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Nov. 20th, 2007

Mount Maunganui

We head today towards the Bay of Plenty through Whangamata to Tauranga and Mount Maunganui.  There is a good looking beach for swimming and suffing with plenty of people in the sea enjoying themselves and many others walking along the esplanade.  The beach itself is a 20km long strand and our campsite is only separated from it by a public boardwalk allowing no privacy whatsoever for anyone wishing to walk past of which there is a considerable number.  We play it safe and keep everything in the car rather than unload and set up camp in case anyone decides to have a look inside while we're away.  The one plus side of this accomodation is that we have a fantastic view over the ocean and can gear the waves crash in the distance and panoramic view of the bay which is a beautiful sight.

We rent some boogie boards from a beach-side shop and hit the surf.  The waves are huge and my first few attempts at getting out from the beach are thwarted as each wave staggers me backwards.  As I work up momentum between each wave, riding over it and kicking hard with my legs, I make it out about 40/50 feet and get caught by a huge wave that carries me more than half way back where the crest breaks and I fall into about one foot of water.  Ouch.

This temporary setback only furthered my determination to get back out there and try again depsite further successive waves battering me back landing several times on my sides and a wave hitting me squarely in the face leaving me gasping for breath.

We would have stayed out there further but the shell beach was having serious impact on our attempts to have fun and each time I was knocked onto the beach, my legs were grazed and scratched until I finally gave up after grazing enough to cause bleeding.  Next time, a sandy beach only.

It was late afternoon by this point and we decided to head into Tauranga to buy dinner and check out the cinema.  (We settled on a film called Fracture - entertaining and worth a watch on TV - 3/5).  The sea air does make you sleepy and we were in bed by 11.30pm.

Nov. 19th, 2007



This morning we head for Cathedral Cove on the south east corner of Mercury Bay where besides some striking geological formations, there is also supposedly fantastic snorkling in the nearby Gemstone Bay.  Unfortunately for us, despite the weather forecast for another glorious day, it is quite grey and overcast and the conditions do not make for water activities.

As we arrive at Cathedral Cove it hasn't brightened up much but it is very humid and I am sweating like a guilty man in the dock as we make our way along the stunning coastline.  As snorkling was our dashed planned activity for the afternoon we decide to take a trip to the town of Coromandel itself, an old gold town, and ride the scenic railway overlooking the northern peninsula.

Half-way there, the clouds disappear and the sun blazes down on us as we arrive just in time for lunch before jumping on the 3.15pm train.  As an alternative, this works out in our favour.  I love trains and travelling on them was one of the joys travelling around Europe and it's a shame that New Zealand doesn't have more public railways.  It has some that run between Auckland and Wellington, Christchurch to Greymouth/Picton but that's about it.  The government has recently spent quite a considerable amount of money in the train service but it will be many years before anyone sees this investment.

The Driving Creek Railway that we embark on is a labour of love, built mostly by hand and taking just over 27 years to complete.  Click here for the full stroy.

We step into a ramshackle little set of carriages that evokes a miniature toy on a grand scale and set off up a hill which covers a distance of 3km climbing up 120m for spectacular views over Coromandel.  It is a fun hour long trip and highly recommended not only for the views but to see the effort involved over many years building it.

Our final expedition of the day takes us back to Whitianga and on to Hot Water Beach where we can see and feel hot water springs bubbling beneath the sand.

The idea is to sit in and enjoy the geothermally heated water but as Lou and I begin to move the sand with our feet, we have to hastily remove it as it is near boiling temperature and cool our feet off in the sea.  I imagine this is something to be constructed withe a bucket and spade, adding sea water until a comfortable medium is reached but the shop is closed and we take a walk along the beach and leave our quickly disappearing sand marks for other straggling tourists to play with.

An interesting day all around and another one of many I wouldn't mind repeating.

Nov. 18th, 2007


Our journey to the Coromandel Peninsula takes us back through Auckland before striking east and north into the Mercury Bay and the town of Whitianga.  The scenery reminds me of much of the south island and Lou and I talk about where we will settle for the duration of our working holiday after we've finished touring.  We are undecided between Christchurch and Dunedin (the former taking first prize in the end).

The north island has been good to us so far but I feel the southern environment has more to offer in terms of outdoor pursuits on the doorstep with a greater beauty to it overall.  Wellington is nice but doesn't fit and we have no love for Auckland.  There have also been some beautiful towns that have a homely feeling to them but the job prospects would certainly not be positive and sooner or later we might regret the decision of not choosing a larger town or city.

