Saturday 22nd April – Sunday 23rd April We awoke early – blue skies and such a magical view from our windows. Adrian went off to try to video some coral and I took one two photos. We had asked if they had an underwater disposable camera. "Sorry – none left"! Nothing worries these people! We enjoyed breakfast in our sumptuous surroundings – I again enjoyed a plate of exotic fruits. We then came back to pack up. We were due out of our room at 11.00 am, but at 10.15 booked masks and snorkels again and once more enthralled ourselves in the magic world of the coral and the fish. Words cannot conjure up the joys we experienced – I just hope our memories will keep the treasures there – near the shore, I saw a shoal of about 100 huge fish. Luckily our room hadn't been made up when we returned, so we were able to shower and then enjoyed a cup of tea sitting under the coconut palms in front of the chalet, trying to absorb the beauteous surroundings to treasure. We had an excellent lunch – I had stir fry chicken and rice – and ate every bit – and delicious iced water. We had stored our bags and now left our one remaining one with the activities lady while we had a walk along the other end of the beach, looking at the myriad pieces of coral, a few of which we picked up. We had hoped to get past the far rocks, as we had been told there was a deeper "lagoon" there, but this wasn't possible with the tide as it was. However I managed a quick "skinny dip" in the deeper water before the rocks. We returned along the beach, had a quick swim in the pool, said goodbye to our friends and in good time for about 4 o'clock pick up, when "surprise, surprise" at 3.45 the coach arrived for us (obviously returning from a day trip, as apart from us there were just 2 people and the two "guides" from the trip, who were dropped off just before Nadi). We were glad that our return to the airport was in the light as it gave us a chance to see the country. For quite a way we followed along the "Coral Coast", with the reef all the way along. Then it was through green hilly country. We passed a few villages, where everyone waves, one town with its wide River and one hotel! We saw lots of animals – horses and cattle, people riding donkeys, one man ploughing with two cattle, almost no cars to we reached Nadi. The airport itself was quite up to date (it was being extended). It was just beginning to get dark, but still very warm. We had rather basic egg/cheese toasted sandwich in the airport cafe ("Sorry, no chicken sandwich, it gone")!, while our New Zealand plane and an Air Pacific plane landed close to us, but just outside the building! Then we were on the plane heading for Honolulu – the never ending journey! We had to while away an hour to had Honolulu – not an enjoyable experience sitting in the transit lounge. The temperature outside was 24°C apparently. In the air-conditioned lounge it felt cold and I would like to have slept. Nothing to do but sit! No free drinks magazines or anything – a bit like being in hospital or prison – all in together and told not to go anywhere. We continued to Los Angeles. Honolulu had looked very busy in the dark, from their. We reached Los Angeles in the light, with clear blue skies and again, apparently, 24° C. Again we saw the transit lounge for an hour also, but at least there were free drinks here, and luckily I had nipped into the loo just as we were leaving plane – the queue in Los Angeles was enormous! We had passed over several barren islands off the coast of Los Angeles and slowly circled around Los Angeles for a long descent – it gave us time to see the enormity of the place, the hills around and snow covered mountains in the distance. Planes were coming and going with great rapidity. We tried to telephone home from the transit lounge, but gave up after several attempts of trying to decode their system. We now boarded a 747 for the long final leg – a long taxi out and wait for take off – disappointment when we had middle seats and therefore couldn't see anything of the Grand Canyon when we passed. We seemed out of luck on this flight – the films shown were not what we wanted to see and our dinner was served last, so no choice, but we do seem to have been eating meals for the last 24 hours. We dozed a bit and towards morning watched some interesting wildlife video on White Island amongst other things and the same Mr Bean as on the onward journey to Nadi. Also a short bit on Fiji "these gracious and generous people", it said. We arrived at Heathrow at 9.40 am, Sunday. A trouble-free ride on the Rail-air bus to Reading after phoning Tom. He collected us and we got home at about midday to an England coming alive with spring. The fresh green of the trees and the bluebells and other spring flowers were a compensation for being home from our wonderful holiday.
Friday 21st April What can I say about Fiji? It's wonderful. Today's weather wasn't fantastic, but was so warm and the rain didn't matter. I awoke early and drew back the curtains on the front and the side of our chalet. The view was what one imagines of paradise – palm trees, luscious plants and then the sea. We had our cup of tea enjoying the view and then sauntered up for breakfast – what surroundings! I had fruit, which was a plate of various melon, banana and citrus fruit – I'm not sure what! Then toast and very salted butter, which Adrian enjoyed! And strawberry jam. Tea and coffee and the smiling happy ladies ever ready to oblige! We enquired about the glass bottomed boat, but thought that we would prefer to go snorkelling. We hired (free of charge) masks, snorkels and flippers from the jolly activities lady. Then what a delight! The Coral comes right into the shore, so we spent the next hour or so thrilled by the magic of the Coral Reef. Coral so beautiful – branching coral tinged with blue or purple; brain coral; – all kinds. And the fish – a myriad. Perhaps 20 or 30 different sorts – tiny deep blue ones which lived amongst the Coral – also large starfish of the same rich blue – black and white zebra fish; fish with a pretend eye at the rear; Brown plaice shaped fish which came to say hello; camouflaged "giraffe" skin fish; some of which tried to see you off. Shoals of long skinny see-through fish near the surface. Such magic! We had entered another world – the surface of