Monthly Archives: January 2012

New Zealand North Island Road Trip- The Forgotten World Highway and Wellington

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“The journey is the destination”

So after 1hr 1/2 or so we arrived in Taumarunui and turned left off Route 4 onto Route 43- NZ’s 155km Forgotten World Highway. Its NZ’s oldest touring route joining Taumarunui with Stratford. 12 km of it is still unsealed roads and there no petrol stations or food shops along the way. So we filled up the tank and ventured West hoping for the best! The road was slow, very slim and windy. We were heading into proper NZ backcountry and man did we feel it! We were travelling through some stunning scenery though, and stopped off at Nevins Lookout which gave us panoramic views of the Central North Island. Bizarre landscape looking like a green grass Pavlova top- lots and lots of little green peaks! Next up was Tangarakau Gorge. The road was unsealed and we felt sorry for our little car crunching through the gravel. The scenery was something out of Jurassic Park. The road was wrapped with steep sides covered in thick foliage and the road was so thin, we were pleased we didn’t pass too many people on our way! We then went through a really cool tunnel on Moki Road called ‘Hobbits Hole’. It’s just 4.5m tall, single lane and 180m long with mud walls and timber ceiling. A proper little tunnel for Hobbit sized cars! It was built in 1936 and lowered in 1989 to allow access for trucks, but it is still super tiny. And then it was onto the village of Whangamomona through more windy, thin roads. As we arrived in the tiny village we both said in unison “where the hell are we!” Whangamomona village was first established in 1895 and was once a bustling frontier town with 300 residents and providing a lots of key services for the hardy farmers trying to wrestle a living from the bush surrounding it. The population has now since declined to 30 residents with all the shops closed except for the iconic Whangamomona Hotel/Pub. The welcome sign actually says “Welcome, please stay and add to our population”! So we entered the pub in the middle of nowhere, realising our phones had no reception, and asked at the bar if we could use their phone. My accent and non-farming attire soon unmasked me as an ‘outsider’ and she enquired further who I wanted to call, where I was staying etc. With Hedd in the toilet (who had all this info) I had to say, like a plonker, that I didn’t know their names, just the wife’s brother who was called Gwyn and no I didn’t know his surname. She knew instantly who I was staying with (the Hutchinson’s) and consulted her A4 list of all the families in the area with their phone numbers and dialed Gwyn saying to come pick us up! Now that what I call a community hub pub! Gwyn arrived 20 mins later (my goodness where were we staying!) and we catched up over a couple of ciders. No worry about drink and driving here…the nearest police were in Stratford 1hr 1/2 away and their visits to the area was twice a year at most! We then made our way to Gwyn’s sisters farm 10 mins along route 43 and then left off the road onto an unsealed road for 20 mins. So just to the left in the middle of nowhere, from the middle of nowhere! So a bit of context maybe required. Gwyn and Hedd are friends from Secondary School. Ceri is Gwyn’s sister and married to Kiwi called Daniel but everyone calls him ‘Pork’. They met in Ruthin whilst Pork was over doing a Shearing Season in Wales. They fell in love (awww) and then she moved over to NZ, to Whangamomona where Pork’s farm was, and has been here ever since (10 years). Gwyn’s been travelling around Oz/NZ and was helping out at the farm and invited us to stay so here we were! So the farm was in a lovely spot and Ceri greeted us with a big home cooked meal of roast chicken, mass and peas- yum after weeks of soup and beans on toast! Oh about the food. As I said there are no shops on the Forgotten World Highway. So all food comes from the Farm or the big food shop Ceri does once a month in Stratford. They have a big freezer for all the milk and bread etc! For fuel, they have their own fuel tank which gets filled up periodically by a big tank! Fair play, sounds tough but Ceri loves it and her 3 boys, Jed (10), Max (7) and Gus (1 1/2) are constantly outside being how boys should be. Great!

Next morning we had a lie in, enjoying sleeping in a proper bed for the first time since Auckland. With a duvet yey! We headed out late morning, meeting Ceri on the way. All communication is word of mouth or on the landline phone so we told her where we were going and when we were due back so she would know when to be in. Felt like the early 1990’s, arranging to meet up with friends ‘by Disney store’ in Plymouth city centre! So we were heading to Mt Damper Falls and we would be due back at noon! So after a 40 min drive along windy, unsealed roads we arrived at Mt Damper Falls car park and then walked the 20 mins to the falls. At 85m it is NZ North Island’s second highest waterfall and it had rained over night so their plenty of water crashing down into the pool. The water would eventually find itself to the Tasmin Sea. It was a really lovely waterfall in a very secluded point. We then headed back to the farm for lunch (cheese toasties-yum!) and then Ceri got the call that “the hay was ON”! , as they say “make hay while the sun shines” so there was no procrastinating, we all jumped in the car and made our way down to the field. So why were we ‘making hay’. Well the farmers in the area normally have to hire labour to load and transport hay from their fields to their storage barns each year. But instead in Whangamomona, the parents and children of the school do this instead and the farmer then pays 60 cents per bail to the school. This then funds school trips and educational resources. Really great initiative. So the farmer was half way through the field making all the bundles in his tractor and then all us lot rolled the bails into piles for the 4×4 trailer trucks to come around and load them and take them to the barn. It was hard going but great to be involved and that field gave about 400 bails so $240 for the school- not bad at all, and they still had plenty more farmers field to do so a nice little earner for the school each year! Afterwards the governors of the local primary school put on a BBQ for all the volunteers in the field, plus free beer! So we all sat around eating, drinking and chatting. Real community spirit in action. We then all headed back to Ceri’s farm to get ready for the ‘big friday night out’ at the local pub in Whangamomona (20 mins drive away!) The whole family came, including little Gus, and we played pool and chatted about all different things, but it soon got back to the subject of farming!

Next lunchtime after some more cheese toasties, we went on our way, saying a fond farewell to Ceri, Gwyn and the family farm. We got our passports stamped at the Pub on the way out and then made our way to Stratford. Ooh a bit of explanation Whangamomona declared itself a republic in 1989 after community outrage at local government boundary reshuffle. They have their own presidential elections each year but from what I can gather these presidents tend to be goats or dogs! As we left the village the sign said “You are now leaving Whangamomona, welcome back to NZ!” So the rest of the forgotten highway was just as windy and thin as the last bit and we arrived in Wanganui late afternoon on the West coast. We stayed at a Top 10 Holiday Park in a dorm overlooking Wanganui river and just chilled at the campsite. It was a bank holiday weekend in NZ so there was a local festival going on so we shared our campsite with a lot of beautifully restored vintage cars. The next day (22nd) Hedd got up at 6am to watch the Liverpool game and I sat by the river with a cuppa and watched the rowers on the river. Sculling seems a lot bigger here than sweep. But I did see a women’s 8 row past with their coach in the launch. Reminded me of my Sunday mornings back in Chester. But of course we were loads better than this crew [; ) ] Due to Liverpool losing 3-1 to Bolton, the final drive to Wellington, NZ Capital, was a sullen one! But we arrived safe and sound around lunchtime after putting the car through the car wash to hide the fact that we had obviously been on a lot of unsealed roads (not allowed in our rental apparently-oops!) Dumping our stuff at Downtown Backpackers by the Waterfront in Wellington, we dropped the car at Apex and made the walk back in the rain to the Hostel. Boo- bad weather again. The hostel was huge- 6 floors of accommodation and communal areas. It was a bit too big and anonymous for me. That evening we ventured out in the rain again to grab some tea and find the ‘Welsh Dragon Bar’- the only Welsh pub in the Southern hemisphere. We found it neatly tucked into the middle of the road on Cambridge Terrace. It used to be old public toilets so had lovely tiled walls and a domed ceiling….don’t make toilets like that nowadays! As soon as we entered it from the rain it felt like home. The guy behind the bar was from Pontypool and clearly has a South Wales accent. The place was covered in Welsh flags with the various Welsh visitors names and messages on them. We tried to find Emyr and Ger’s (Hedd’s school friends) names on them who had been here 2 years ago but failed. However there were plenty of people from Ruthin and surrounds who had been here, and Hedd recognised a few names. They only played music by Welsh artists (obviously) so plenty of Stereophonic but just before we left they even played a weird dance version of ‘Da Ni Yma o Hyd’ (‘we’re still here’) which Hedd loved! Hedd signed his name on a Welsh flag and then we headed home through the rain to our hostel.

