Day 91: Nadi, Fiji

We write this from a very hot but very wet Fiji mainland.

In the interests of good blog-keeping Christmas was spent in Raglan, a small surf town on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Far too much food and drink was consumed and even two walks along the beach failed to stem the ill-effects. Still, it was a memorable day and a Christmas barbecue has much to recommend it.

On Boxing Day (Day 90) we travelled back up north to the outskirts of Auckland, just near the airport, where we were to spend our final night.

Geographically-minded readers might at this point realise that we haven’t ventured to New Zealand’s South Island. Some may throw their hands up in disgust, some may scream ‘tragedy’, ‘criminal’ or sit mute with shock. But hear us out.

We had a difficult decision to make. Do we spend most of our time behind the wheel and in petrol stations? Do we merely scratch the surface of the two islands? Or do we instead explore the North Island with at least a medium-sized toothcomb? In the end we decided we had too much respect for New Zealand to subject it to a wham-bam-thank-you-mam two-island tour. Besides, it gives us an excuse to come back!

And New Zealand being New Zealand, even our final night, in a campsite only a couple of miles from the airport, provided us with one last taste of the country’s natural beauty – a beautiful honey and blood-orange sunset.

20111227-191842.jpg

Today’s flight to Fiji was supposed to be with Air Pacific but New Zealand Airways had to step-in – seamlessly, one must add – at the last minute. It was our gain. Check out the safety information video that was provided. And play it loud. It received a deserved round of applause at the end. A classic!

NZ Airlines Safety Journey

From tomorrow morning and for the next two weeks we will be island-hopping across the Yasawa Islands. They are north-west of Fiji’s two major land masses and should hopefully be drier and sunnier than elsewhere in the region at this time of year. Here’s hoping anyway.

We’ve been told not to expect any banks, shops or Internet access, so the blog may well lie dormant for a while (I’m sure bloggers and blogees alike could do with a little rest).

So if you don’t hear from us we hope you all have a great Hogmanay. We’ll leave it to Barney and his friend to wish you a Happy New Year. Here’s to a fun-filled, healthy and prosperous 2012.

20111227-192451.jpg

20111227-192517.jpg

Advertisements

Days 83-87: Wellington, Whanganui & Waitomo in Pictures

Little did we know how fantastic Wellington’s Te Papa museum would prove to be.

/>
20111225-155740.jpg

Te Papa Museum’s Colossal Squid exhibit. The only one in the world, apparently.

20111225-154532.jpg

Yes, that’s a man-made beach in the middle of Wellington. And, yes, that’s Richard’s foot.

20111225-154607.jpg

A lady-like guide to windy Welly.

20111225-154638.jpg

The world’s greatest apple pie and ice cream. No contest. Don’t even bothering entering.

20111225-154725.jpg

A lost Pink Floyd album cover.

20111225-154759.jpg

But for the belated staging of this Wellington production we could have made the cast.

20111225-155041.jpg

A drink-in-progress Wellington Flat White. A work of art in itself.

20111225-155121.jpg

Windy times atop Welly’s Mount Victoria.

20111225-155156.jpg

Margarine, Whanganui’s friendly duck.

20111225-155230.jpg

Campervan serenades don’t quite cut it in Whanganui.

20111225-155310.jpg

Dinner at Barney’s.

20111225-155346.jpg

Rudolph, Whanganui’s tame (ish) goat.

20111225-155416.jpg

Starlight over Whanganui River.

20111225-155450.jpg

The much-hyped, over-priced Waitomo Caves. Magical? Yes. A tourist trap?Getting there.

20111225-155523.jpg

The Ruakuri Bush Walk. Five minutes from Waitomo Caves. Free and in splendid isolation. Don’t tell a soul.

20111225-155600.jpg<br

Days 79-82: Napier & Martinborough

Napier has been blessed by our first three night stop in New Zealand. Its fame rests on Art Deco architecture and it being the tour hub for Hawke’s Bay wineries. All sunbursts and Syrahs, if you will.

Napier is the Art Deco centre of the world. Why? Massive earthquake in 1931. Widespread devastation. Worldwide depression. Global building industry shutdown. Thus, Napier’s necessity was Art Deco’s invention. Within two years the town was rebuilt, and with the architectural epitomisation of the Jazz Age as its inspiration.

