Sunday - (17th September)
Bye bye Auckland, hello Open Road.
That's the plan, anyhow.
It all starts reasonably well, as my car hasn't been stolen, vandalised, or clamped. Bonus.
After a quick brekky, and a stop to buy some sushi for lunch, I'm off. Well, as far as the petrol station, that is.
$40 (that's about 14 quid for half a tank), and 30 minutes later, I'm leaving Auckland on New Zealands main road - "Route 1".
It looks like the A34 ... there's none of that '2 lane' nonsense here ...
At least there isn't much traffic to get in the way. Most of the traffic that there is seem to be either campervans, or the ubiquitous ute (with the same exhaust/alloy wheel options you get in outback Oz).
The countryside is cross between the highlands of Scotland, the Lake District and Ireland (green, hilly, rural).
Haven't seen the preponderance of sheep I expected, though... Maybe they keep them in their houses ? Perhaps what the Aussies say is true, and the sheep really ARE in charge ? Perhaps the sheep are wearing camouflage ? Perhaps I'm rambling ?
I stop for lunch at a small place called Sullivans Bay, where I eat my sushi, and it starts to rain.
The rest of the afternoon is spent driving to a town called Paihia, which is the main town in the Bay of Islands area.
You can tell it's a big town, because it's got more than one street ...
Don't really do much in the evening, apart from having a quick wander down to the beach, and watching a video with some of the girls who are staying here.
Watching a video, in this case, means 'Shakespeare in Love'. Great.
The hostel is pretty nice, though. With a good kitchen/TV area, and smart/clean bathrooms attached to each of the bedrooms.
Monday - (18th September)
I'm going for the cultural approach this morning, by paying a visit to Waitangi. This is place where the country of New Zealand (as we know it) was born, when the British Crown and the Mauri tribes signed the 'Treaty of Waitangi'.
Compared to Australia, the Mauri people got a much better deal than the Aborigines.
Waitangi is only a 2km walk from Paihia. I was tempted to go in the car, but I guess the exercise will do me good.
The centre at Waitangi is actually rather interesting, and also very nicely looked after.
My local 'guide' explains the circumstances that led to the treaty, and we visit the spot where the document was signed.
There's also an awesome Mauri war canoe to see (it's 37m long and can seat 160 people).
I'll put up a picture, Mike, so you can get 'canoe envy'.
After all this cultural stuff, my brain needs a rest, so I take the walk to Hararu falls (10km round trip).
While the falls are nice, they aren't worth a 10km walk...
When I get back to Waitangi my feet are, to be blunt, f***ed. The 2km walk back to the hostel is the longest 20 minutes ever.
In the evening, it's a case of chilling in the TV room again. This evenings chick flick is 'What Women Want'. At least it's better than the Shakespeare one.
I do finally get to choose a film (Men in Black 2), but that's only after all the girls have gone to bed.
Tuesday - (19th September)
No walking today, which is just as well, as my feet would probably fall right off.
I'm booked on a boat trip around the Bay of Islands in the morning.
Yesterday the boats ran across Killer Whales, and there's supposed to be a 90% chance of seeing dolphins normally.
Still haven't seen any dolphins up close yet, so I really hope there are some around.
The boat trip is pretty nice (the weather is sunny for one thing), but there are NO seabound mammals to see, whatsoever. Bum.
Probably the best part of the trip is where our boat 'sails' (even though it doesn't have sails) through the 'Hole in the Rock'.
For those who don't know the 'Hole in the Rock' is, in fact, a big hole in a rock. Imaginative name, huh ?
The boat drops us off at Russell at lunchtime. Russell is a small town, across the water from Paihia.
It used to be called 'The Hellhole of the Pacific'. Now it's more of a place for old Kiwi's to come and die (think Eastbourne).
After some food and a quick wander round, I head back to Paihia on the passenger ferry.
Most of the afternoon is spent doing my laundry (how dull), and the evening in the TV room.
Wednesday - (20th September)
Lots of driving to do today...
First off, I drive North to Cape Reinga, the most Northern point in N.Z.
This is a really great road, very windy, with virtually no traffic, with the final 20Km being just a gravel track.
The gravel section is pretty slippy, and I have visions of my car plunging off a cliff into the sea, in the same kind of style as a cheap TV movie (including the obligatory explosion)...
Along the way, I make a quick stop on 90 mile beach (why not 145 kilometer beach, I hear you ask). Various bus trips take you for a drive along the beach, but I can't do this in my hire car, so I have to make do with a quick walk on the sand.
The Cape itself is very windy, and the weather is best described as 'threatening'. If you've ever seen the film 'The Fog', you'll know what I mean.
At least the lighthouse makes for some interesting pictures.
I go for a quick walk down to the beach, below the cape. It's not really sun-bathing weather though.
I now decide that I can make it to Auckland (or nearby) by the end of the day.