the sea was the end of it. The great delight was that it was all at standing depth, with sandy bottom to stand in between. As I kept getting water in my mask and tube, it was easy to stop and empty them. Eventually we thought we ought to come in. The next joy was our lovely shower which we stood under until all the salt was washed off our skin and our hair was clean. It was now nearly lunchtime. I did have a quick swim in the pool before we enjoyed toasted chicken sandwich (R) and tuna salad (A) with ice-cold water. We had watched and listened to a musical group of 3 Fijian gents outside by the pool. When we wanted to photograph them, they said "Bula" and invited me to stand with them to be photographed. They introduced themselves. One was "Big John". They then moved inside to play for the lunch guests. With flowers in their hair and "skirts" on they may have looked odd to Western eyes – but they have such warmth. We have been persuaded by the "activities" lady to join the group going to the village at 1.30. We didn't really know what this entailed, except that we met the elder of the village and the schoolchildren. How glad we are that went! A largish group of us set off – perhaps 30. All were Australia except for us and another English family. We walked along the road a short distance – perhaps a quarter of a mile. We then went into the village – a series of huts in a grassy area. We had to wait a while for the retired teacher to appear. He led us into the church, where he talked to us for a while. It was a very simple church. He was a very sincere man. He said that Christianity had been in Fiji for 160 years. It was mostly Methodists and Catholic. He was grateful to the white man for bringing Christianity to Fiji. He led us after a while to a house, where we all removed our shoes and walked in and sat cross legged in a large circle (we had previously been asked to remove hats and even sunglasses were pushed up on to heads; as respect for the villagers). We then engaged in the Kava ceremony. This is explained well in the text opposite, but did take place just as it is written. There was a great solemnity and sense of awe. One man continually rung out a "rag" in the liquid in the bowl. When eventually it was ready, it was handed to each in turn to drink – a half coconut full. There were 2 claps as the bowl was presented to each person, then 3 claps (I think the claps come from the sound of the coconut breaking from the palm and then dropping to the ground – it has just the same rhythm). Each of us drank the Kava (it tasted foul – rather like water from the greens) and while this was going on each person also had to introduce himself (Adrian was the first). A huge sense of camaraderie prevailed. We then left for the school – a muddy walk to another area of the village. Here, all the school children – aged 6 to 12 years, were assembled in one classroom and we sat on benches round the outside while they sang to us – all together first, then each class at a time. Some of the children were dressed up with "suka – suka" around their necks – the lovely necklaces of flowers and leaves, which many gave afterwards to some of the English children. The other children wore school uniform – white blouses and grey shorts/skirts, but it was significant that many of the boys wore "skirts". The children were a mixture of Fijian and Indian – the population of Fiji is almost 50/50, with a few others, mostly Europeans. It was interesting to see the children – some shy, some outgoing – just like children everywhere. The "concert" finished about 3.00 pm, when it was time for the children to go home. Some mothers were waiting with younger children. Other children were "bussed" to neighbouring villages – just like anywhere else! We were able to speak to some of the children and teachers. The teacher I spoke to was Indian, but she said that all her class were Fijian, but she only spoke English. We were so lucky to have this opportunity – apparently it is only the 3rd time they have done it – and it was just the one day we were here. We all trooped back to "Hideaway" – on the way back along the road we met and elderly Fijian gentleman who stopped to speak – again such a genuine man. He explained about the flower garlands and how much it means to give one to someone. He spoke with such love and sincerity – these people really are something special and we in the Western world should learn from them. As a race they are quietly spoken and laid back gentle and loving. And they smile and welcome everyone. By now we had met up with the other English people – a couple Mike and Dawn – late 30s (?) and their 3 children, Nicky (13), Russell (12) and Stephen (8). They have spent 5 months in Adelaide, where his sister lives. The children went to school there. They were making a "round the world" trip, by now taking a about 6 weeks travelling home. She was more outgoing than he, but all very pleasant. We found that their chalet was two along from us and spent a couple of hours chatting to them and drinking their beer and tea. We left them to walk out at low tide along the coral – there is so much here! Plenty to see out of the water, but not the magic of under the water! We headed for the bar, where we each had a long Fijian drink, mine containing Malibu, then returned soon afterwards for our evening meal. Adrian had "snapper" and I had "Mexican chicken". The food was not too brilliant, but we had a good bottle of New Zealand Chardonnay – the Fijian lady took great interest and trouble in this and the service is impeccable. We were entertained by more Fijian music, but then by a large group of Fijian's – ladies and gents – the whole village it seemed. It was great fun and atmospheric. I got Adrian to go back for the video camera, but then they changed the music to popular audience participation conga type music – more like a holiday camp! They sang a couple of their songs at the end – they all laughed and joked such a lot – then we returned to the original group of 3 men, who only stopped when the "ugh" disco music started up. Near disaster afterwards, when we couldn't find the newly finished video film (with all the school and dancing on) – all okay – Adrian had left it on the table in the restaurant and the staff have picked it up – not knowing what it was! Midnight and bed!