So we wandered around, guidebook in hand, aw-ing and ah-ing at one pristine example after another. We took surprisingly few photographs, however. Sorry about that.

20111223-124817.jpg

20111223-124842.jpg

Napier’s other fame we sampled through a lazy afternoon wine tour. Four wineries and we think around 30 different bottles were sampled. The whites fairly fizzed and zinged but the reds unfortunately fell a bit flat. Hawkes Bay’s renowned Pinot Noirs were the only rare rubies among the run-of-the-mill rest. The standout discovery of the day had to be Manua’s Ten Year Tawney. A port which is pure Christmas Day in a glass. It now sits snuggled in the van awaiting the 25th.

20111223-124934.jpg

20111223-125017.jpg

After Napier we drove south down New Zealand’s classic wine trail, stopping off for lunch in Palmerston North. In his wit and wisdom, former Python John Cleese said of Palmerston North: ‘If you ever do want to kill yourself, but lack the courage, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick.’ In Palmerston’s North’s wit and wisdom they named a rubbish dump after him. Sadly, the local i-Site made no play of the refuge facility and we didn’t visit it. There are limits it seems to the humour of local authorities.

In broad agreement with JC we didn’t dwell long in PN and soon arrived in Martinborough, a tiny but a schucks-lovely town which bursts with wineries and eateries. Given it was three years to the day since we first met – two years of which must have been spent in the campervan, surely? – we indulged in a bit more Backpacker Bling and dined at a fabulous restaurant called Cornucopia. We were kept company by an excellent bottle of – we think – Julicher Riesling (2010).

Next stop is Wellington…

Days 75-78: Tauranga, Rotorua & Taupo

Ever since we left the Coromandel Peninsula the weather has been… how can we put it in precise meteorological terms… unsettlingly Scottish.

The change came at Tauranga, a largish city by New Zealand’s standards on the east coast just south of Coromandel. After a lunchtime curry by the quayside – and why not – we climbed Mount Maunganui. While its height didn’t quite match its prefix it did command terrific views of the surrounding coastline (if you get past the sheep).

20111218-143128.jpg

The next day we travelled inland and further south to Rotorua, a city sitting in the midst of an active volcanic crater. As if to silence any doubters Rotorua continually spits steam and boiling water from its street drains, backyard bushes and inner city gardens, while all the time accompanied by the not-so-sweet smell of rotten eggs. It also meant that our campground featured its own thermal-heated pool.

20111219-195750.jpg

20111219-195818.jpg

20111219-195837.jpg

Despite the poor weather three things of note occurred to us while in Rotorua.

First, we attended a Maori concert and a traditional ground-cooked hangi feast. After the Uros Islands of Lake Titicaca we braced ourselves for conflicting feelings of exploitation and marvel. But the set up was very different. This was very much an upfront production designed to showcase Maori customs and traditions, the highlight being a full-on Haka from only a couple of feet away. No wonder Scotland keeps losing to New Zealand – that and the inability to score a try.

20111219-195921.jpg

20111219-195941.jpg

The feast afterwards – cooked in the ground using the natural heat from the thermal springs – was terrific. It was also all-you-could-eat. So we ate all we could.

20111219-200016.jpg

The second thing of note was a visit to the Rotorua museum of art and history. It details the city’s earthquake-shaped past and early twentieth-century fame as a spa centre. It also houses a fantastic permanent exhibition of Maori history. The highlight though was a visiting exhibition of New Zealand photographer Brian Brake. If you’re into photography and you aren’t aware of Brake’s work then he’s well worth checking out.

20111219-200059.jpg

Rotorua Museum. Not a Brian Brake photograph.

Last but not least, we picked up a parking ticket! As we entered the council buildings to pay the fine we expected stern looks and a humbling lecture. Instead we each received a mint chocolate advising us not to drink and drive. One wonders what you would get in Rotorua for a drink-driving charge. A lemon and meringue pie warning of the dangers of speeding in a built-up area?

20111219-200156.jpg

Then we were on to Taupo. Right in the centre of the North Island, it is arguably the adrenaline capital of the world. One of us was contemplating a 12,000ft skydive but it was very wet with extremely low clouds. That particular challenge may well have to wait till Oz.

The weather also put a kibosh on our hopes of seeing Ngauruhoe, which featured as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Shame. We did, however, manage to squeeze in a visit to nearby Huka Falls, with its teeth-cleaning, blue-gleaming, wondrous waters.