When we arrive at the campsite in Whitianga, the owner is friendly and she is the first to walk with us and show us around where we can put up our tent and where the kitchen and amenities are rather than circling a spot on the map and sending us on our way.

We are staying here for two nights and have several things on our 'to-do- list.  One of the main attractions to our campsite is the cheap rental of kayaks and we're not disappointed.  They are only $10 for the day and as soon as we set up the tent, it's our first item on the agenda.

It's great being out on the water under your own steam and a superb sense of freedom to go wherever you choose.  The harbour bay is right across the road and within five minutes we are on the water and away.

We spend a fantastic afternoon navigating the place and despite the helping of sun-cream to protect ourselves, the reflection of the water gives us a slight sunburn noticable on our return.

We take a stroll along the main street.  As it is after 5pm on a Sunday afternoon most places are closed and so we buy some chinese food, a bottle of wine and return to pass the evening back at the site, reading and when the sun goes down watching a film in the lounge area of the social building which we have to ourselves.

It has been a relaxing day and tomorrow we hit the road to several places of interest outside town.

Nov. 17th, 2007

Leigh & Pakiri

The weather is a little dull as we left the campsite but brightens up as we make our short journey through the quaint Russell streets to the harbour.  We book ourselves onto the 'Mack Attack', a turbo charged diesel engined catamaran that reaches speeds of more than 50 knots.  We're taken on a 90 minute tour of the bay which heads out to Cape Brett where  there is a huge hole in the rock and a 'cathedral cave' which the boat manoevoures into.  The cove itself was used by Maori warriers in canoes that would lie in wait for opposing tribes who sailed in for landing and would be surprise attacked.

It was a very fast ride out to the cove and the wind turbulence made my face nearly numb with the force of it.  The sea was also pretty choppy in parts and waves crashing against rocks in places.  It was a fantastic trip and well worth taking on a day like this.

After we're back on land, we head south along the coast towards Leigh and Goat's Island.  Although it's a short distance, relatively speaking for this kind of adventure, of 200km it takes us around 5 hours because of roadworks and usealed roads slowing us down.  We stop along the way for lunch overlooking a beautiful turquise bay.

We make a few wrong turns once or twice up unsealed roads before we find Leigh but the campsite is hosting a wedding (go figure) and no staff can be found.  A little frustrated we drive 10km back to Pakiri and find an excellent campsite by a beach where, after pitching the tent, we walk along and I look for shells while Lou wets her feet.

The evening is spent chilling outside with a dinner of cheese and wine watching the sky grow dark and the moon rising directly overhead and a blanket of stars appearing.  Not a bad ending to the day really.

Nov. 16th, 2007

Paihia & Russell

Last night marked the worst night of camping on our trip and would certainly make it into the top 20 worst nights of sleep ever.  Despite the campsite [Waitiki Landing Holiday park] being on the most northerly and convenient site in Northland, close to both the sand dunes and the cape itself, it is a squalid and filthy site and the 'restaurant' becomes the local bar hangout after dark.  The punters are very noisy and the music is just as loud.  Screeching tyres and breaking bottles often rise above the din and shouted conversations are audible from a considerable distance.  Needless to say we hardly slept a wink and on top of all this we were harassed by mosquitoes that must have sneaked in at some point.

Needless to say, we were up at first light and I wisely avoided the showers lest I was to become dirtier than when I used them and we hit the road.

There is nowhere to go but south and we made our way along the east coast to the Bay of Islands stopping at Paihia for kayaking.  We rent one each and after sliding into the water, spend two hours navigating the bay area.  Although the sun is behind grey clouds, it is relatively warm and the waves are gentle.  It is certainly a past-time I intend to take up when we finally settle down somewhere.

Our small journey takes us out to and around a few small islands and up and down the coastline and we are now awake and enjoying ourselves.

Once we are back on dry land, we drive through the small village of Pauo and take the ferry across to Russell which only takes 10-15 minutes and it is not long before we are setting up our tent again and ready to explore the village.

Russell could easily win a best kept small town award for the region and the sea-front is a pleasure to walk along.  We find a bar and luckily for us it is happy hour and only $7 for two handles.  The world netball championship is on and we try to figure out why it's so popular in New Zealand.  We can't.