Next morning the weather had improved and, after speaking to Mum and Dad for the first time in ages (so good to speak to them), we headed out to explore Wellington in a better light! We walked along the waterfront to the National Museum called Te Papa. It was the Monday of the bank holiday so there was a big concert in the little amphitheatre there plus a weird Bird Man competition where locals dressed up as birds jumped off a plank into the quay! After watching that for a while (the water looked terribly cold!) we visited the museum for free- yey! It was actually really good, interactive and the top floor had a roof terrace with a great view over the city. They even had a earthquake experience ride where you go into a little house and it rocks just like an earthquake back in the late 1990’s. Apparently the real thing was 50 times stronger than what you were experiencing- fingers crossed we won’t experience one for real when we’re in Christchurch! After lunch we found Cable Car Lane and took the car ride ($3.50) up to Kelburn lookout for a stunning view over the city and the harbour of Tara. The Botanic Gardens entrance is just behind  the lookout and we took the Downhill Path to the City route through the gardens following the pink flowers painted on the ground. The Gardens are 25 hectares of unique landscape, protected native forest, conifers, specialised plant collections and colourful floral displays. Plus it was FREE, yey! The sun was shining and it was a lovely place to wonder through. You quite forgot you were in a capital city. My favourite bit was the Vireya Rhododendrons section- a whole mini valley of different coloured Rhododendrons; very beautiful. We popped out of the Gardens just by the Parliament building- an ugly round 1970’s construction if you ask me! After an afternoon of internet cafe-ing and blogging we were ready for dinner and cider before packing up our bags for the next mornings ferry across to Picton (24th) to start our South Island adventures.

When taking a NZ road trip don’t leave without:

  1. A NZ touring map- as many different ones you can get for free. Each map shows different towns on it, plus definitely try to get one which shows where the i-sites are located.
  2. A Holiday Park of NZ directory and map booklet- where to stay and at what price
  3. Any variety of Pascalls sweets- our personal favourite: the pineapple lump!
  4. NZ Frenzy- An Adventurers Guide to NZ Wild Places by Scott Cook- a much better guide than lonely planet showing you lots of ‘off the beaten track’ places for you to visit along the way of your journey

 The Forgotten World Highway and Wellington in a snapshot:

  • Weather=A real mixed bag of brilliant sunshine and heavy showers grey days- are we in NZ or UK?!
  • Food= Home cooked grub and toasties (thanks Ceri!)
  • Drink=Monteaths Apple Cider
  • Community Spirit Moment= Making Hay in Whangamomona
  • Total kilometers travelled Auckland to Wellington= 3021.5
  • “Oh my goodness” revelation moment= We’re already half way through our travels!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

It’s always good to catch up with old friends. The fact that we had to drive to the middle of nowhere to find Gwyn was just a bonus. We had a great couple of days in Whangamomona with Gwyn, his sister Ceri and her family. They welcomed us into their home and gave us a taste of rural life in New Zealand. The night out at the local pub (20mins drive away) was a particular highlight, as was baby Guss (so long as he had a clean nappy on!!). So thanks to Gwyn, Ceri, Pork and their kids for giving us a proper NZ experience in a place that I’m certain 95% of travellers to this country won’t visit.

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New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Tongariro National Park and Taihape

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“The journey is the destination”

So after stocking up on supplies from the local ‘Countdown’ (our equivalent of Asda), we hit the road towards Whakapapa Village. The drive took us along Lake Taupo which was very pretty and then heads on into the Tongariro National Park itself- North Islands showpiece National Park and World Heritage Site. It really is beautiful with lots of Alpine forests and snow capped peaks. On our way to Whakapapa Village we stopped off at Lake Rotopounamu to do a 1 1/2 hour loop trail around he lake. However we couldn’t complete it as the beach sections were flooded due to the heavy rain. We set off anyway through the forest, the trail lined with giant Rimm and Beech trees, and got level with the lake. But as we couldn’t get onto the beaches to actually see the lake, the walk got boring fast so we headed back, had our sandwiches, then finished our journey to Whakapapa. We arrived late afternoon and really felt we were in a NZ that we hadn’t seen yet- 1100 meter up and definitely in alpine ski region. We re-taped our tent poles an erected the damn thing, glad that it would be the last time we had to do it!  Neither of us slept well that night as this place is FREEZING! When our alarm went off at 6am the next morning we were awake anyway!

So January 18th and the day of the world famous 1 day ‘ Tongariro Alpine Crossing’ (“an extending trek over steep and exceptional volcanic territory”). We got picked up at 7am and taken to the start point 20 mins away at Mangatepop car park. Our driver gave us a safety and logistics briefing and sent us on our way saying that the weather was meant to stay dry with cloud clearing in the afternoon. However Tongariro weather is fickle- cloud can burn off in minutes but return just as quick- as we were to experience first hand in this 19.4km 1 day trek!

So the ‘Crossing’ – we started off from Managatepop car park (1150 meters) at 7.40am and followed the river up the Mangatepopo valley to Soda Springs (1400 m). The weather was overcast but with spots of bright, hot sunshine. At Soda Springs was the last loo stop until Ketetahi hut 4 hours away so we definitely took the opportunity to use the facilities! Our trek then took a sudden incline to the South Crater between Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, up steep steps which they call the devils staircase and it definitely felt devilish come the end!

South Crater is at 1550 m and as we got higher it got windier and freezing so all the layers got put back on as we walked across the South Crater which a long flat barren land in the shadow of Mt Ngaunhoe. Or for those Lord of Ring fans- Mt Doom from the films. Not that we could see Mt Doom (or Gollum, Frodo or Sam!) as it was foggy as hell…really felt like we were walking into an abyss!

Next was the scrabble up to the tracks highest point- Red Crater- at 1886m- a still active and steaming vent. You could definitely see the red rock of the crater and when the cloud cleared you saw a great view of the valley. We almost saw the peak of Mt Doom from up there but not quite!

We then the scrabble and slide down from the top of Red Crater. I pretended that I was skiing at this point and hoped for the best as I slid down the loose scree! We stopped half way down to have our sandwiches overlooking the Emerald Lakes. These lakes were very beautiful and we had a fantastic view of them as the cloud cleared (and yes you guess it, came back again!) But in the sunshine the emerald lakes glistened a beautiful light jade colour. After lunch we slid down the remaining hill and walk around the 3 Emerald lakes and then skirted past Te Wai-Whakaota-o-te Rangihiroa (or Blue lake in English!). We were at 1650 m now and there were ice pockets which hung to the hills behind the lake.