20111219-200234.jpg

It didn’t help with the washing-up though.

20111219-200321.jpg

Days 69-74: Coromandel Peninsula

After our whirlwind tour of Northland, and faced with an unstable weather forecast, we had a decision to make: do we head down the west coast or do we head south-east to the Coromandel Peninsula? After consulting a very helpful woman in Whangarei’s i-Site, New Zealand’s answer to the UK’s tourist information board, with fingers crossed we headed south-east. Our decision was not to disappoint us.

Over the next five days we travelled around the peninsula, taking in Thames, Coromandel Town, Whitianga, Hahei, Hot Water Beach and Waihi. The weather turned in our favour and we were blessed for the most part with warm sunshine. No hurricanes here!

20111212-124135.jpg

Lunch at Barney’s

20111212-124309.jpg

Hanging out at Coromandel Town

20111212-124432.jpg

Sunset near Coromandel Town

20111212-124530.jpg

Bed-time at Barney’s

20111212-124631.jpg

A stroll along Hahei Beach

20111212-124718.jpg

Thistles over Cathedral Cove

According to Lonely Planet the Coromandel Peninsula has two must-see attractions: Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. We attempted to do both in the same day.

Hot Water Beach is blessed with sizzling springs which lie just beneath the sand and can be accessed at low tide. At 10am, and with spade in hand, we headed down to the beach. As with most things worth doing, a couple of hundred others headed down too. 90 minutes and several sunken, flooded holes later we were no nearer uncovering those mythical waters. And we were not alone.

As far as we could see, the only group who had successfully managed to locate, dig and secure a thermal pool were a group of bushy, bushy-haired teenagers. There they sat smugly, beers in hands, as the steam smoked up from their sandy estate. We suspected they had done this before.

20111212-124914.jpg

Setting aside our disappointment, as well as our shovel, we sped off to Hahai Beach where our sea kayak tour of Cathedral Cove was due to start.

For those of you unfamiliar with tandem sea kayaks they require a bit of teamwork. The ‘kayaker’ at the back is in charge of steering the rudder – through the use of two pedals at their feet – while the paddler at the front sets the stroke and the pace, occasionally given guidance, where necessary, on matters concerning direction. Success on the high seas therefore requires teamwork, empathy, focus and almost telepathic communication. We were hopeless!

Poor kayaking aside, it was a fabulous way to explore the differing beaches and bays in the area, and the guide left us with a good understanding about the history and geology of the area. But we need to work on our coordination.

20111212-125010.jpg

20111212-125045.jpg

20111212-125128.jpg

Windsurfing opportunities continue to elude us, however. We had hoped to start the beginner in our group with a lesson in Whitianga, but we were told it was too windy and that they didn’t know the wind forecast for the following day. Two signs that hardly filled us with confidence. Further down the coast in Tiarua we were informed that they hadn’t yet started lessons or hiring out equipment. Busting out a forward loop may have to wait till Fiji. But we’ve still plenty of New Zealand to experience before then.

Days 65-68: Northland

The last four days and nights have seen us head up the north-east coast to Cape Reinga. On the way we’ve taken in:

20111204-160402.jpg

Wharengei Falls (only a fourth of the size of Iguazu but still impressive)

20111204-160450.jpg

Whale Bay (sadly, no whales were to be found)

20111204-160602.jpg

Russell, a sweet little town which looks on to the Bay of Islands

20111204-160654.jpg

Paihia, a similarly pleasant town across the bay from Russell

20111204-160753.jpg

Fish and chips at Mangonui

20111204-160925.jpg

Snorkelling at Matai Bay

20111204-161028.jpg

Drinks at Barney’s

20111204-161130.jpg

Cape Reinga, the spiritual if not quite geographical northern-most tip of New Zealand.

By this point the weather turned distinctively Scottish and we could see nothing. Absolutely nothing. It has not stopped raining since. NZ’s summer officially beginning on 1st December!

The campervan experience is proving to be… well.. an experience. When the sun is shining all is well with the world -New Zealand is all set up for the outdoors; but when it rains then the options narrow somewhat. We are also convinced that the van’s ‘living area’ is shrinking as each day passes. Perhaps it’s the rain. Based on current projections it will be the size of a bread bin by Christmas.