalet to ourselves, sweet as! A walk along the beach with a group off the minibus (and a dog that joined us from the campsite) and then a walk up the hill behind and we were ready for our BBQ tea, green mussels, steak, chicken, sausage, salad and potatoes - not much for the veggies!. Most had opted for an evenings wine tasting at $20 each, however the bloke who ran it was away so spotting an opportunity the owners got a few of the usual bottles in and we had an impromptu tasting evening, a bit like Oz Clarke but as the hosts thought wine tasted like diesel we were on for an unusual evening. We all tasted, rated, cleansed our palates with chocs and cheese and then picked our winners, you finished the wine you rated highest! The evening culminated in a cigarette filter fight where you spat (clean) filters at people, Ruth was excellent at this, not sure it's an employable skill. Throughout all this we were having to learn a Maori song for the morning, a fab evening.

The following morning we were all up early to see the sunrise, it was a little cloudy but we were some of the first in the world to see the sun rise on a new day. Then some of the group went feeding stingrays (the sea was too rough to take the shark cage out) or surfing, Gary went for the latter. They had a good couple of hours in quite rough seas with proper hard boards, the instructor was a great bloke but completely crackers, he looked like Michael J Fox and drank like Keith Floyd, driving along the beach his surf boards flew off the back of the truck. One of the pupils split his chin open, one woman nearly drowned, but Gary stood up so good times! Back on the bus Rally Rex was keen to get us to our planned visit to a Maori Maere (meeting house, not sure if it's spelled right), once there we were greeted and allowed to enter, singing followed and then we had to sing our song, we didn't do too bad. The lady then described to us the uses and meanings of the building and we were allowed to have a look around and take photos as long as we didn't put them on the internet. Off again for a drive past Tolaga Wharf, once the longest wharf in the southern hemisphere and then off again along winding roads to Rangitukia and a bed for the night. This was a bunkhouse on a homestead in literally the middle of nowhere, the stock ran free as the road went no further, Rex cooked us all some quite delicious pancakes and then the afternoons activities began. One group went horse riding while we went bone carving. We had chosen a design while eating pancakes and our teachers, Kizzy and Tom, had sketched them out on pieces of cattle bone, using dremels we had to etch out the designs and smooth and shape them, it smelled like when the dentist drills your teeth! A lot of polishing and we were done, we relaxed while the horse lot came back and did their carvings and then made tea with the shopping we'd picked up on the way. A quiet night, for a Saturday, a campfire and a glass of wine and then an early bed. Up before dawn the following morning and just Gary and I went up the hill to be the first in the world to see the sun, it was well strange to think that in thirteen hours you lot would see the same thing, we were lead on our walk by Tux the farm dog who apparently enjoys taking folk up the hill, though he sometimes gets them lost and abandons them. After breakfast Rex really put his foot down, first stop was the East Cape lighthouse which was great, up 700+ steps, then a traumatic journey around to Te Kaha to watch the local Maoris rehearsing for a big competition in Gisbourne at the end of the week - Kopahaka (?). They had almost finished but we saw the women singing and dancing with their poi and the chaps, who are all huge, doing a haka. Rugby balls were very much in evidence, not a single football, doesn't get a look in here. The homestead at Te Kaha was a mad place, very laid back, hard to say who was in charge. A quick watch of the Rugby 7s and then we got swimwear on and headed into the sea - turned out to be safer than the garden where these teeny horrid midge things called Sandflies were congregated - they draw blood when they bite and their faeces burns your skin, proper little charmers! The sea was warm and we had a lovely swim despite a sudden shower and then fell asleep on the beach and got the few remaining unburnt bits sunburnt. Tea was provided and really good, chicken, snapper, chips, pasta, salad and bean stew. Most people hopped into the hot tub with a beer and chatted the evening away, Gary sat around like Hugh Heffner and I was driven indoors by sandflies! One last mad Rex trip the following day, a stop to dig for Pipis (shellfish that we didn't eat as we knew winding roads to come) and then apple turnovers in Whakatane (that we did eat!) and we were back in Rotorua and Taupo and saying farwell. Our East Cape adventure was done.