There was one last uphill stepped section and then we were on the descent to Ketetahi Hut. We were back in the cloud again and the route wrapped and weaved itself down the mountain so you never really knew if you were making progress! But we finally made it to the hut at 1400m and chilled out on the wooden veranda to wait for the cloud to clear to get a glimpse of Lake Taupo. Oh and use the loo of course- phew! The cloud cleared after a while and we got a goof view of Lake Rotoaira, Lake Otamangakau and massive Lake Taupo beyond them.

We then made the final descent down to Ketetaki car park back at 700 meters. The final section is through native forest and feels like it goes on forever! But the river sections of that bit are cool and you have to go up and over tree roots which breaks up the monotony of just forest. Eventually we made it to the end point at 2.15pm and sat in the sun to wait for our pick up back to camp at 3pm. So it took us just over 6 1/2 hours which isn’t a bad pace so we were quite pleased with ourselves. Although our legs and feet were aching terribly. But nothing the hot shower back at camp didn’t fix. We drove to the nearest shop, 20 mins away, at National Park Village and picked up some burgers for a mini BBQ. That with a couple of ciders marked the end of a great day. Although it was super cloudy on the crossing, we were still really pleased we did it.

So the next day we put down the tent for the last time- yey! We had heard back from Jackie from Adventure Capital and she was going to charge us anything saying it was something wrong with the poles and not us- phew! And we headed off on Route 1 south towards Taihape. It was a bit of a long detour from where we needed to get to that night (Whangamomona) but eventually we got to Gravity Canyon, 20 mins south of Taihape, around noon. We paid up to do the ‘Flying Fox’ and walked the 15 mins up to the launch pad 175 meters above the river. So the ‘Flying Fox’- it is a 1 km zip-line where you fly at 160 kph down and along the canyon. You look more like a flying squirrel than a fox with a blue bib which they hoist you up into lying position. The lady counted down 3, 2, 1 and then we were off for maybe 10 seconds really fast down the canyon. I screamed all the way…naturally! The then pull you back up to the launch pad quite slowly so you can get a good look at what you’ve just zoomed past. It was really good fun and Hedd’s back was fine. It is quite addictive though and you wanted to go again. But alas our budget doesn’t allow for such whims, so we grabbed some lunch and then headed back on the road heading North West towards the Forgotten World Highway and our stop for that night- Whangamomona.

Tongariro National Park and Taihape in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Cold and crisp as every alpine area should be, but shame about the cloud.
  • Trek snacks of choice= Fruit chews for Hedd; Yoghurt covered raisins for me
  • Drink= Water
  • Invention of the year= ‘The Front Cape’- your rain coat put on front ways (cos you can’t be bothered to take your day bag off when walking!)
  • Outfit that I will be sporting next RCRC ball= ‘The Flying Squirrel’ (see pick above)- that’s right, goggles and all!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Well that was a fun day trek, plenty of mist and freezing wind, steep slopes and thankfully very little rain. On the one had it was a shame we couldn’t see much at the top and we couldn’t climb Mt. Doom due to the low visibility but it was still cool climbing up and disappearing into the mist!! All in all a great day of hiking, followed by a BBQ and some cider, what more could I have wanted!!

They wouldn’t let me do a cliffhanger swing in Taupo because of my back, which was disappointing and the reason we drove a 200k round trip out of our way to do the flying fox!! It might be the most extreme thing I get to do on this trip because of the bloody back and it was certainly fun. No matter how securely they strap you in, its still quite nerve-wracking standing 175m above the ground about to be released, but apart from the first drop it was more like an intense roller-coster than anything and well worth the money.

New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Hawkes Bay and Lake Taupo

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“The journey is the destination”

So the next day (14th) it was onto Route 5 from Rotorua all the way down to Napier on the Hawkes Bay coastline. The approach to Napier is all through industrial estates which doesn’t do the place justice. It has a nice promenade and the main high street is all art deco buildings. It felt too big for us to camp in so we drove onto Hastings, after having lunch by the sea. Hastings was deserted! We popped into the i-site to enquire about accommodation and wine tours and she told us everyone was at an annual ‘Blues, Brews and BBQs’ festival just out of town. So that explained it, but it still felt eery and empty town centre on a Saturday. The festival also meant everywhere was booked up. But we managed to get a pitch at a lovely campsite in Havelock North called Arataki Holiday Park. It was amongst farmland, was quiet, really sunny with a pool and crazy golf! After pitching our tent we headed straight for the pool…was nice to be swimming again after doing it everyday in Fiji.

The next day was wine tour time. We got picked up by Janine from A1Tours at 10.30 in her air con people carrier, which was a relief as it was a scorcher of a day, and took us to our first winery called the Mission in Taradale. It was a lovely spot- tree-lined drive way to a grand manor house overlooking fields of vines. The house we discovered used to be by the river in the valley, but it kept on getting flooded. So back in the day, the owners cut the house in half and transported it using a steam-powered vehicle up the hill, fixing it back together and here it still stands. The house was made of wood, not brick, obviously! They also have an open air concert at the Mission every year in February which attracts people like Rob Stewart and Lulu to perform. It sounds awesome, so if you’re in Hawkes Bay in February go see it! So to the wines! We tried 3 whites and 3 reds and 1 champagne. The champagne was my favourite…naturally! After taking a sneaky peak at the old chapel which was all laid out for a wedding reception (it looked lovely!) and walking the grounds, it was back in the car to our next winery called Church Road, still in Taradale. This was a smaller winery and as soon as we got in we were ushered over to the receptionist computer to read about the crashed cruise liner in Italy. After gorping at the crazy pictures and muttering how stupid the captain was, we tried some more wine! We tried 3 Chardonnay’s and 3 reds. Wow the Chardonnay’s were good- none of the overly oaky, yellow stuff that you get at home. These were smooth and creamy and yum! Why do importers stock such crap Chardonnay’s in the UK?!? We purchased one bottle from there, but this paled into insignificance compared to another couple who were buying boxes of wine plus a couple of Champagne Magnums thrown in for good measure! That got me and Janine gossiping about the circumstance and reason all the way to her parents B&B (who own the wine tour business) for lunch. We had made sandwiches which we ate in their garden, but the mum brought out cold drinks and various cakes for us too, which were lovely and made us felt looked after!

After lunch we were joined by 2 others- a mature Scottish couple who raced yachts and had plenty of funny stories to tell! We all laughed our way to the next winery called Moana Park. It was a vegetarian winery, so no meat or fish products go into the making of the wine. I was amazed what wineries put in their wine to ‘bulk’ up the grapes- yuk! Better not to know the ins and outs I say! Here I got to taste a rose. But they don’t call it Rose, they called it ‘Vin Gris’…it was Rose and nice all the same! We then headed to the Salvare Estate which is one of the wineries in the Ngatarawa Triangle. Now this winery was really lovely, surrounded by vines. We tried whites that just slid effortlessly down your throat, fruity reds and another Rose (yey!) and to end an iced wine that they called a Frappe Vino which was to die for! After a refueling (stomach lining) cheese board we were off again to another winery in the Gimblett Gravell area of Hawkes Bay. Oh a bit of explanation on Gimblett Gravell…it was waste land essentially, the old river basin with soil which was mostly gravel. But a guy chanced it and started growing vines on the land. Turned out it was ace grape growing soil as the stones in the soil warm up in the day and stay warm over night so the growing continues for longer each day, producing bigger and juicier grapes! And we ended the day with an ace winery called Vidal back near Hastings. The manager earlier in the day had been hosting some GB importers so there were loads of ‘yet to be released’ wines on the tasting table as well as the usual ones. We must have tried 12 wines there and the server Sam was really good fun too. Hedd bought 2 bottles of Riesling- one to keep and one to give to Ceri and Pork who we were staying with at Whangamomona. So the day ended at 5.30pm and we got dropped back at our campsite. We managed to heat up some tea and play a round of crazy golf (I lost terribly) before falling into our tent ready for bed!