Thursday 20th April
Not a good sleep – torrential rain, traffic, the adjacent car wash (and Adrian's snores!) meant rather a disturbed night. It was too hot with the duvet on and to cold with it off. Nevertheless, we woke at around 7.00 am and had a cup of tea in bed – no fine views today! We sorted our luggage, so that we just had a little rucksack as hand luggage. We had breakfast of the last of "Pam's" muesli and crackers (last nights meal – served with prawn cocktail) and the last of Pam's marmalade. Luckily the rain now stopped and we left our luggage downstairs and set off about 9.00 am for Christchurch. It took us 10 minutes to walk to the centre. We went into the cathedral – just like being in an English cathedral - some nice stained glass windows. It was only completed in 1903, so was in a very good state of repair. Outside we caught the "city loop" tram – a tourist attraction, where for $3 (just over £1) each, you could ride as much as you like for one hour (we only had one hour anyway). As we went to get on, a tram driver spoke to a gentleman behind us, and it turned out that he was the man responsible for preserving the trams. Our tram driver was very chatty and had all the time in the world to chat. After about 10 minutes we arrived at the edge of the Botanic Gardens which I wanted to visit but thought we hadn't time. We had a quick 15 minutes walk in them, passing lots of wonderful old trees of all sorts – just like a lovely English park, with a little river running through and all the autumn colours. Christchurch seems more English than England – very like Cambridge say. We had viewed part of a tourist advert on TV this morning, advertising Christchurch and I quite thought it was England – just the people seemed to have more time and there is so little traffic for a "city"! We walked back to the tram stop and there was our tram – it had done the "loop" and was back again. We continued the rest of our circuit, while the driver and a conductor this time, chatted. We are alighted at the square and bought a hokey pokey ice cream from a friendly lady and sat to enjoy these. A spiritualist lady came up and spoke to me just as we were about to leave, then we had a quick walk back our hotel, arriving just on 11 o'clock as our shuttle bus, driven by a non-commutative young girl – arrived. Now was the time to leave for the airport – we picked up a couple and their 3 young children, and dropped them at Leisureport to collect their camper van (can we start again please?) We had passed all the neat autumn suburban gardens again, many with their pink Nerines in front (I planted my just before we left!) At the airport we booked straight in, then had a quick look around the shops – I at last bought my Paua ring which I have wanted. Our flight to Auckland – 1hour 9 minutes! was pleasant. At first we could see the Canterbury plains and the barren hills beyond. Then we went into cloud. We were served a pleasant snack of open ham and cheese sandwich and a Danish pastry. At Auckland we had had 3 hour wait and had hoped to get a trip out, but this proved not possible. We spent time looking in various shops, particularly the bookshops, then we walked across to the International Departure (900 m). It was pretty warm and humid now. At the International Terminal we wasted more time, looking in shops and having a snack (I had some much missed toast!) – that we almost missed the last call for our flight! Our plane to Fiji had only 80 people on it! (While waiting at Christchurch, the man next to us, a farmer, got chatting and relived his 1963 trip to UK and Europe – by ship – with a friend, He had bought and later sold a camper van. He got so involved in talking to us, we nearly missed our flight call!) Our 3 hour flight to Nadi was pleasant with a nice meal with good dry wine. We watched Mr Bean (Strepsils) and Clive James on the 60's. We arrived a little ahead of schedule (8.00 pm). We were soon through customs and greeted by lots of friendly Fijian people and given a necklace each to wear. Everyone smiles and says "Bula" (hello). We were transported by minibus for the journey to the "Hideaway Resort". This was longer than we expected and it was 10 o'clock when we arrived. Being dark, we couldn't see much of the countryside, but it appeared very English – English road signs and English weather – it was raining! It seems we hit the rainy season. Very humid though. Our driver talked quite a lot – mostly to the other people in the van. He said tourism was the first industry and sugar the 2nd. We couldn't hear much of what he was saying - our ears were still recovering from the flight – mine didn't recover at all at Auckland. The Hideaway Resort is very attractive. We have a little "chalet" right on the shore, fringed with coconut palms. Exotic plants abound. The towels in our room were fanned out with a red hibiscus flower and greenery in the centre. We had a little walk around outside (in the warm rain). A disco was playing foul music – luckily away from our room. A tiny lizard ran across our floor. On the beach were tiny crabs scurrying and lots of bits of coral. Fish leapt out of the sea. Pretty tired, at midnight, we fell into bed.
Wednesday 19th April I awoke to see brilliant orange shining through the window. I got up and walked onto the wild beach, where the sun was rising. One man was throwing sticks to his dog. Soon afterwards we both walked down to the beach. It was wild and wonderful and so remote for just 20 miles or so from Christchurch. We came back to the van and had our last breakfast. Adrian had fun doing a recce of the van on video. We then packed everything up, so that it was almost midday by the time we left. We drove down to the sea again at Waikuku Beach which was again wild and wonderful and absolutely desolate. A bit further on we turned off to the Pines Beach, where again we ran on to the completely remote and uninhabited beach with pine trees down to the beach, then small dunes with marram grass, then the beach of fine sand and then the rough sea. Nearby was Kairaki and the mouth of the Waimakariri River. We stopped here for lunch. There was a total of 9 people fishing, so it felt crowded. There was a lovely view down to misty hills beyond Christchurch. We had a short walk here – there was a campsite nearby. After that we headed for Christchurch. We had a bit of trouble negotiating the town (lack of signposts again). We drove beside the River Avon for a while. We managed to find our way out to Lyttleton Harbour, going through a long tunnel. It had been a pleasant surprise to find Christchurch edged by high hills. At first we got to the port part, which was not interesting, but coming inland around this large harbour area was a final surprise – huge fingers of inlets almost uninhabited, like lots of drowned valleys. Lyttleton harbour backs to the Banks Peninsular which we didn't have time to visit, which is the remains of an extinct volcano. We stopped to view the scene and a rather deaf chap got chatting to us. He had a little goatee beard and said his wife's family was related to John of Gaunt. We drove back to Christchurch over the Dyers Pass which gave us a wonderful view over Christchurch and the surrounding area. Back in Christchurch, we located our hotel – not terribly exciting, but with an enormous room – obviously a family room – one double and 2 single beds. We unloaded our stuff and drove out to Leisureport which is situated right by the airport. We were sorry to say goodbye to our van after such an enjoyable holiday. The formalities over, we caught the bus back into the city and then walked back the hotel. I felt like a tortoise who'd lost its shell. After showers and getting changed – I put on a dress! – We walked back into Christchurch to look for somewhere to eat. Christchurch is a very clean and pleasant city and very quiet – even at 7.30, very few people about and very little traffic. After a stroll around, we found a restaurant which seemed quite busy – no airs and graces – make your order, wait for your number, but judging by the number of people there, obviously good value for money. We shared a starter – prawn cocktail and all prawns – and a pudding – Pavlova – all thick soft meringue and no fruit. Adrian had steak and I had sole. Also a bottle of house wine. And enjoyable evening. We walked off our meal by walking back to the hotel