Twenty Four Hours in Taupo ish

Well we got up at the crack of dawn and trooped down to the city for our bus to Waitomo and we didn't get on! They only had confirmed space for one of us and the other had to hope someone didn't turn up, all the other passengers turned up and we were left on the pavement stranded for another day in Rottenrua. We decided enough was enough and went to the bus station to sort transport to Taupo, it was cheap and we had two hours to wait so we used the chance to send a large parcel of stuff home - 5 kilos! A quick snack at a cafe and we were offered a lift to Taupo by a couple just up for a couple of hours shopping, as we had already booked and paid we declined, but it was nice of them all the same. The bus journey was quick, quiet and air conditioned, bliss. At Taupo we plodded up the road to our campsite which turned out to be very nice with a well equipped kitchen, laundry, TV room etc. The reception at the campsite booked a kayaking trip for us for the following afternoon (morning was booked up) and we just had a quiet evening at the non floor heated site. The following morning was a quiet one spent charging cameras etc up, then we were picked up for our kayaking trip. It turned out to be just the two of us with our guide Elliott which was fab. We had a two man kayak built for Antarctic trips (the company call them divorce boats because of the rows they cause), and just had a great time. We paddled 4km to the site of some huge Maori carvings that are only accessible by water, the sun shone, we had pineapple lumps, we saw a huge trout jump and a great afternoon was had. PS we want a kayak when we get home! That evening we had our meal and then decided to walk to Huka Falls which on the map looked like a short trip from the campsite, an hour and a half later we arrived, it was dark so we couldn't see anything and then the same tramp back through bush in flipflops (Kiwis call them Jandles)! Tomorrow we set out on our East Cape trip.


Wai O Tapu Champagne pool
Lady Knox Geyser, sweet as

The only part of Hobbiton we can show
Well we eventually left Whitianga on Sunday 6th on the Kiwi Experience bus, again feeling like teachers on a school trip. We stopped on the way to Rotorua for a half hour walk in an old gold mine in some gorge that we can't pronounce or spell. It was interesting and a fun walk with swing bridges, scary overhangs along cliffs and long unlit rail tunnels complete with tracks and sleepers, health and safety would have a fit in this country! After that it was a short hop to Rotorua itself and a busy afternoon and evening. The coach dropped us off at Te Puia which is a Maori owned thermal area just outside of the city with geysers, hot springs and most importantly bubbling mud pools. Thought we would get heat stroke with the hot sun, the heat from the ground and no shade. After a couple of hours there the coach dropped us at the campsite for a quick shower before our Maori hangi meal that evening. A coach took us and the other Kiwi bus lot to the Tamaki Maori reserve about 16km out of town, along the way the protocols and procedures for the evening where explained, this entailed electing a chief for our Waka (bus in this case) and leaving him to face the ritual challenge and peace making with the warriors and chief of the village! Basically there was a lot of shouting and chanting and then a peace offering of some foliage, we were then able to enter the village. The first part of the evening was in a repilca village where traditional crafts such as weaving, tattooing, games etc where being shown and then it was over to the hangi to watch it being opened. The hangi is a traditional way of cooking where a large pit is dug in the ground and filled with hot rocks etc, food is then placed on top and covered with damp cloths and then soil, in this way is steams gently over several hours creating really tender, earthy tasting food, as we were to discover later! We were then given a short concert by members of the tribe with singing, poi (balls and strings that get twirled around) and a haka. It was then time to eat, being older has its advantages at that point as we could afford a bottle of wine whilst all the others had to drink the free water on the table, it was grand!