Next morning (16th) we were up and out of the campsite by 10am. Stopped off in Hastings to buy Hedd his 3rd pair of sunglasses of the trip (this time we bought him a strap for around his head so fingers crossed it will be harder for him to lose!) Then headed back up route 5 into central north island  to Taupo. After trying a few places which were full, we ended up at All Seasons Holiday Park where we went about pitching our tent. But alas both our main poles snapped at a crucial join in the centre of the tent. We were kind of expecting this as the join was showing stress fractures early on in the trip but we hoped they wouldn’t actually snap! We taped them up the best we could and erected the tent anyway. It didn’t look too bad…just instead of a curve at the top, there was point! Hedd got pretty angry, but I rang the company up straight away to explain what happened and that it wasn’t because of us being rough and ready with it. So we will see what the owner called Jackie says…

That afternoon we went exploring the Taupo area. Taupo is famous for its massive lake, good weather and views of the Tongariro volcano and we went to a really good viewpoint off Huka Falls Road which has info boards telling you the Maori story of the mountain range which forms the backdrop to the lake. It goes something like this….Mt Pihanga was a woman and the surrounding mountains all fought for the love of this woman. There were many wars, but in the end Mt Tongariro won. And that is why the mountains are all placed where they are…all posturing towards Mt Pihanga! We then headed to a place called Craters of the Moon which was a 45 minute Geothermal Walk ($6). The walk took us through geothermal land of seething earth, hissing fumaroles and steaming craters. It was a nice walk in the sun but we weren’t over-owed by it. But its history is quite interesting. Craters of the Moon isn’t an old geological landscape, in fact the thermal area sprang up in the 1950’s when near by power station withdrew hot water from deep within the field, causing the water level in the deep reservoir to drop and the remaining water to boil more violently, producing more steam. Large quantities of this steam were able to escape at the Craters of the Moon….so just another classic way human’s have impacted on the environment in pursuit for energy! The craters still erupt from time to time…the last one being in 2002, so this potential danger contributed to the experience…and perhaps made us walk a bit faster around!

We then ended the day with a visit to Huka Falls which is a super blue waterfall. The falls are a 100 meter basalt crevice channeling the Waikato River into a frothing aquamarine frenzy before spilling the torrent over a 15 m ledge into a bubbling pool. It is a really cool sight- the water looks thunderous but as you look at the water dropping you can see sun beams in the spray coming off the crashing water which is really pretty. Plus this sight was free- yey! The next morning we packed up the tent and headed to Taupo Bungy to try out their Cliffhanger bungy swing. But alas Hedd wasn’t allowed to do it because of his back. Determined still to do something adventurous, Hedd has found a thing called the ‘Flying Fox’ down near Tongariro so will check that out instead. Onwards and upwards….

Hawkes Bay and Lake Taupo in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot and sunny- yey!
  • Food= Soup/ beans on toast etc and Hokey Pokey ice cream (vanilla ice cream with honeycombed pieces)- another Kiwi cuisine speciality ticked off…yum!
  • Drink= Rose Wine from Salvare Winery
  • Number of swear words used when the tent broke= Lost count!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

To rent or to buy, that was our dilemma in Auckland. We decided to rent, so that we would get high quality camping equipment. This was the sensible option as the weather forecast was bad. Well it was definitely the wrong option as our tent poles, which had been showing stress fractures and cracks early on decided to snap. Add to that the fact that we didn’t even use the stove we rented as all the places we stayed had kitchen facilities, then it would have been so much easier and cheaper to buy what we needed. If the broke we could have thrown them away at the end, instead we are now trying to get some compensation back from the rental company…i’ll let you know how that goes!!!

We did however have a great time in Hawkes Bay on a fairly private wine tour, just the two of us in the morning and then just us and a Scottish couple in the afternoon!! Four brits drinking wine in the southern hemisphere heat, recipe for disaster, but we managed to behave ourselves. Mind you my head was a bit fuzzy after 6 wineries and multiple tastings!! I even managed to buy a bottle of Dry Riesling at the last winery. The best wine I ever tried was a Dry Riesling from New Zealand at a wine tasting in London, I don’t remember what it was called and am on a mission to find it here, or find something better. This wasn’t quite as good but was close. The search goes on….

New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Coromandel Peninsula and Rotorua

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“The journey is the destination”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we were now getting used to the morning routine- up around 8am, shower in the communal block, breakie of wheetabix and a cuppa, pack up the tent and out of the campsite by 10am. We made our way south on route 1 back to Auckland, taking in the last stretch of the Twin Discovery Coast Road. All the roads in NZ are like our A roads at home- 1 lane each way- so getting on a multi-lane motorway around Auckland was a bit of a shock. But we made it through okay and then headed East towards the Coromandel Peninsula. Our aim was to get to Hot Water Beach on the East coast on the peninsula, but had some back up options just in case because of our experience with the super slow roads in the upper Northland region. But we got there in no time at all (2 1/2 hr from Auckland). The Coromandel Peninsula is gorgeous. Green forests and scenic coastline everywhere. There are a lot of advertisements along the side of the road trying to tempt the cosmopolitan business people of Auckland to buy a “Boat, Bach and Beach house” to “live the dream”. And you can see why. Its my favourite part of the North Island so far. There was only 1 campsite at Hot Water Beach (HWB) which was the ‘HWB Top 10 Holiday Park’. Not our favourite has to be said (absolutely packed with young families) but great location and we were pleased to be out of the car enjoying the sunny weather.  So  HWB…scalding water pulses out of the sand at low tide. I’m still not 100% how/why (hot spring underneath the beach?). But you can access the hot spring area to dig your very own hot water pool 2 hours before and after low tide. We had just missed low tide for that afternoon and as we had to make tracks south the next morning, we realised that to how our HWB experience we would have to get up for the 3.45am low tide the next morning! So we hired our spade from reception, set our alarm for 4.30am and got an early night.

We got down to the beach just after 5am, guided by our head torch through the wooded footpath. We followed our directions (turn left from footpath and find a hot bit in front of the rocks), and soon found a bit where steam was rising from the sand and we could feel the warmth even through our sandals. Needless to say we were the only crazy ones there at that time, so we had the beach all to ourselves which is rare by all accounts. By the time we had dug a pit the tide was pretty much on us. But we managed to dip our toes in the pool…it was boiling!…before the tide came and washed our efforts away. We were only there 15 mins really, and then made our way back to camp and back to bed for 2 hours. Not the greatest HWB experience but an experience all the same and we were pleased we had made the effort to do it!

After shower, breakie, pack the tent away (you know the score!) we made our way a little more north to Hahei to visit Cathedral Cove. From the carpark it is a 20 minute walk down to the beach. We got there by 10am which was great as it was still really quiet (it gets rammed by lunch time). The beach is a “wow” one- white sands, white rocks, sea caves, archways and waterfalls. We spent some time on the beach through the archway, but realised the tide was still coming in and we didn’t want to get stranded so we had to lift all our stuff over our heads and leg it back through the arch to the main beach…quite a funny sight! However in the frenzy, Hedd lost his second pair of sunglasses on the trip being hit sideways by a wave! I wonder how many pairs he’ll get through come the end of the 5 1/2 months! We braved the waterfall, which was freezing, and then headed into the sea to play amongst the waves. Before we knew it, these waves got enormous and we were being bashed about by them. In the end a huge one took Hedd and I under and spit us out at the shore with me frankly trying to put my bikini back on and Hedd nursing a nasty sand burn on his hip! We called it a day then, rinsing off under the waterfall and enjoying the sun on the beach. As the crowds began to come at mid day we headed back up the hill to the car, had lunch overlooking the stunning coast, and then headed back on the road south towards Rotorua.

