Tuesday, 12 January 2010

3 weeks in New Zealand

My time in New Zealand was spent with my boyfriend Mike, our families and our friends. It was a fantastic few weeks, catching up with Mike and getting to know his family and country.

Our travels took us north of Auckland to Northland – a secluded region, rich in Maori culture (and in some towns, gangs) and boasting a spectacular coastline of sandy beaches, marine reserves and giant sand dunes. From there we travelled via a wedding in Auckland, to Rotorua (aka Rotovegas because there is a fair chance you’ll leave with a substantially lighter wallet due to it being a ludicrously expensive tourist trap). From here we headed down past lake Taupo to the Tongarairo National Park where we completed the Tongarairo Crossing – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

It was then time to meet Mike’s family down in Hawkes Bay. We enjoyed a superbly sunny Christmas there before heading up for a second wedding at Mahia beach. From here we headed to Mike’s family bach in Waimarama – a beautiful beach resort with fishing, paua diving and body boarding all close at hand. For New Years I headed down to Wellington to catch up with my close friend Vicky where we danced the night away in an Irish Pub. Back to Waimarama for a few days before heading back down to Wellington with Mike for Vicky’s birthday. Again, we headed back to Waimarama before hitting the roads back to Auckland a few day's later to catch up with friends and my cousin and his family.

My New Zealand tour was too brief and all a bit frenetic but it was great to head back there. As we travelled around the north island, Mike would ask me on an almost daily basis what my highlights and low lights were. Having sat and thought about it a while, I thought it only fitting to mention a few of them. So, in no particular order, here are some New Zealand highlights:

1. Matai Bay: tucked away on the most northestern point beneath Cape Reinga was Matai Bay – a beautifully secluded, white sand bay where we and a couple of spear fisherman had the beach and the sea to ourselves.

2. Mussels in pots: as an island girl who likes her mussels in a shell, I’ve spent years poo-pooing Kiwis who persistently told me how great pots of mussels are. Well, I take my hat off to you all…they are yummy! (garlic flavor is a particular favourite of mine)

3. Pies: if I had a penny for every Kiwi and Aussie I heard grumbling about the quality of British pies I would be almost a millionaire. So, with all the hype, Mike and I went on a taste test around the north island. The result: yep your pies are superior and yes Mike those from BJ’s bakery in ‘the Sting’ were among the best (I would, however, like to state that your sausages are quite frankly...crap!)

4. Getting into hot water: just out of Taupo is a park that leads down to the river. Head through the park and you come across a thermal spring that runs down to the river’s edge. Jump into the river here and the water is beautifully warm. Here you can laze around in the thermal pool and while away the afternoon. Why spend money going to a spa for hot pools when nature creates them for free?

5. A Welly New Year: an Irish pub, a Kiwi band playing all the classics (Johnny Cash, Nirvana etc) and one of my closest mates who I had'nt seen for nearly two years made for a pretty awesome New Year in Wellington

6. Flat whites: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing beats a flat white for coffee. Why they’re an endangered species in the UK I’ll never know!

7. Coming face to face with a stingray: at Goat Island marine reserve you don’t just have giant snapper and blue cod to contend with, but a fair few stingrays heading into the shallows to sunbathe. Mike and I had seen a stingray swimming about further out but as we headed back in to shore (I was stood up at this point about to wade the rest of the way in) Mike suddenly did an impression of a drowning dog. There was a lot of spluttering, splashing and gurgling as he attempted to notify me (snorkel in mouth) that there was a stingray right in front of us. In fact, Mike had virtually swum into it before it’s beady eyes gave it away. So there it was, a beautiful blue coloured stingray sat sunbathing quite happily right on the edge of the shore.

8. Meeting Isabelle: Isabelle is the first baby in our family. I only have three cousins and it is Ian and his wife Belinda who were first to have a child. Unfortunately, it’s not often I head to NZ so it was fab to meet her at their Auckland home.

9. Rockpooling: you never really grow out of turning over stones and seeing what lies beneath. On a day out at Waimarama with one of Mike’s nephews we walked round to an area called Cray Bay at low tide and spent a good hour messing around in the rock pools. They were fantastic, housing everything from crabs and paua (abalone), to weird looking starfish with long, skinny legs and black, quick moving sea slugs

10. Fishing: from yanking out crayfish pots to see what was inside (I measured rather than yanked) or sitting idly with a rod, to diving for paua then filleting and tucking into proceeds an hour or so down the line, I loved everything about fishing (except maybe the big swell on our last fishing trip!). Whilst at the beach we enjoyed fresh seafood on an almost daily basis, even slicing the fish raw and enjoying sashimi literally minutes after we landed the boat. A seafood fanatic's paradise!

11. Children: children were a big feature during my stay in NZ. Whilst I’ve never really spent any time with children, Mike has seven nephews and a neice all under 5 and half. Whilst having eight children (sometimes more if there were visitors) about was, at times, frenetic, it was also a lot of fun. It was great to watch them at different ages and see each of their personalities shining through. What’s more, I discovered that I am actually capable of holding a child without dropping it…I guess that bodes well for any children I may have in the future!

12. ‘Fush and chaps’ at Mangonui: It has to be said that the fish and chips in New Zealand are pretty good and those at Mangonui fish shop are among the best. However, whilst their chips may contain more potato than grease, and thus probably class as a better chip, I did find myself hankering after the quadruple cooked, grease fests that we do so well in the UK

13. Meeting the locals in Omapere: you know that feeling when you walk into a bar and everyone turns around and stares, well that’s exactly what happens in Omapere. You walk in and the locals (a fine collection of mullets on show) whisper among themselves and check out the foreigners. This would be perfectly understandable if we’d dropped in on a bar in the middle of nowhere where locals had never come across a foreigner but this is the ONLY bar in Ompaere and Omapere is on the tourist trail. This would suggest that each and every night (despite their experience of foreigners), the locals turn around and stare at that day’s bus load of tourists as they pop in for a drink before eating at the only restaurant…very amusing!

14. The Tongariro Crossing: the Tongariro Crossing is a Great Walk for very good reason. Crossing between three active volcanos (the snow covered Ruapehu, the cone shaped Mount Ngauruhoe aka Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings, and the wide craters of Tongariro) trekkers are greeted with stark volcanic scenery, turquoise blue lakes, steam from hot springs and inordinate quantities of shale. Unfortunately, we missed clear skies by one day and ended up walking in less than ideal conditions (considering all my trekking gear was in a box on a ship somewhere in the Indian ocean). This meant we were defeated by the weather as we attempted the additional climb up Mount Ngauruhoe. Nevertheless, it was a truly spectacular trek and one I will definitely do again.

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