After exploring the rest of the town, which doesn't take long, we buy some provisions and choose a pleasant harbour view restaurant to eat at where both order a steak fillet with mushroom and porcini sauce washed down by a rather tasty Hawke's Bay cabernet sauvignon.  Afterwards we buy some ice-cream and take a walk along the beach as the sun sets by the harbour pier.

All in all, an awesome day I wouldn' mind repeating. 

Nov. 15th, 2007

Cape Reinga


After a great nights sleep, a refreshing shower and a relaxing breakfast with just the two of us (our American housemates left early for some tramping), we set off further north to catch a ferry at Rawene.

Rawene itself is a lively village on the tip of a peninsula and runs a ferry service across Hokianga harbour to Kohukohu on the northern shores.  It only costs $16 and cuts out a good 100km of road and takes us to our next passing point of Mangamuka bridge which puts us back on highway 1 towards our lunch stop at Kaitaia.

Kaitaia, mildly put, is a bit of a dive but it's the biggest commercial centre this far north and an ideal place to stop, refuel and get amy provisions you need before heading further north where the price of petrol is akin to daylight robbery and food stores are few and far between.

As we push on another 100km or more towards the Cape, the north islands most northly point, it is a beautiful afternoon and our car jutters along the remaining 21km as, for whatever reason, the road is unsurfaced.  It appears that there is a 2 year project underway that intends to expand the Reinga facilities and surface the road and the roadmen (and women) are busy with their woork.

Once past the JCB's and workers, we enter the Maori spiritual place known as "the place of leaping" where dead spirits depart and the area is quiet, reflective and peaceful.  There is a lone lighthouse at the end of the headland and a directional post with jovial signs stating "London: 18,239km" etc.

The views are quite dramatic as the Tasmin and Pacific meet each other head on and there is plenty of surf.  Looking west is the tip of 90 Mile Beach (actually 64 miles long) running south into the distance.

We make our way back slowly back along the road to Te Paki Stream where huge sand dunes make for the excellent pastime of boogie boarding.  Lou and I rent some boards and make our way to the foot of the dunes which now appear tall and forboding.

It takes a significant amount of energy to climb to the top as the sand continually falls at your feet at a 45° angle and it's two steps forward and one step back.  Neverthless, sliding down is great fun and I would loved to have a gondola carry me up but there are no such luxuries.  I managed to climb up 3 full times and on my last summit climb, I reach the top, fall over, heart pounding and exhausted before making a final run down.

It was a great action packed day and tomorrow we head south and eastwards along towards the Bay of Islands.

Nov. 14th, 2007



Before leaving Auckland for Northland, we stopped at Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World.  It's a unique aquarium featuring a 110 metre transparent tunnel that you can walk through and marvel at the life aquatic.  A moving platform allows you to stand still and gawk at what's on offer while moving you along so you don't walk into other visitors.  Interestingly, the acrylic used refracts the light so that the fish appear to be one third smaller than they are.

I found the most interesting of the creatures to be the sharks and stingrays, a few of which have a fin-span of around 2 metres and they pass by within a few inches of your face which for want of a better description, is pretty awesome.

The other main draw of Tarlton's is the penguin colony which you can be driven through on an Antarctic Snowcat.  I reckon there are around 50 of them which can be found swimming, nesting or standing around flapping their wings.

We were soon on the road again and we had a long drive ahead of us towards the tip of the north island, most of it along vast expanses of countryside and all, unfortunately, quite boring.

We decided to stop for the day in the area of Opononi which is hard to describe as a settlement and the strip of road where our hostel is no more than a few buildings - houses, a pub and a shop.  Nevertheless, our hostel, the House of Harmony, is a charming little place which is certainly the best place we have stayed in the north.  It has beautiful views of Hokianga harbour and Lou and I sat outside for a while soaking up the atmosphere before taking a walk along the beach.

The only other occupants sharing the two-kitchen, four bedroom, two bathroom, large living room flat are two older Americans.  We spend an enjoyable evening reading books, planning our travels and sharing the occasional conversation.  The only issue was the woman requesting that she replaces Van Morrison in the CD player for an awful Spanish guitar/recorder album which would be suitable background music if we were in a museum.

If you're travelling up to Cape Reinga through Auckland, I highly recommend staying here as it is a calm, peaceful place to stay.

Nov. 13th, 2007

Auckland: Part II

Our second and last day in Auckland started with a lie-in until 10am and a visit to the laundry room which means while the clothes get to being clean, we can nip across the road to buy something for lunch and read the newspapers in the back garden of the hostel and take turns checking our emails.