So Rotorua as a city is a bit of a dump. The locals call it RotoVegas as its gambling its natural charms for a quick tourist buck. But Rotorua is the most geothermal area in NZ and the world (after Yellowstone, Iceland and Kamchatka), and smells like one too! The first thing we noticed when driving in Rotorua was the smell of eggs from the sulphur in the hot springs! We camped up at Kiwipackers near the centre of town but in the less smelly end, had tea and went to bed- we were exhausted after our 4.30am start!

So our full day in Rotorua (13th Jan) began with a visit to the Mud Pool just outside Rotorua in Waiotapu. Mudpools I discovered occur when steam condenses into water near the soil surface resulting in a acidic soup turning the surrounding rock into a soft mud that bubbles and burps as more steam and gas escapes. Geology lesson aside, the mud pools were really fun to watch as the belching holes flung mud burps at each other, hissing and spluttering and plopping as they went. We then continued on the Waiotapu loop road to Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. The pools are fed by the Te Manaroa spring which had the largest discharge of boiling water in NZ. From the boiling spring there is a network of terraces set up to cool the water so by the time they get in the pools the water is a cosy 34-39 degrees.  Plus its mineral water so no rotten egg sulphur smell here! The local community funded the thermal pools development too so it was a quite reasonable $18 entry.

After the pools we felt pretty wiped out, so headed back to camp to chill before our evening activities began- jam packed day! We got picked up at 6pm for our Mitai Maori Village experience which included a Hangi Dinner, and our night time Rainbow Springs tour. First thing we noticed when we got dropped off at the ‘village’ was the amount of people- loads of us! We had to cue to get into the holding pen, oh sorry the marque, and shown to our table for the evening. Our MC for the evening was funny, if a little odd, and asked everyone where they were from greeting each nation in their own language each time. Even Welsh! It was quite impressive. Worked out that we were a ‘tribe’ of 25 nations that evening. The massive ‘tribe’ got split up into 2  and got taken to see the Hangi meal. Traditionally the Maori food gets cooked underground in mud on hot stones. However health and safety means the ‘village’ can’t do this for mass catering so the food in just put in the hangi arrangement to keep it warm. A bit disappointing. We then got taken down to the small river to see the Maori warriors come in on a ancient war canoe. That was quite cool to see and they all made funny faces, wide eyed and tongues sticking out. Although some of the guys didn’t look too warrior to me…a bit too many take aways from down the road the ‘village chief’ later told us! We were then taken to an open air auditorium with a raised stage with a set up village on top of it to see the Maori concert. All the guys and girls were in traditional dress with painted faces, arms, legs and even bums! They performed lots of songs and dances for us and performed the Hacker at the end. It was fun to watch but completely contrived and I even caught some of the ‘Maori’s’ yawning during the show which was a bit sad to see. We all then headed back to the holding pen, ooh sorry marque, for the ‘Hangi’ meal. Far play to Mitai, the food was delicious- lamb, chicken, stuffing, roast sweet and normal potatoes, veg, salad, 4 choices of dessert….yum! After dinner the MC “to fill time”, told us some Maori stories which were actually really interesting and we both felt that there should have been more of that in the evening and not less. But alas no!

We were quite ready when the staff from the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park came to pick us up for the next part of the night. We went and saw the glow worms at the spring, twinkling in the dark. Then the guide took us around the park, showing us trout up close and lots of birds. The guide was super knowledgeable and passionate about animals and told us all about the plants we were passing and the animal sounds we were hearing in the night. But the highlight absolutely was the kiwi enclosure. They are nocturnal creatures so you have to come at night to see them. So at 9.30pm we were perfectly times and after around 10 mins of silently waiting, a kiwi came out to forage for bugs. Oh my goodness, these animals are cute! Hedd and I were right at the front and the kiwi kept on going around and around in circles foraging right in front of us so we got to see them up close. They are fluffy balls of features with beady eyes and a long cream beak and they are so cool! Seeing one so close made my night. So verdict on the evening- overpriced and contrived but perhaps the only way to experience Maori culture up close in Rotorua? I hope I’m wrong. But the kiwi encounter topped it all by far!

Coromandel Peninsula and Rotorua in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot and sunny on Coromandel Peninsula. Showery and a bit cold in Rotorua.
  • Food= Wheetabix breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and anything on toast for tea!
  • Drink= Cider and Kiwi ‘L&P lemon and lime drink’
  • Car snack of choice= Mint Imperials
  • Coolest animal encountered so far on this trip= THE KIWI!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

The drive to the Coromandel was fun, we twisted and turned through a forest for what seemed like forever before emerging on the east coast. The coastline looked lovely and I wish we had spend more time there. We only had 1 night and half a day but we crammed a lot into that time. Getting up at 4am to go to hot water beach was a bit farcical and set the tone for the rest of the day, where I ended up getting robbed and beaten up by the sea at Cathedral Cove. Yes, you heard me, the SEA! Bloody waves first they knocked my sunglasses off my head, then they knocked me off my feet. I’ve never been dragged under by the current before, quite scary and painful as I slammed against the sand and suffered quite a bad “sand burn”. But despite this, I loved the Coromandel area and would go back there again for round 2 with the sea!!

I was planning to rant and rave about our time in Rotorua next, but as this is supposed to be a short section I’ll just say this: If you want to learn about the Mauri people, don’t go visit any Mauri villages in Rotorua, go to a museum or talk to the locals, save your money. The show we went on was tourism at its worse, fake, crammed with “typical tourists” and far too expensive! It made me very grateful for our authentic village visits Fiji. That being said, the lamb they served was very good!

New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Auckland and the Northland

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So we made it to Auckland! After touching down at midnight and jumping on a super shuttle, we finally crawled into bed at 2.30am- phew long day! We stayed at Ponsonby Backpackers, unsurprising in Ponsonby in Auckland. Really lovely hostel, 20 mins walk from the Sky Tower. After a long lie in the next morning we walked into town to the Viaduct district which has the marina and loads of bars and restaurants. And at last Hedd has his first cider since starting traveling in October. The bar also had a Welsh flag outside it which made his day. The next day after a refreshing nights sleep it was time to pick up the car- a little silver Mazda Demio. (We hired it from Apex Rentals). There were no stalling on the first drive for both of us and NZ drive on the left like us, but all the controls were in different places which caused some “arghh” moments! But we managed to navigate ourselves through the city and back to our hostel without any crashes- phew. We then headed out on foot into the city once more to check out the Sky Tower. We opted for the ‘sun and stars’ ticket ($30) which allowed you multiple entry up the tower in 1 day. The life had a glass floor so it was cool to look down and watch as you ascended the 220 meters shaft. First stop was the observatory level but the best level to walk around in is the Sky Deck. You could see for miles and there were info boards explaining what you were seeing. After having a hot chocolate at the Sky Lounge cafe admiring the view of the marina and Auckland Harbour Bridge, we headed back down to ground level and went off in search for the ‘Adventure Capital’ office who we were to hire camping kit from for our North Island road trip. It was quite expensive to hire but it would have been equally expensive to buy and we get to just drop this off with our car in Wellington at the end which is easier than trying to sell/give it away. But if your wanting to buy your kit, head to a store called ‘The Warehouse’, which is a mix between Trago Mills, Wilkinsons and TK Max in the UK. That evening we had a treat and headed to the cinema in Sky City to see the new Sherlock Holmes film and we got sweets and popcorn and everything! It was good fun and felt like home, going to Cheshire Oaks on an Orange Wednesday. One thing I noticed though is that Kiwi’s laugh out loud, really heartily, much more than British do during films, not even at that funny a scene…we must be getting too cynical! The film finished at 10.30pm and we leg it to the sky town so we could use our ticket again before the last ascend at 10.45pm. We made it and I was so pleased we did as to see the city at night with all the twinkling lights was really wonderful.

