Category Archives: Auckland

New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Auckland and the Northland

Standard

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!!

Advertisements

Island Living- The Yasawa’s, Fiji

Standard

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…

Standard

…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!)