The following day was a trip to Matamata the home of Hobbiton (finally a bit of real Hobbit stalking)! It took about an hour to get to The Shires Rest, the cafe on the Alexander farm where the set is situated. Along the way we had to sign all sorts of contracts and confidentiality things which mean we can't put any photos on the internet etc. We jumped on another bus that took us along the military built road through the farmland (looked really like the English countryside) to the set. We arrived just a week before filming for the Hobbit film is due to start so work on the set was almost finished, the guide wasn't sure when filming would actually take place there but the farm was going to be closed to visitors for a number of weeks so we were lucky we got there when we did. The whole place was amazing, it looked just like in the Lord Of The Rings films, quite a thrill to be there and walk around, our tramping on the approved tracks was also creating the pathways needed for the set in the film, so we've took part in set building but we won't ever get a mention in the film credits despite our good work! There was not a single sign of Sir Peter Jackson, Sir Ian McClellan or sex god Orlando, gutted. Back at the farm we were shown and quick sheep shearing demo and then allowed to feed lambs, that and the mince savoury and chocolate cookie made up for that disappointment.

Back in Rotorua we booked a trip to see the thermal parks the following day and got a voucher for free entry to the museum, we trotted along that very afternoon! The museum is in the old baths complex, open from the Victorian times until after the wars, people would come from all over the world for the healing properties of the waters. (They must have been desperate because as we haven't previously mentioned, Rotorua stinks! All over the city plumes of steam can be seen, there is a whole public park of hot springs and mud, in peoples back yards there are hot pools and over it all there is the smell of sulphur, all very odd.) Another good part of the museum was the cinema showing a film about the 1886 volcanic eruption of Lake Tarawera. As you sit down and watch the film you get to a part which describes the eruption, all of a sudden the seats you are in start to shake to simulate how the eruption might have felt, well I wasn't expecting it and got quite a fright as I thought it was real.We eventually got away from the museum and had a walk around the city itself, we also bought a new camera as we were missing having a more powerful one than our waterproof ones. Back at the tent we were amazed how hot it was until we discovered that our tent was on top of a thermal bit, we were near a stream that bubbled and steamed all the time but hadn't realised how far the warmth spread!

The following morning we were picked up for our trip to two of the thermal parks that surround Rotorua, we paraded around the city picking up various passengers and then set out along the thermal explorer highway, first stop was the Lady Knox Geyser which erupts daily at 10.15am (helped by some soap flakes) to a height of up to 30 metres, as it was summer and had been dry it only managed about 10 for us. This was also our first encounter with the irritations involved with our fellow tourists from a fast growing economic power in Asia, they took the same picture with every member of their coach group and were either oblivious to everyone else or really didn't give a toss that no one else could get a photo.We discovered a great way to take a nice photo of Ruth, if she said 'Chinese' when I was about to press the shutter she would be guaranteed not to have her eyes closed and a smile.Back on the road we went firstly to Wai O Tapu, this would probably be a great place to visit when it's not so hot and crowded and if you had more time, we were basically on a jog around the park to get back to the bus in time. Lots of good sights though, Champagne Pool in particular was very nice. A quick bus ride and we were in Waimangu, our new photo chums didn't bother with this so it was much nicer, it was still a quick walk but the views were your own and there was some shade. This valley was formed on 10 June 1886 when Mount Tarawera exploded making it the newest geo-thermal area on the planet, it is closely monitored to see how the ecology re-establishes. Both sites had lots of hot springs, mineral terraces, bubbling mud and sulphury smells. We moved the tent back at the campsite as the ground appeared to be getting hotter, better than an electric blanket. Tomorrow Waitomo...

Friday, 4 February 2011

Not in Rotorua yet!