“The journey is the destination”

So the 7th January marked the start of our road trip and camp around NZ north island. And true to British camping form, as soon as we started our drive out of Auckland it started to bucket down! Undeterred (much) we powered on North up Route 1, following the Twin Coast Discovery Road. We headed north to Warkworth, Brynderwyn (which must have been named by a Welsh person!) and stopped for lunch at Ruawai at 2pm. It was still raining hard and looking at the map, it was at this point when we realised reaching Cape Reinga was unrealistic. The roads are our equivalent of an A road and were windy. That teamed with the weather made the going very slow. So we continued north for a couple of more hours but called it a day at Opononi Motor Camp, just across the road from the Hokianga Harbour Estuary. We battled with the severe wind and rain and erected our tent for the first time, tying it by its guide ropes to a tree so it would blow away in the night! After a dinner of beans of toast we retreated from the rain into our cosy tent and played cards with some ciders in our sleeping bags.

The next morning it was still raining! We got up, practically threw our tent in the boot and headed north in a hope for better weather. We popped into the local ‘i-site’ to check all the roads were still open, luckily they were plus a sneaky car ferry (crossing from C to D on the map without the need to drive all the way around the estuary) which would save some time. We made the 20 minute drive to Rawene, narrowly missing the ferry, so had to wait for the next one 1 hour later. As I drove onto the ferry platform it was just like taking the Torpoint Ferry, but this one wasn’t attached to chains. After 20 minutes we arrived on the other side at Kohukohu and drove on north on route 1 towards the Northern Peninsula. After stopping off for lunch at Kaitaia we then on the road running parallel to the Ninety Mile Beach heading towards NZ northenly point. Our little car wasn’t up to such things as driving on the Ninety Mile Beach. But if you have a 4×4 you could do. Instead we headed down to the beach at Hukatere so we could look up the beach towards Cape Reinga. We couldn’t see much to be honest through all the rain! So we kept heading north stopping at Waitiki Landing Holiday Park to set up camp. The weather had calmed down and was only lightly spitting. So we took the chance to explore Cape Reinga. After parking up, it was just a 10 minute walk down to the lighthouse. It was still blowing a hoolie but we got to see ‘the meeting point’ where the Tasmin Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. It causes waves to explode into each other and creates angled lines of white spray which looks cool out at sea. To the right of the lighthouse we also got to see on a rocky cape the famous Pokutukawa tree, reputed to be 600-800 years old, which represents the legendary departure point for the Maori spirits on their way to the afterlife in Hawaiiki. The tree looks like its clinging to the rock and growing perpendicular to it, but it still grows…amazing!  On the way back to camp we stopped off at Te Paki sand dunes. The dunes are massive and we managed to climb a little one before the weather turned bad again and we retreated once more to our tent.

Next morning (9th) and still tipping it down! We said good bye to the Ninety Mile Beach and the Northland Peninsula and headed on Route 10 towards Paiha- the gateway town to the Bay of Islands. On the way we turned off the road and headed up the Karikari peninsula. We stopped at Maitai Bay to see the twin bays called Maitai Bay and Merita Beach. Maitai Bay is so curved that the waves break on it in smiles. We walked up a bank in the rain to get a better view and I preceded in slipping down it on the way back, covering my entire behind with mud. The kid at the bottom found the whole episode hilarious, giggling and telling her mum over and over that I had fallen over. Needless to say we left pretty sharpish, nursing my pride! After a stretch on route 10 again, we turned off towards Tauranga Bay to drive, what the locals call, the Million Dollar View Road. 16.5 km of scenic driving and sweeping vistas. We stopped off at Tauranga Bay, our car bonnet almost touching the coastline, and had our sandwiches. Back on the road again and getting closer to Paiha, we made one last stop just before Kerikei at Rainbow Falls- a 27 meter waterfall. We walked to the top platform and watched the water thunder over the edge and then headed down the track to the pool and sat admiring the beautiful waterfall. You could feel the spray on your face and dipping our toes into the pool, it was no 30 degrees Fijian water I can tell you…freezing! We arrived in Paiha late afternoon and set up camp at Waitangi Holiday Park 15 minute walk from Paiha, right by the estuary. Our neighbours were 4 kiwi guys from Christchurch who were traveling the north island with a boat and a 4×4 full of booze for their Christmas vacation. They were a good laugh and we drank into the night with the guys…Lewis drinking a whole bottle of Jim Bean within 2 1/1 hours for $100 was particularly impressive!

The next day was our first proper excursion in NZ and it wasn’t raining- yey! We went on a boat trip around the Bay of Islands on a 50 ft catamaran called Carino.  They are the only yacht licensed by DOC to encounter and swim with wild dolphins so we had our swimmers on in anticipation. There was about 25 of us on board and we set sail at around 9.30am from Paiha. After picking up a few more passengers at Russell, we headed north following the coast up from Paiha. We saw a big pod of 15 bottlenose dolphins just by Moturoa island. They jumped up out of the water and swam along the boat really close up. They had babies with them so we couldn’t swim with them which was a bit disappointing but It was super cool seeing them so close up in the wild. We also saw Gannet birds which the locals nickname ‘Jesus birds’ as they skip (walk) on water. We then sailed across the bay to Roberton Island, whose Moari name is Motuarohia Island (‘the island of desire’) and one of the most visited Bays in the Island group.  We anchored up and got a little power boat to the shore. We hung out on the beach and walked up to the viewpoint there where you got a 360 degree view around the Bay of Islands- beautiful. After a haphazard walk/skid down the hill again (I’d learnt my lesson from yesterdays slip!), it was time to get back onto Carino for a BBQ lunch before heading back towards Paiha. We picked up another pod of dolphins and they were diving for food so would disappear for ages and then pop up again right under the boat. Very fun. We decided to get off at Russell to have a look around. Whereas Paiha is modern and overtly touristic, Russell has an old worldly charm. We walked along the beach and then up Flagstaff hill which has a great view over Russell town and the bay. The Flagstaff commemorates the truce between the Moari’s and Europeans back in the day. But it wasn’t plain sailing. The flagstaff was put up by the Europeans and cut down by the Moari’s many times until the Moari by choice erected the flagstaff that now stands. It was fantastic weather and we sat a watched the boats for quite some time before headed back down the hill into town. We enjoyed an ice cold cider at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel which is the oldest licensed pub in NZ. A live band were playing on the veranda and the sun was out and life was good! We caught the aptly named “Happy Ferry” back across to Paiha early evening…it reminded me of the Cremyl ferry across to Mt Edgecombe back home…and walked back to our campsite via ‘Shippies’ Fish n’ Chip shop for some tea. The chippy is an old tall ship which is now permanently docked on the river just by our campsite which is pretty cool. There was no cod or haddock on the menu so we went by recommendation and tried battered Dorry and Blue Nose. We ate from the paper with a glass of wine on our picnic table and watched the sun go down. A perfect end to a great day in the Bay of Islands.