This means a long drive (in the end it takes about 6 hours), but it will 'gain' me one day to spend somewhere else... The drive
Finally (at about 7pm), I get to Auckland.
At least the hostel is really nice, and quite homely (including a log fire in the TV room). I'm too tired to do anything other than watch the movie of the evening (some Arnie movie called 'End of Days') and chill out.
Thursday - (21st September)
Today is a Lord of the Rings day, as I'm off to see the Hobbiton set at a place called Matamata.
It's on some private farmland about 3 hours drive South of Auckland.
The drive is rather boring for the first 2 hours, but gets more interesting when I get off the main road.
Matamata itself is pretty unremarkable.
I have an hour to kill before the next tour, so I grab some lunch (fish and chips - wrapped in real newspaper), and grab a couple of piccies.
Finally our tour bus turns up. It's called Frodo. How sweet.
It takes about 10 minutes to drive out to the farm. The views here are pretty stunning, with uninterrupted countryside all around.
There are lots of sheep as well. It's just after lambing season, so most of the ewes have babies trailing after them. Mmmm, roast lamb ....
This place is the only one with some of the original set remaining (bad weather prevented them destroying it immediately), and so is a very popular tour.
I took quite a few pictures, so I guess you can judge how good it looks yourselves ...
After the tour, I drive South to a place called Taupo (which was the site of a huge volcanic eruption about 1500 years ago - so huge it ejected 800 cubic Km of ash into the air).
Lake Taupo is now in the place where the centre of the crater would be.
I arrive in Taupo at 7pm (ish), and go shopping for some dinner, then 'retire' for the evening, to watch 'The Empire Strikes Back'. It's not the same without a big TV, though
Friday - (22nd September)
The general plan for the day is to drive South, into Tongariro National Park, see the mountains (including Mt.Doom from LOTR), and stay somewhere round the area.
It starts out OK, as the weather in Taupo is really nice.
I decide to do a couple of things locally, before heading out.
First off, I visit 'The Craters of the Moon', which is a thermally active area (bubbling mud, steaming water, etc). It's quite interesting, but not as good as some of the places I saw in Iceland (a long time ago, on a holiday far away).
Just a short (10 minute) hop away are the Huka falls.
While not very tall, the sheer volume of water coming through them is impressive.
Further downstream are the Aritata rapids. 3 times per day, the hydro-electric power station upstream releases a surge of water into these rapids (purely for tourism purposes). This creates a really great spectacle. It also lets you ride a 'jet boat' up the rapids.
This is too cool to resist, so I cough up my (roughly) ?5 for a go.
The jet boat ride is definitely one of the best things I've done. As the boat gets upto about 80km/h, some of the rapids cause you to take off. Once you've take off, obviously, you have to 'land' again. Invariably, this involves a big splash, and a new wet patch.
35 minutes, and many wet patches, later I get off the boat with a big smile on my face.
I paid the extra ?0 to get the pictures, so make sure you look at 'em !
After my Taupo adventures, I make my (rather soggy) way towards Tongariro Park.
Unfortunately, the weather hasn't heard about my plan for the day. It's very cloudy, raining, and windy in the mountains.
I make an attempt to get up one of the peaks (by driving up one of the passes, to the ski lift area), but it's so cloudy I can hardly see the end of my nose.
Driving up here is pretty hair-raising (see one of the pictures, for an example).
After hanging around for an hour, hoping the weather will break, I decide to give up.
The weather is supposed to be the same on the following day, so there's no point staying in the area, and I make the decision to head South again, to try and get as close to Wellington as possible.
In the end I stay in a small place called 'Sansom', about 150Km North of Wellington.
The motel is really cheap (about 22 quid) and pretty decent.
Saturday - (23rd September)
It's only a 2 hour drive to Wellington this morning, and I arrive at my hostel at about 11am.
The hostel seems like a really nice, friendly place. Quite a few of the people staying have been here for 2 or 3 months !
I'm only here for 3 nights, though (I have a schedule to keep!).
Wellington has a bit of a San Fransisco feel about it - it's very windy, rather hilly, and lots of the houses look similar.
One of it's claims to fame, is that it has more coffee shops (per capita) than anywhere else (even New York).
The best one (supposedly) is called Mojo, and is only about 5 minutes walk away.
Seems like a natural place to start my afternoon ...
The coffee was very nice (they roast their own beans, apparently), and the chocolate brownie was fantastic.
I spend the next hour wandering around the quay side area, before heading to Te Papa (the Museum of New Zealand).
Entry to the museum is free (donations welcome) but it actually has lots of really excellent exhibits.
I nabbed a few photos of my favourites from floor 4 (I only did one of the 3 floors today).
After a couple of hours in the museum, I go for a wander around Wellington, grab some food (Lebanese today), and head back to the hostel.