We have booked a harbour cruise at 3pm and are picked up shortly after 2pm.  The weather is flitting between sunshine and clouds with a fairly steady breeze.  However, it has settled somewhat as we set off from the harbour and out towards the open sea.  There is a nice view of Auckland as it fades into the distance and we circumnavigate Waitemata harbour and out towards Rangitato before looping around and heading back past Devenport and under the harbour bridge where a group of bungee jumpers were throwing themselves off touching the spray of the ocean and hanging in mid-air until getting pulled up again.

It was a semi-pleasant way to spend an afternoon although I would recommend an earlier voyage and spending the day on other activities that don't include triapsing around tourist shops looking for Maori dolls to send home to mothers with collections :P

By the time we set off for the hostel, a nasty rain has developed and I'm glad to be indoors on such an evening.  As we look back over our two days in Auckland, I feel we could have done everything we wanted in a day.  As cities go and having been to London, Tokyo and other more metropolitan places, it's not exactly exciting.  If it wasn't for the Sky Tower, I'd recommend passing on through to Northland which is our next destination.

Nov. 12th, 2007

Auckland: Part I


Our journey to Auckland takes us along the New Zealand version of a motorway that in the rest of the world would be called a dual-carriageway.  It's our second time here although the first was a stop-over flight taking us to Christchurch when we first arrived so that doesn't really count. 

Unlike Wellington where it's feasible to camp and bus it in, Auckland's nearest campsite doesn't sounds great and it's 10km outside city limits so we hostelling it for our duration.  Unfortunately for us, both places we attempt to book into are closed for lunch for 2 hours which is plain ridiculous if you're in this business.

By the time we check-in, sort ourselves out and jump on a bus it is late afternoon.  Our destination is the museum and by the time it takes us to walk to it, it is 4.15pm and we are given free admission because it closes at 5pm.  This is both a blessing and a curse as the exhibits fail to rouse much interest and it's no patch on Wellington's museums which are also free.

It is a 4km round circle from the city to museum and back so we decide to call in at Father Ted's off Queen Street and take things easy before making our way to what is arguably Aucklands main draw - the Sky Tower.

Bby now it is early evening and we finally get some pay-back on our BBH cards as they allow us a student discount rate on admission.  We take the first lift to the main observation deck which is full of other tourists taking in the 360° panoramic views of the city.

For an extra $3 we climb into another lift which takes us to a higher, smaller and more intimate deck, providing slightly better views and a chance for quiet contemplation.

After taking a lot of photographs and scaring myself by standing on a see-through floor to the streets below, we take the lift down to the best part of the Sky Tower - the revolving restaurant.

Over a fantastic meal (puddings aside!) we get to see the city at night move around us and if you're on a visit here, it's well worth splashing out for the experience.

Our journey home takes longer than expected because we miss our stop and have to walk 45 minutes back to the hostel.  The bus driver actually kicked us off the bus and wasn't overly concerned if we knew where we were.  [This moment can be contrasted to a Saturday night in Christchurch 6 months later when we do the same but as we are the last people on the bus, the driver takes us home in the bus like a taxi - right to our door!]

Nov. 11th, 2007

Waitomo Caves


Today marks our first month in New Zealand and it seems much longer because of the travelling but it has been a blast and we are looking forward to what lies ahead.  Our next destination is the Waitomo caves - famous for its limestone caves and glow-worms and are believed to be over two million years old.

After setting up on a nearby campsite, we book ourselves onto a two cave trip taking in the Arunui and Waitomo Caves.  The Arunui Caves are only a few kilometres drive away and it is well worth passing through and checking out as there is a fine display of stalagmites and stalactites and displays of limestone erosion.

The Waitomo Caves are somewhat less impressive in terms of geological sights but there is a river running through it where there lives thousands of glow worms.  Indeed, the word Waitomo comes from the Maori wai meaning water and tomo meaning sinkhole which translates as water passing through a hole.

After a guided tour of the cave itself, we step into a boat and are directed along in near pitch black where by glancing up you can the creatures emitting light as if looking up at the night sky on a clear night and seeing a blanket of stars.

To mark our monthly anniversary we decide to have a BBQ and buy steaks as a treat.  It is a glorious evening spent relaxing in the quiet environment and as the sun settles, it casts the most beautiful sunset of glorious oranges and reds.

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