Auckland and the Northlands in a snapshot:

  • Weather= A mix of torrential rain/wind and bright sunny spells!
  • Car snack of choice= Pineapple Lumps (pineapple chews covered in chocolate…its a NZ thing!)
  • Drink= Cider- Monteaths
  • Best achievement= Getting the tent up and keeping it up on day 1
  • Radio station for driving tunes= ‘Rock FM’!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

So much to cover!! So let’s start with Auckland, just another city, a bit drab, says it all when the highlight was a cinema trip!! What happened to the New Zeland summer? Those first few days of camping were a nightmare, although I’m glad we got 30 minutes without rain so we could enjoy Cape Regina. Things took a much more positive turn at the Bay of Island as we enjoyed a day on a boat and saw the sun again. Its amazing the impact that weather can have on your perception of a place. We also had our first proper encounter with native kiwi’s here (people not the bird – that comes later)!! We met 4 guys from Christchurch on a fishing / drinking holiday. It was an interesting night as we watched one of them drink a litre of Jim Beam in 2.5 hours to win 100 dollars, he won the money, but was definatley worse off for it!! We also found out he wanted to become a driver for the Kiwi Experience buses or as he called them  “The Vagina Liner” as they are full of young european girls who get drunk and fall prey to their sleazy bus drivers!!! We have seen a few of these buses since and their drivers certainly look the type. Thankfully we chose another company for our adventure in the South Island!!

Island Living- The Yasawa’s, Fiji

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Last year I spent New Years on the Island of Anglesea, Wales; this year I was on an Island in the Yasawa’s, Fiji…not a bad jump I’d say!

So my boxing day 2011 was spent on a flight to Nadi, Fiji (pronounced Nandi…I don’t know why!) to spend 10 days touring the Yasawa Islands, North West of the mainland. We got into out hostel in Nadi late afternoon and went straight to the beach. Not often I spend boxing day swimming in bath water warm seas; it was a welcome change! The next morning we set off for the Yasawa’s- a chain of volcanic islands varying from larger islands with steep hills and lovely lagoons, to tiny low-lying island which you can walk around in 10 minutes. We were travelling on a package called the Ultimate Lai from Awesome Adventures company and it was great that everything was organised for us so we didn’t have to think too much and could have a bit of a break from independent travel. The islands are accessed by a fast catamaran (ours was called Cheeta) and it was a bumpy ride! Bowts of sea sickness were unwelcomingly frequent as we travelled to the very north island of the Yasawa’s called Nacula and our first stop on our tour….

Nabula Lodge, Nacula Island- 27.12.11- 29.12.11

My goodness were we thankful to get on solid (well solid’ish, it is sand after all!) land after 6 hours of a swaying catamaran! I felt like I was a contestant on ‘Shipwrecked’ as I jumped into the little water taxi to take us the rest of the way and wadded through the sea to the shore of our first Fijian island. The resort on the face of it was shabby chic but the staff were so welcoming. We just made it into the dining room just off the beach when the rain started. And when it rains, it pours in the Yasawa’s as we were to discover over the next couple of days! In a brief intermission in the wet weather we got shown to our ‘Bure’- a traditional Fijian hut with wooden sides and a straw roof- which we would call home for 2 nights. It had a lovely little veranda out front and was right by the beach. We chilled on the covered veranda watching the rain until dinner time, which was announced with the banging of the ‘Laili’ (a wooden drum) which seems to be the form of notification for all sorts of things…meetings, weddings, christenings etc etc. Food was basic but perfectly edible and accompanied by sneaky swigs of Archers and lemonade that we sneaked onto the island from duty-free! After dinner was BULA time, basically an excuse for the staff to get us up and “shake what your mumma gave you” (i quote!), even Hedd! The weather still hadn’t improved come the next day but we caught the water taxi to a nearby island to go caving. The first limestone cave was an open ceiling cave with a pool 10-15 meters deep. We then had to dive underwater and swim through a tunnel to get to the inner closed ceiling cave. The tunnel entrance was a deep dive to get into and really dark. There was a guide on either end shining a torch and you just had to take a deep breath and go for it. It was a relief once you reached the surface on the other side I tell you. The inner cave was really cool and the guide got us singing and shouting so we could hear the echo’s. He also said you haven’t been to the Yasawa’s until you have visited this cave so that’s that one ticked then! We had sun by that afternoon so we made the most of it and went to Blue Lagoon beach to snorkel. I didn’t have fins through and cut my feet on coral so we ended up just chilling on the beach after!  That night was our first encounter of the local hallucinogenic drink called ‘kava’. It is made in a big bowl filled with water, where the server puts a ground root called kava in a muslin bag and then infuses the water with it like you do with tea. The result in a dirty dish water looking drink! And it doesn’t taste much better than it looks like…like your drinking soapy muddy water! Before you take the drink you have to clap once and shout BULA, then you have to down it and then clap 3 times and say vinaka. If you want a small amount you say ‘low tide’ and a large amount ‘high tide’. We got given a ‘tsunami’ bowl which was massive and full to the brim! I managed 1 tsunami and 2 high tides before calling it a day. Yuk! The next morning  we took a trip to the local village (1 of 4 on the island). We had to cover our shoulders and knees and I was baking! The village was made up of 4 tribes (family groups- grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousin etc) and was headed by the Chief who is the authority before the Police in the village, and in charge of preserving order and tradition. We got to meet the chief and ask him questions. We then got to meet some of the villagers and have a tour of their houses. The trip cost $5 each which is kept collectively to renew grey water butts and fund the education of the children of the village. Education is compulsory in Fiji from 6-12 years old and the children of the village have to board at a school 3 hours boat ride away. They have to go to Nadi (the main land) for secondary school. And I complained about the 30 minute walk to Devonport High in my school days (in my defence it was up hill most of the way!)

Korovou Resort, Naviti Island- 29.12.11- 30.12.11

So that afternoon we said bye to Nabula Lodge and got back on the fast catamaran to our next island and resort 1 hour away called Korovou. From the boat the resort look gorgeous- sweeping white sandy beach with hammocks hanging inbetween the palm trees. We were in a Bure by the sea again and had our own steps down to the beach. Before dinner we walked over the headland through a mini forest (avoiding the many gecko’s on route), to reach Honeymoon beach on the other side. My goodness it was pretty. Aquamarine waters and white white sand. When we arrived the beach was empty so we renamed it Hedd and Helen beach and enjoyed an afternoon at our own private beach! BULA time on this island involved us playing bowling using water bottles for pins and a coconut for the bowling ball! I was just as bad as I am at home with bowling and the girls side inevitably lost to the boys, resulting in a forfeit of dancing to All the Single Ladies, Beyonce, for the boys- very embarrassing! 