Tuesday 18th April 201km
We had set the alarm for 7.00 am, but found ourselves awake just before. The morning was partly cloudy but dry. We had breakfast and organised ourselves to leave about 8.15, to drive round to the front of the "Whaleway station". Mist was rising from the sea and it looked very attractive with the steep mountains in the distance. We gathered together with the rest of our party. We were told that there would be a slight delay, but in fact on time, we all clambered into the coach to leave for the South Bay, where all the boats departed from. A tractor pulled a portable jetty into the edge of the sea, for the returning boat to pull up into. We managed to get seats at the back which was less jumpy. We had both taken our sea sickness pills! Our boat was a small catamaran and the whole operation is run by Maoris. We did in fact spot 4 whales. They are male sperm whales. The reason that there are so many here is that the sea bed goes down very steeply fairly close to land, so there is ample food for the whales. We had a slight unpleasantness on board, when the crew stopped to pick up an empty gas cylinder, which they said could harm the whales. One passenger was agitated (perhaps rightly so) that they didn't know what the cylinder contained and should have left it there. We were given extra time to make up for this, but didn't in fact see any more whales. They took us in to see another group of fur seals, looking like so many large slugs lying on the rocks, but we had already seen lots of them. We were also shown an albatross. Neither of us felt a huge excitement afterwards – in fact we were both feeling a bit queasy still and after stopping for Adrian to buy a whalewatch T-shirt, we drove up to a lookout point for Adrian to have a snooze! We drove back into Kaikoura – the name means crayfish - and thought we ought to try some crayfish. They are the size of small lobsters here and quite expensive. We settled on half a crayfish and chips, which we bought as a takeaway and ate in our van looking over the sea. It made a good lunch. Afterwards we had a quick walk on the beach which was littered with interesting shaped pieces small driftwood – possibly from the roots of Norfolk Pines which fringed the beach. We set off southwards, initially along the coast, then the road went inland. At Cheviot we took a small road off which went to the beach at Gore Bay. There was a small (empty) campsite here and we should have stayed, as apart from another site nearby which seemed to contain all static vans or storage vans, we didn't pass anything else. The road we were on was mostly unsurfaced, with virtually no traffic and wound its way around for about 25 miles. We eventually came to Motunau beach, which we thought would have a site, but it was just a cluster of little houses and a not particularly pretty beach. We continued the 15 km back to the state highway. I had been feeling decidedly dozy – the effect of the tablets. The light was fading fast but we hurried towards Christchurch, finally finding a site at Leathfield at 6.30, just as it was getting dark. We had a quick walk on the blowy beach and settled into our van for our last night. We seem to be the only people here – Adrian told me he saw lights in 2 other caravans, but I didn't see anyone!
Monday 17th April 162km
The sun didn't come up behind us as we'd hoped – it was a grey morning and stayed that way all day. I tried telephoning Thomas, forgetting at first to add the 1 to the code, then realising it was the answerphone, put the phone down immediately, but it had already grabbed the $3.30 charge! Adrian attempted to make toast over the gaz ring to go with our spaghetti! Only half successful. Our "New World" brown loaf is keeping well. We had sat in bed writing the last few postcards, so it was 10.30 when we got going. The area around the thermal pools was quiet and empty. An hour later it was packed with cars and we passed lots of cars apparently coming out for the day. We called briefly in at a shop, buying only milk and another phone card, then attempted a Woodland Walk at the far end of Hamner. It was delightfully autumnal – leaves underfoot, trees laden heavily with berries and the more subtle yellows, unlike a brilliant reds and oranges for autumn. The air too felt autumnal. The walk was lovely, but as is often the case there were virtually no signs and many tracks, which made it difficult to know where one was going! It was a bit like a New Forest area, with attractive play and picnic areas and lots of streams. As we left, families were arriving to enjoy themselves. Easter is obviously "bigger" in New Zealand than we found it in Australia. We had to backtrack the few miles from Hamner to the main road. Hamner is a bit like Las Vegas, a hive of activity in the centre of a wilderness. We approached again the Waian Ferry Bridge (photoed previously). We stopped to video it and were slightly annoyed that a car hurriedly pulled in beside us. They had just crossed the bridge and saw that someone was about to bungee jump! We missed the jump off, but were able to get plenty of video of the man hanging – specially for Thomas! We rejoined Highway 7 and turned south initially following the Waian River, like other rivers in this area, and opaque turquoise. We crossed on a small road to the inland road to Kaikoura, as we were driving down the coast road tomorrow. The scenery here was extremely bleak and almost completely uninhabited with steep slopes and lots of tiny rivers in huge river beds, which obviously get full in winter. We stopped beside one of these for lunch, sitting in the van, as it was rather chilly – unlike yesterday's lunch stop. The road was unsurfaced for much of the 80 miles or so and just as we thought it was going on for ever, we caught a glimpse of the blue grey tranquil sea and we had almost arrived at Kaikoura. Kaikoura is set on a peninsula, most of the town being on the northern side and not connected to the quieter southern side, but it is from here that all the whaling and dolphin trips start. We visited the southern side first – it was reminiscent of little English resorts in Kent or Sussex, but it really belonged to the wildlife – hundreds of birds of all varieties – the red billed gulls have colonies here – man seemed an intruder. We drove through the town on the northern side, right around to the end, where we parked and realised that we were looking out to a colony of fur seals. We hurried over flat rocks to view them closer and were just about to leave when one popped up just in front of us! We were so transfixed that we almost got stranded, as the tide had come swirling in all around us! We drove back through the town, stopped briefly at the tourist information and then went to check out our booking at the whalewatch office in the railway station, which is known as the whaleway station! The campsite we booked into was the other side of the track, with the sea just across the railway line. It was now 5.15 and we decided to return to the peninsular, where a small group of seals performed beautifully for us! We walked up the steep hill behind and then had a short walk along the top of the cliffs, returning while it was still just light. We returned to the campsite and organised ourselves for tomorrow's trip, before cooking supper of excellent steak. We also used the last of our phonecards getting through to Thomas.
