Last days in NZ…

One thing I´m loving about our travels (apart from weird keyboards where the buttons don´t do what you want them to – especially tricky in Japan) is the amount of stars we can see. Though mainly they´re different to ours, Orion has made an appearance (upside down), and if it´s cloudy, you can get yourself to Waitomo and sail in a little boat through a cave with millions of glowworms hanging from the ceiling to get the same effect – absolutely magical.

From Waitomo and the glowworms we headed north, through Auckland and out the other side as far as we could be bothered to drive in one day, ending up in an unpronounceably named town called Whangerei. We had planned on staying in a gorgeous little hostel out of town that offered horse riding, but when we eventually found it, it was like a creaky hotel from an episode of Scooby Doo, complete with odd caretaker and crazy lady who was living in the hut in the garden, so we left smartly and found ourselves a much nicer place in town run by a lovely couple (though we didn´t see the wife who probably wisely left her husband to deal with all the backpackers) and a multilingual golden retriever called Sage who was in charge of cuddles. It also had a bath (equals heaven) but some selfish bugger locked themselves in it pretty much all evening so I am still dreaming of a steamy bath with lots of nice smellies.

The next day we carried on north to the Bay of Islands, and to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where NZ as we know it was born out of a treaty between the Brits and lots of Maori chiefs. Fantastic place with a real sense of history, both Maori and European, side by side.

We spent a few days loitering around, and went on a great day long boat trip where we managed to see lots more orca close up – this time a mother teaching her juvenile to hunt sting rays, very successfully as it turned out, though not for the sting ray.

We did meet a few rays with better luck at lunchtime when we stopped on one of the many islands and went paddling - when there are orca about the rays seek shelter in the shallow sandy bays where the orca can´t go. They seemed pretty happy to come to within about a metre of us, and I´m going to leave it there before the inappropriate Steve Irwin jokes start bubbling to the surface.

So, add in lots of common and bottlenose dolphins as well, oh and a friend from the UK (hello Tan) and his girlfriend who were, by complete coincidence, on the same boat trip as us and you´ve got a great day out.

Tan´s girlfriend Rachel must get a special mention for lending me her ghds before we all went out that night to drink ourselves silly. I´ve had to cope without them for the last three months and was pretty giddy with the excitement of having lovely straight hair again. She´s a keeper that one.

So, barring a very drunken night in Auckland with some Irish guys, that´s been our NZ trip. It´s only really now that I´m so glad we´ve got this blog and the brief diary I´m keeping, otherwise we´d just not be able to remember it all.

I have loved our time in NZ more that I ever thought I could. It´s a place with real heart, the most laid back, friendly and welcoming people I´ve ever met, and some of the most glorious scenery. Awesome. We´ll be back.

P.S. It´s Fang-er-eye. Clearly.

Update Part the Second – best things and random things and things to go and do

Note to self, must be better at uploading things as we go along. In the meantime…

1. Sea kayaking with killer whales is the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Fact. One swam right under the water taxi we took out to the start point with a shark in its mouth. Which despite its wriggles, was pretty much screwed I’d say. We spent two days kayaking and hiking in Abel Tasman National Park and it was just amazing – also loved the Aquapackers, the backpackers on a boat 🙂 and the mad German who threw himself off the roof into the sea on several occasions (we weren’t drunk by this point and I only jumped in from the deck. Alex took some persuading but he did throw himself in too).

2. The best things happen when you don’t plan them. We decided on the spur of the moment (and with no idea of what we were getting ourselves into) to head (as it turned out) to the most upmarket, luxury lodge-esque backpackers I’ve ever seen, on Kennepuru Sound in Marlborough Sounds at the top of south island. If you ever do a trip to NZ, you have to get yourself to Mike and Linley’s pad at Hopewell, by 4wd, water taxi, float plane or just walk dammit. Go mussel picking at one of the farms in the Sound with Mike, who’ll then cook you up the biggest bowl of the most enormous green lipped mussels you’ll ever see, or just head out at low tide and pick up as many oysters as you fancy from the shore. Sit in a hammock, go kayaking or just lounge around in the hot tub before picking up one of Linley’s fantastic pizzas. They sell v good wine too and are more than happy to drink with you.

Happy days. Go there. Now. And tell them we sent you 🙂

3. Kaikoura on the east coast is justifiably known for the opportunity to swim with the very beautiful, nosy and sociable dusky dolphin (enough to make even the best swimmer feel very ungainly and OMG it was FREEZING), but is probably less known for the terrifying WWII style siren that went off about 2am the night we were there. They should let people know that it’s the best way to summon the volunteer fire crews, and not a warning for an impending tsunami that will hit the hostel 20 yards back from the beach that you might well be staying at. Those unfortunates who know what I’m like when woken up suddenly can only imagine the reaction.

4. As a favour to me, if you’re ever in Christchurch, please go and say hello to the rescued little blue penguins at the Antarctic Centre – there’s one called Alex who has a broken beak and only half a left wing – aaaaaaahhhhh 🙂

5. Don’t fly from Dunedin to Christchurch to Auckland then drive to Rotorua on the day after a booze fest at the races. It’s not clever, and Rotorua is very smelly (all the sulphur from the hot springs etc) when you get there. And no, you don’t get used to it.

6. Best surprise – Wellington does the most AMAZING Bonfire Night fireworks at the harbour, got very giddy about that whilst Alex fell asleep!

So we’re now in Waitomo, having driven here from Welly today, in gorgeous sunshine past massive snow capped volcanoes (!!). We’ve got a cave trip tomorrow planned (lots of glow worms but hopefully no Gollum), and then we’re heading up through Auckland and out the other side to Bay of Islands, where we’re looking to do nowt for three days or so before heading back to Auckland to fly to Chile on Sunday. I love this country – it’s just amazing, and I know Chile and Argentina will be fantastic too, but I’m already a little sad about leaving NZ.