Waya Lailai Eco Resort, Waya Lailai Island- 30.12.11- 02.01.12

After 1 night in Korovou we were off again to our 3rd island called Waya Lailai. This island was my favourite and was incredibly pretty, with a lovely beach and a huge white rock rising up in the background (you can see it in the pic opposite). After a chilled evening getting to know the resort (i.e. lying in hammocks and trying a few of their cocktails!), the next morning (new years eve) we went on a snorkeling trip to a deep water reef to swim with the reef sharks. My snorkel was broken so I ended up just holding my breath which defeats the object slightly! But the reef was great and the guide had some fish for bait so the reef sharks came up really close. It wasn’t too scary as they are not that big, 1 1/2 meter long and 1/5 meter wide, but I did slightly freak out when one touched my leg and ended up sputtering out sea water at the surface! That lunch time we went with the staff to their annual new years staff picnic to a little island around the side of the island. The food was all laid out of banana leaves and they had a big huskies ice cooler full of drinks; it was a pretty cool way to spend new years eve afternoon. Then it was back for a quick shower (cold- no hot water on the Yasawa’s), to get ready for new years eve celebrations 2011-12. After dinner we were all given free bubbly and taken to the field for a show of BULA dancing and Fijian tradition. They guys danced with fans and Fijian weapons, wooping and clapping as they went. The wife of the resort owner also talked us through some Fijian traditions and showed us traditional dress (sarongs, or ‘sure’s’). The staff choir also came together to sing some of the traditional songs of the islands. It sounded like Ladysmith Black Mambazo group but with more clapping and slightly more smile in the singing. They then got us dancing with the men (who are incredible buff for people who have a slow pace of life!) before heading back to the bar for more complimentary bubbly and snacks as we waited for 12 o’clock. When midnight came, we got all in a circle and shouted the countdown and then it was all handshakes and kisses wishing everyone a Happy New Year, and of course more bubbly! Hedd and I wondered down to the beach to speak to family and watch the first 2012 waves. I fell on the only concrete steps in a whole resort of sand and cut my knee…not that I was too fussed as I continued to speak to Mum without a pause! It hurts now though! We spent the next day chilling in hammocks and drinking plenty of water. I got a massage on the beach which was so relaxing and we went swimming in the sea. The next morning (2nd) we got up at 5am to walk to the summit (‘the big white rock) to watch sun rise. Our guide had got a bit drunk on Kava and beer the night before so we didn’t set off until 5.45am after one of our group woke him up with a torch! It was still pitch black and the stars were spectacular as we set off up the hill guided by our half asleep/hungover guide and head torches. We reached the top just after the sun broke the horizon. It was a little cloudy but the sun turned the clouds a vivid orange which was very pretty. This was the last day on Waya Lailai and we made the most of it. That morning we took a water taxi and got drop off at the sand bar which joins Waya (big island) with Waya Lailai (small island). On the sand bar the waves crashed onto it from both sides which made for great fun running along the bar and playing chicken with the waves. I felt like I was on ‘Ultimate Wipe Out’, just needed Hammonds witty, yet so scripted, commentary! After getting picked up and having lunch, we went to the village to learn how to weave with the dried leaves the locals use to make ‘carpet’ and jewellery etc. I made a bracelet and Hedd even weaved a bookmark (he was incredibly proud of his efforts!) 

Beachcomber Resort, Beachcomber Island- 02.01.12- 03.01.12 

So Beachcomber Island was our last island on the tour. Fondly known locally as the ‘party island’, we stepped off onto the island feeling as though we had stumbled into a 18-30 holiday crossed with Freshers week! After grabbing a quick dinner and some cocktails we settled down to watch the first (of many) organised drinking games of the night…the boat race. Mightily funny when you’re not involved, especially as the teams had to dance to their favourite song before starting, and our friend Liz was in one of the teams so we cheered her on. As the band started up again singing the Beachcomber Song, where the lyrics are “At Beachcomber, where the girls are easy and the guys are hard”, we decided perhaps we were quite tired after our 4.45am atart and should escape to bed!

The next morning we walked around the island which took 7 minutes (!), before heading onto our Seaspray Day Sailing Adventure on a big ship with sails (aka a schooner). It was all-inclusive day, so as soon as we got on board the Champagne was out which I enjoyed sipping from my plastic cup as we set sail from Mana Island towards Mondriki Island where they filmed the Castaway movie. The island is tiny and uninhabited (due to lack of fresh water and flat land) and the ‘HELP ME’ sign in the sand is still there. I managed to dive quite gracefully off the boat and snorkel about for an hour or so, seeing lots of different colourful fish, before heading back on board for BBQ lunch, which was yum! The early afternoon was whiled away drinking more bubbly and listening to the staff play on their guitars. We then stopped off at Yanuya Island where we visited the village and had Kava with the chief…I only had a low tide this time! We then headed up to the school and the library, watched the locals play a peculiar version of rounders (with pieces of 4×4 and coconut shells!) and finished off at the shell market before getting the little boat back to our big boat, ‘Seaspray’. From Mana Island, where we started, we got dropped off to catch the fast catamaran back to Nadi, arriving to the mainland early evening. All in all an ace day (plus managed to smuggle a full bottle of wine off the ship)!

After an overnight stay at Nadi Bay Resort, we got our flight to Auckland on the 4th. Not after a 8 hour delay though…we have been lucky though with all our travels on whole, so not complaints that we had to spend another day in Fiji. Oh the trials…!

 Note: This post has been brought to you in Fiji Time, in conjunction with Bad Weather Camping Ltd. and CrapInternet.com

The Yasawa Islands in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot hot hot (even in the storms!), with a welcome sea breeze
  • Food= Curry (randomly) and a lot of fresh pineapple
  • Drink= ‘Tribe’ (Smirnoff ice equivalent), ‘Fiji Gold’ (the local brew), Cava (yuky soapy muddy water!)
  • Favourite Island= Waya Lailai
  • Fijian words spoken most often= ‘BULA!’ (hello **must be almost shouted when used**) and ‘Vinaka’ (thank you)
  • Favourite Fijian philosophy= ‘More Beer, More Beer, Happy New Year’!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

BULA, BULA, BULA!!!  I don’t think I’ve ever said a word as often in such a short space of time. In Fiji, everybody says hello to you and they all do it with a smile on their faces. The Yasawa islands were beautiful, the weather when it wasnt raining was hot, hot, hot and the people were so friendly. My favourite parts however, were the village visits we went on. It was good to see how the villagers lived and how much impact the resorts had on them. It was good to hear from one of the Chiefs that most of the money from tourists goes towards improving water infrastructure and towards education and the villages seemed to be keeping most of their traditions alive. I hope that this continues for a long time. VINAKA FIJI, VINAKA.

On the 10th, 11th and 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

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…not a lord leaping, nor a piper piping, and definitely not drummers drumming!

Instead…

On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…A flight to Auckland New Zealand, which didn’t go exactly according to plan! After boarding the flight, the air hostess’ realised the internal communications didn’t work. So after 1 hour of trying to fix it and failing, we had to change planes, not leaving Santiago until 2.30am on the 24th December!

On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…A time difference which fast forwarded the 11th day into Christmas day, missing it completely. Alas we didn’t see Santa on his sleigh, however much we peered out the window!

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…An ace Christmas! The delay at Santiago airport meant we arrived into Auckland at a much more sociable time of 7.30am instead of 4am. So we were more awake as we arrived at our airport hotel called Bella Vista. We paid for an early check, had complimentary breakfast and settled in for some Christmas movies. The classic’s were on…Uncle Buck, Grounds Hog Day…but we settled for Sherlock Holmes. At 1pm when it was Christmas Day in the UK too, we cracked open the Champagne we bought in duty-free, turned the Christmas tunes on loud and opened our Christmas presents to each other. He liked him muchly- phew! Hedd had booked us a Christmas Dinner at a posh hotel across the road that evening, and Mum and Dad kindly donated the funds for us to have a great meal and wine for the evening. Thank you again folks! We had turkey and roasties and Christmas crackers, but with the NZ addition of prawns, muscles and salmon. It was yummy but not quite like how Mum makes it! We headed back to call our families. Thinking it was only 12 hours behind and not the actual 13, I rang my brother waking them up on their Christmas day at 7.30am- oops! Then it was a call to Mum, Dad and Nan who were secretly pleased I had called them second and not so early (!), before hitting the hay feeling the jet lag after a very different, yet equally enjoyable, 12th day of Christmas 2011.

(p.s. sorry for the delay in this post…get set for news on Fiji tomorrow!)