Sunday 16th April – Easter Day 274km
The night was cold – we were woken about 3.30 am by the heater coming on in the van. However, we awoke to a clear blue sky and the sun just ready to appear over the high rocky hills behind us. After showers – the worst we've had – we had yummy pancakes for breakfast and found our Easter Eggs. We walked down to the beach before leaving – the waves were quite high. We drove along the road to the "Pancake Rocks and Blowholes". This was quite a dramatic place with wonderful rock formations and the sea bellowing up. It is more dramatic in rough weather, but we were happy with the hot sunshine. There were lots of visitors here, including two coach parties, but it is Easter Sunday and the place was beautifully set out to cope with visitors. We called in at an attractive craft shop opposite and bought one or two things, mostly wood. We then headed for Greymouth, the mouth of the Grey River, which we now followed. Shortly upstream we came to the site of an old coal mine, the Brunner mine, named after Thomas Brunner. We stopped here to have a look around and immerse ourselves in a bit of industrial history. A bit further on we stopped for lunch beside a rusty old steam engine. It was unexpectedly and beautifully hot and I had to be dragged away afterwards. We were now taking the road to Reefton. We followed one river after another today. This was still the Grey River. After Reefton it was the Inangahua, which we had crossed on our way from Murchison to the coast. We were now going through the Victoria Forest Park. There was virtually no habitation and the scenery was dramatic – constant steep hills, sometimes stark, sometimes forested. There was some habitation at Springs Junction, then we climbed to the Lewis Pass and down the other side. There was often a very long steep drop down and rarely a crash barrier. We now joined the Lewis River, travelling south and east. We stopped to eat our Easter eggs, trying to catch the last of the sun before it went behind the mountains. Then we went into cloud. We turned off to Hanmer Springs (last Easter we were at Hamners on Lundy!) and wondered if we were doing the right thing, as dozens of cars were passing us in the other direction and Hanmer was described as an "alpine village". There were three campsites here. We passed the first and drove into the town. The main thing here was the thermal pools (NZ$6 entry). We tried the "Top 10" campsite and were told – no power sites left – none at the other two sites either. It turns out that ALL of Christchurch comes up here for Easter – a bit like UK going to the New Forest. Our chap said to get a power site, "You have to to be enrolled at birth. They come back every year. Your only chance is if someone dies!" (Certainly the people before us were booking a cabin already for next Easter). We settled for a non-power site, and the chap (very friendly and helpful) recharged our video battery for us. We found the last (?) remaining site on the outskirts of the campsite, next to open country. We walked back into the "town" (5 – 10 minutes) and the thermal pools, where in the dark, we had a quick swim in the fresh water pool, followed by a dunk in some of the thermal pools. This was a real congregation point – hundreds of people sitting outside in the dark in the pools of 39°C water – the Romans must have been like this with their baths. People met up and chatted with their friends – we were quite out of it, being just the 2 of us! Having soaked for an hour or so, we dressed and walked into the "town", where we found a delightful wine bar and enjoyed an excellent meal, beautifully presented – Adrian had steak and I had chicken breast and prawns. A very enjoyable evening. When we left to walk back at 9.15, everywhere was silent – not a soul anywhere. All these hundreds of people, and it seemed like a ghost town.
Saturday 15th April 187km
A buzzing of a wasp disturbed me several times in the night and notably at 5.00 am, when we found that it was outside, but trapped in the air vent above our heads. Adrian managed to bash it out. Consequently it was past 8 o'clock when we woke up again. The sun was trying to shine through over the hills. We continued to follow the Buller River through two gorges. At Murchison we had looked for a shop, but the supermarket, like everything else, looked shut up for the weekend. Murchison had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1929. The attractive houses we saw must have been built since then. There were several "pull off" places along the road – one to a waterfall – a very bumpy and unmade up road, with no indication of how long we had to drive. Another was for a swing bridge over the River, but that held no attraction for me. At Lyall there was a signpost to the cemetery – with two graves! We passed bushes laden with berries and also some very attractive flowers beside the road – from a distance looking like poppies, but with flowers nothing like them. I think they might be sparaxis. We got involved in a cycle race – going in the opposite direction, and with not many cyclists. We drove into Westport, hoping to find a shop and after much searching we found a "New World", but it was even less inspired than the last place! This area is renowned for coal, but the only evidence we saw was in trucks of coal on a passing train. We drove to an area nearby, on the coast and stopped for lunch parked right by the sea at Carters Bay. The beach was of fine sand, but tinged with black (more evidence of the coal!). The waves rushed in and there was a lot of driftwood – very attractive. We had a short walk on the beach after lunch and met an English couple also touring New Zealand, but having spent seven weeks in Australia with relatives and now touring by car. We were adjacent to Cape Foulwind and thought we must visit a place with a name like that! We stopped at Tauranga Bay, a beautiful bay with fine sand. Lots of cars were parked here, because a few minutes away there was a colony of fur seals. We set off to see them and to walk further along the coast. This was another highlight of our holiday. It had suddenly become beautifully warm (suntop and shorts weather) and our walk was delightful. We looked down first to see the seals – lots of them, some looking up as if to say "here I am, take my photo". We felt privileged to be there. There was a signpost nearby, with amongst other places, London 16,286 km. The coast here is wonderful and we had a very happy walk, revelling in the warm sunshine. On our return we saw a small bird with a nuthatch type head, fat body and wagtail movement of the tail, yellowish grey and seemingly unafraid. We stopped by the Able Tasman astrolobe – a copy of the sextant he used in 1642 when he charted this coast. At this point we saw another bird – a large quail type bird, brown and again very unconcerned – a Kiwi without the beak. We returned to Tauranga Bay and bought an ice cream (mine hokey pokey) from a very cheery chap, which we ate on the beach. We walked across the wide sands to rocks covered in millions of mussels. A chap came and asked us where the seals were, and thought you could see them from the rocks. We pointed him in the right direction. Suddenly the tide came swirling in. We returned reluctantly to the van. We had thought we could stay at an AA site we had passed, but found out that there was a site about 30 miles down the coast set in the Paparoa National Park. This was the place to go. We followed the setting sun down the coast, past one magical beach after another. This coast was so unexpectedly beautiful. We stopped to take a few sunset photos and arrived at Punakaiki at 6.00 pm. Although the site is on the beach, it is surrounded by trees and the walk to the beach is through a glade of shrubs and aloe type plants. We made a hasty walk to the beach, where a river also joins the sea. The temperature was dropping rapidly, but the sea still had a pink glow on it. A group of young people were camping on the edge of the beach. They had lit a fire and one was playing the accordion. It was quite magical – we thought of Chris de Burgh's, “ A perfect day” and it seemed just right! We returned to our van for the realities of life – preparing supper, clearing up and doing some washing in the machine.