Well the journey nightmares continue. We decided we'd jump an interstate bus from Paihia to Auckland and Auckland to Whitianga (a nice 7hr bus ride), which we'd hoped would then put us in a better position to get back on track with our Kiwi experience bus tour and also prevent an expensive overnight stop in Auckland. Well three days later we are still in Whitanga and will hope to catch the tour bus to Rotorua on Sunday morning. Eventhough we've not had a great  sense of 'traveling' on our journey so far, the places we've been stuck at have been rather nice. Whitiangia is a lovely coastal retreat with a Cornwall/Devon on steriods feel about. Loads of hills, beaches that are absolutely amazing, Mercury bay, Cook's Bay (something to do with Capt Cook and the Endeavour), Hahei beach( with the famous Cathedral cove from the Narnia films) and the most excellent Hot water beach. Local people keep saying that it's busy on the afore mentioned but we really can't see what they are on about it's certainly not like the Med. We are staying on a good quality holiday park camping which is good as it's nice and quiet but uncomfy at night as the heat during the day builds up and really doesn't cool too much, again we've had another near 30 deg day. The hottest part of the day seems to be around four in the afternoon. Anyway hot water beach if you ever go take your swim wear the surf/swim is smart and the hot water thing is where you dig a hole in the sand and let it flood with hot volcanic water from below. People then take a beer and sit in the pools and bascially give themselves third deg burns, we just put our feet in and we may aswell have had poured a kettle of boiling water over them, it's seriously hot and bonkers at the same time.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Sunburn, surfing and chippy teas

Well our delayed flight was further delayed until 5am due to another engine problem - it wasn't actually attached to the plane this time. We had to wait for a spare engine from another plane to be fitted to the wing. All of which was quite interesting as the old engine was being taken off at the same time a new was being fitted on the same wing, all Boeing 747's have a concealed mounting on each wing so in effect they can have 6 engines attached to the plane, 3 on each wing, a normal plane has only four. Anyway the delay time was pretty minimal and we evetually got going just after 5am. We also had been reassigned new seat numbers and by chance got a couple of exit row seats with loads of leg room. The doors closed and the disorientating inflight meals and crossing of international date lines began again. Onward flights were held at Sydney and we, eventually, landed at Auckland airport at 12.30am, lovely.
Just had the one day in Auckland, spent that running around in the rain and sleeping, horrible jetlag. Then it was on to Paihia in the Bay Of Islands. Cyclone Wilma had been expected to hit the Northland during the night, there was no evidence of it in Auckland but the bus was detoured and had to venture through huge floods heading north - plenty of peoples homes gone and the railway washed away. Arrived at Paihia, had mistakenly booked in at a backpackers hostel, huge mistake, never again, party central, like trying to sleep in Nexus.
Early the next morning (was ready by 4am!) we got the bus to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach, this was a fab day. Bus raced up the beach with fab views and sunshine until it arrived at the stream that is used as an exit road - waters really high due to cyclone. Bus drove into a huge hole in the water trashing the front end and then we all had to jump out to push it out of quicksand. Got parked and went sand boarding - which is where the worst of the sunburn occured. Dunes were huge, climbing them exhausting, not convinced it's worth it for the slide down. Next was the trip to Cape Reinga itself, on the way bus started swaying alarmingly (as rear wheel spring had snapped!), we limped to the far north of New Zealand and then repairs and phone calls began, by luck an Aussie truck mechanic was on the tour and he bodged a repair to the bus (with a block of wood and zipp ties!) that got us back to the all important fish and chip shop at Manganui where we were met for our surfing trip to Taupo Bay.
Surfing at the bay with Isobar surf was great, lovely peaceful place, stunning scenery, good food and beer, sunburn, we stayed an extra day!
Back in Paihia now, had a grand boat trip this morning to see dolphins, had a great trip saw large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins that entertained us for quite a while and then saw a small, sleepy pod of Common Dolphins much futher out. Busy now trying to sort next leg of journey, accommodation in Auckland is expensive and the bus can't fit us in until Saturday, but it's 33 degrees, sort of unbearable and we think we can get a bus to Rotorua in the morning - will skip a couple of days but we are heading for the cold!
No memory card thing on this PC so no pics this time.