Friday 14th April 169km
A cloudy start, but alternating with sun during the day. There was a phone box just near where we were parked and I started the day by trying to phone Thomas. Many tries later I made it – after buying a new phone card (ours hadn't enough left on it), and several tries when it was engaged, I finally got through to him and had a short chat for my five dollars and found that he had a good time in Wales. We were also near the kitchen block, so had the luxury of toast for breakfast, using the rest of our nice white loaf. We called briefly at the well stocked Supermarket – being Good Friday most shops were shut. We then drove down to a pleasant bit of beach adjacent to the other side of the campsite – called Parkers Beach. The tide was in now and it was very pleasant (and warm!) and with character. We made our way back into Nelson passing a house I had seen yesterday with the most magnificent "rose pink" rose all along the front. Roses seem to flower well here. Nelson was very quiet with no shops open. There were lots of attractive well kept up houses. We parked at the foot of the steps leading up to the strange looking cathedral. The main part of the cathedral was built in 1925, but the tower was built in the 60's and looked more like a construction tower. However, the situation was idyllic and there were attractive gardens surrounding the church. We walked through these and into the entrance of the church, which was separated from the main part by glass screens. A service was in progress – it was nice to feel part of the Easter celebrations. We sat briefly on a seat above the steps, enjoying the warm sunshine – Nelson is said to have the sunshine record for New Zealand – then drove off and parked by a little river on the other side of Nelson, opposite the swimming pool, built in 1925 – we sat on a seat here and enjoyed hot cross buns bought yesterday at Picton. All hot cross buns here seem to be brown (as opposed to white), but these tasted very good. We now got on our way south from Nelson, driving through Stoke first – an extension of Nelson. Here we turned off to see Isel house – a stone house built in 1848. This was set in parkland of glorious trees, which we drove around following signs to the car park. We felt rather intruders here – particularly as we hadn't expected it to be open today. The house was opposite Nelson Museum. We viewed both from the outside, then left. Adrian had stopped for petrol and the man asked if he was related to the racing driver of the same name! Is there something we don't know? After Stoke we drove through Richmond, Hope, Brightwater, Wakefield. We passed a "historic site" and on stopping found that it was a memorial to Lord Rutherford – the first man to split the atom. It was almost like an open air museum, numerous panels telling of his life, from his birth at Brightwater – where the memorial was – to his adulthood and his discoveries. As his father was Rutherford and his mother Thompson. I like to think that there were family connections! There was certainly plenty of interest to read, including a quotation by J. D. Greenwood – the Inspector of Nelson primary schools – in 1861 (before Rutherford was born) – "I think it matters comparatively little how much a child knows, if he has not learnt how to learn more" – how true! We were making slow progress today – but nicely so. We took the road to St. Arnaud and Lake Rotoiti – one of the two so called Nelson Lakes, although they are some distance from Nelson. We were driving through thickly forested slopes, but with few stopping places. We eventually stopped for lunch parked near to a small river, away from all the electricity pylons which spanned the countryside. By the time we arrived at Lake Rotoiti it was 3.30 and pretty chilly! The lake is 2000 feet above sea level and was formed by glaciation. We stopped at the visitor centre and purchased a book on the Brunner peninsular Walk for $0.50. We were glad of our fleece jackets, as there was an icy feel to the air. The walk was set as a nature trail and we found out quite a bit about the natural plants. We also discovered about the black fungus on tree trunks - it is caused by the scale insect, which eats the sap of the tree and secretes the surplus. Bees, wasps and birds feed on this and the fungus grows on it. On leaves it looks just like the fungus on the citrus plants at home, which had scale insects on them. By the time we returned from this peaceful walk, it was 5.00 pm, and we had to decide what to do. It seemed a bit cold to stay here, but there were no campsites near. We decided to head on as we could always stop if necessary (actually we found out later we had very little water). This proved to be the right move, as the 30 mile drive through the Buller Valley was exquisitely beautiful, the low sun glorious on the many distant slopes. We crossed and re- crossed the Buller River, which we will follow right to the west coast. At Murchison we turned off t "motor camp" and stopped at a delightful forestry commission type site (next to the graveyard). We were booked in by a very young "Sharon" and parked just as the sun was setting behind the hills. We walked down to the river, which surrounds the site. The colours of the setting sun reflected in the water were magical – pinks, blues, yellows. It was quiet and peaceful – another moment to be treasured. We came back to the van in its delightful forest setting. Any thoughts of doing the washing were quashed when we saw the archaic "mechanised washing dolly" in the "laundry"! On the road today we saw one car, which had lost its bicycle – found lying in the road a bit squashed, and one trailer minus its wheels – two young boys with it, obviously waiting for the driver to return!
Thursday 13th April 120km
We awoke to find heavy mist hanging, which was slow to clear, so it felt quite chilly. When it did, it was a sunny day which got quite hot in the afternoon. We drove into Picton to shop – we found the 4 Square shop even less inspiring than most. Adrian went to the bank for more money. We phoned Kaikoura and booked a "whale watch" for Tuesday. We looked at two old ships – the Echo built in 1905, and the Edwin Fox, in a great state of disrepair, was in use last century as a whaling ship and to take convicts to Australia. As the mist lifted, we could see what an attractive place Picton is. We drove out towards Nelson, stopping every little while to marvel at the scenery and to take photographs. This whole area is one of inlets and forest covered peninsulas. Quite one of the most attractive areas we have ever seen. At Ngatutu we stopped and walked a little way round the bay. Small greenish birds were carolling in the trees above. It was quiet apart this and quite exquisite – a memory we will treasure. We decided to stop here for lunch – a lovely fresh loaf we bought at Picton bakery, eaten with other goodies. I had bought some creamed (set) honey. A bit further on again we stopped at Mahakipawa Bay, a beautiful natural spot, but a plaque in a rock said that for many years this was a busy port, transporting timber. The only evidence now was a couple of barely visible struts from the sea, and heaps of stones which had been emptied into the sea, having been used as ballast. Just before Havelock we came to a viewpoint at Cullens Point, where views in 360° were quite spectacular – a wide valley between wooded hills on one side and sea and hills in all other directions. There was a circular one hour walk here around the point, which we decided to go on. It was 3.00 pm when we left and the sun was very warm. I decided not to wear my shorts, as I thought the pathway might be prickly. However it had been recently "mown", so it wasn't a problem, and was fairly wide – only once or twice did it get a bit narrow, so that I nearly had the collywobbles, as it was quite high above the sea and steep. We had followed a cable for the first half of the walk, and wondered what it was for. We decided it was the telephone to a remote house across the water – approachable only by sea. The first half of the walk was in sun, then we went into shade and the vegetation immediately changed to rainforest. There were some trees with black trunks – we thought at first that they were burnt, but realised that it was a type of fungus growing on them. It was very attractive to wasps or bees – we didn't stay to find out which! We continued on our way, stopping to look at a site at Pelorus Bridge, but it was empty and remote, in the middle of forest, and we decided to press on to Nelson. We didn't realise that this would mean scaling two mountain passes, on continually winding roads through densely wooded slopes. On arrival at Nelson we located the site – we should have been more wary of "adjacent to beach", as this definitely means "not on the beach". The huge beautiful sandy beach is in fact "adjacent". We got to it by walking through the road past the pleasure complex. The sun had just disappeared. There was a wonderful beauty here on this fine sandy beach with distant headlands in pinks and mauves. It was a little like Denmark. The temperature was too, as it had dropped dramatically with the setting of the sun. We managed to find our way back to the site just before it got dark. It is a huge site, almost empty now, but apparently the largest in Australasia! – nearly 1000 pitches! Also it is very near the airport – as we heard!
Wednesday 12th April 129km
We were disappointed to wake up to yet more rain! It was a good excuse for our first lie in, while I read all about Wellington. By the time we got up to have showers/hair wash, the rain had stopped and blue sky was coming. We decided that this was the morning to cook pancakes, which we ate with enthusiasm. It was pleasant not to be rushing anywhere, as we are catching the 5.30 ferry from Wellington today to South Island. We shall be sorry to leave North Island – there is still plenty left to see. We walked out from the site on to the adjacent beach. We thought this a lovely setting for a site – one we would have enjoyed when the children were small. The site itself was attractive and well kept, with a little stream running through in a "dell", and a nice children's play area. The site is on the edge of Queen Elizabeth Park – a natural area with no building in it. We crossed a grassy parkland area with more children's adventure playground items and then came to the beach of fine sand, but littered with shells and pieces of pumice. The waves came rushing in. Beyond was the bird sanctuary of Kapiti Island. Behind us were barren steep green hills – we couldn't see them in the rain last night. There was no one else about. It was warm and sunny and quite heavenly! We paddled and the water felt warm. We eventually tore ourselves away from this wild haven and started the drive into Wellington. The habitation around Wellington spread a long way and the roads were busier than we expected. The whole setting is very attractive. On arrival at Wellington we drove to the ferry point to pay for our tickets. We then drove round and round Wellington hoping to park so that we could use the cable car. This proved impossible – all roadside parking spaces were taken or were residential only and our vehicle was too high for a covered car park. Instead we drove up Mount Victoria, driving up past many houses perched on the steep sides, with garages built out on stilts. From the top we could look down on to Wellington and the surrounding bay – quite a magnificent sight. I cooked scrambled egg for lunch and while eating it we looked out and saw it sunny across the bay – it had become cloudy and chilly in Wellington. This decided us on driving around the bay, which was several miles. At first we were on busy roads and through industrial areas, but then we came to an uncrowded area around a town surprisingly called Eastbourne. We stopped and looked across to Wellington and saw a ship with billowed sail, sailing out across the bay. We stopped again by the beach. We could see evidence of previous fires on the forested slopes behind. At the end of the road, the track went on for walkers/cyclists only, but the shortest walk was an hour and we didn't have that. We had a short walk on the beach in the pleasant sunshine, looking across the magnificent bay, then got back into the van and returned to the car ferry point, arriving about 4.15. On the beach we had seen fennel growing, also alyssum and some small bright purple daisies. There were also enormous mussels – about the size of my foot. Wellington seemed a very affluent city, with fine houses, many older ones restored beautifully. We were amused while waiting to embark to see container lorries driven off by funny little trucks, which fitted under them, the driver being knee-high off the ground. The three hour crossing passed very quickly. The boat was quite empty. We watched the coastline as we sailed out of Wellington and were annoyed that it was dark soon afterwards, so we didn't see the wonderful coast of Picton. We had something to eat on the boat and arrived at Picton at 8.30, soon finding our way to the site.
Tuesday 11th April 340km
I started the day with a quick swim in the sea. The sun was rising, but clouds came too and the day ended very differently! I was able to air the bedding before we left. We stopped a short distance along the bay at Te Awanga to view the pleasant campsite there. We had passed a house with a tiny "turnip" caravan outside, plus several vehicles including a converted pick up truck. We stopped to have a look and got talking to the couple in the next-door house – a pleasant gentleman and an attractive auburn haired girl from America. Te Awanga was a pleasant "village" with attractive houses and pretty gardens. We noticed here and elsewhere, that certain shrubs were laden with berries. We drove towards Hastings and Havelock North. We had been told to drive up Te Mata (399 m) to view the surrounding land. We hadn't realised that we would be driving up near vertical pinnacles to a spot, where apparently hang gliders take off from. From the top we could see down to the coast and the hills beyond which we camped. There were good views in all directions. There were walks in this area, but "not for me" with my fear of heights! We drove back down to Havelock, where we stopped to do some shopping – first two ice creams from a rather unfriendly fellow. Mine was 'hokey-pokey' ice cream. Havelock was a very affluent "village" with many modern small shops. We joined the road south towards the place with the interesting name Dannevirke. We stopped for lunch by turning off onto a side road and parking beside a deep sided stream. We crossed the central mountain range via the Manawatu Gorge – a very dramatic and long gorge, where the road clung to the side and there wasn't much space for mistakes! We then continued on the western side of North Island, past Levin to Otaki. We had thought that we might camp on the coast here, but neither sites were on the beach. The area was very residential, and the weather was deteriorating! The few drops of rain became torrential. We had been looking out for the wine bar owned by the father of Meredith, who I know from Priors Court. We eventually found it and managed to cross the continuous stream of traffic. It turned out that Meredith's father wasn't there, but we had quite a chat to his partner, from Edinburgh. He said that this was their first day of rain! After leaving, the rain became a deluge, making driving and visibility very difficult, but there was nowhere to stop. We continued and so did the rain – all evening! We turned off once at Waikanae beach, to look for a site, but just got hopelessly lost in the nicely residential area. We finally stopped at Paekakariki, having played games with the train at level crossings. The road here was very busy with continual traffic, presumably coming from Wellington. We got settled into our van, while the rain continued outside – we were pleased not to be in a tent!
Monday 10th April 175km
When we awoke around 7.00 am it was to a clear blue sky! There was heavy condensation on the windows which dripped down onto the bed when we wiped it off! We made our way to the "spa pool" and immersed ourselves in the steaming water. Another English lady arrived and took our photo for us. We drove into Taupo and got more money from the bank, bought stamps and posted more cards and bought some bread and cakes. It was about 10.00 AM when we left, taking the road to Napier. At first it was through rather English looking countryside, with virtually no habitation. Later we came to heavily forested steep hilly country, crossed by fast flowing rivers. We stopped to view the Waipunga Falls and made a tea/coffee stop here. Later we came to a gem – a garden open to the public, called Cotswold. This was quite idyllic – a real haven of beauty. The beautiful warm sunshine after days of rain helped. It still seemed strange to see maples changing colour for autumn, rather than coming out for spring. By the time we had looked around the gardens it was time for lunch, which we enjoyed using the picnic table we had parked beside. The many flying nasties prevented it from being just perfect. In the adjacent field were a large herd of deer, plus other animals. We continued towards the coast, passing the summit at 2460 feet. The part just before Napier was called Eskdale. We drove through Napier and stopped briefly by its dark stony beach. Napier had been almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, so was rebuilt in the 30's. There was a glorious long drive along the front, edged on each side by Norfolk pines. We carried on towards Clifton, where there was a campsite at the end of the road! We were situated right on the beach – pebbly, but sand further out. A few miles along the bay from there is Cape Kidnappers, where there is the only mainland colony of gannets in the world. You can walk there and back along the beach when the tide is right, but it takes five hours there and back. There are also trips by tractor along the beach but we didn't see any evidence of anything. We did see lots of birds flying in the right direction and we imagined they might be gannets. There was also a black curlew looking bird with red legs and a long red beak. We pitched right on the front of this almost deserted site. There was a "balcony" in front – a wooden structure with a rickety table and posts with wires attached, where with great glee I hung our damp towels to blow in the wind. We went for a short walk along the beach beneath the gigantic sandy cliffs, which didn't look too stable. We came back and enjoyed a beer on our "balcony" as the sun set, making glorious pinks and blues across the sea. We then moved inside to continue enjoying the glorious view across Hawke Bay. After supper we had another walk along the beach.
Sunday 9th April 125km
We awoke to another grey day, but 7.30 am saw us having a swim in the pool, followed by a soak in the thermal baths. We walked over to see the "boiling mud" in the campsite, then came back to the van for breakfast. We left and drove down through Rotorua Town – a pleasant enough town – very quiet on a Sunday morning and ended up at the lake, where we stopped briefly. We drove back to the Maori centre at Whakarewarewa, arriving at 10.15. We were told that part of the complex was closed – due we found out later, to a protest of some sort – so the 12.15 Maori concert was included in the price. We didn't think that we would still be around at 12.15, but the site was very large – we just made it back in time for the concert. The area was full of "thermal activity" – geysers, boiling mud, spouting steam – all pretty impressive. At one end was a Maori village – many of the gardens had steam emitting from them. We saw a dozy kiwi in the kiwi house. The "concert" was enjoyable, but was pretty packed, as other people were obviously also given free tickets. Also the concert was being filmed, so the camera man was there with all his gear. As we left, it had begun to rain – up until then it had been very overcast. The rain got heavier and continued all afternoon. We had intended stopping at Waimangu – a volcanic valley – and Waiotapu, another thermal area. We stopped at both, but the torrential rain made visiting them impossible. We continued south towards Taupo, stopping at Wairakei, a large park area where we viewed the Huka Falls – the Huka village – a reconstructed Pioneer Village – was unfortunately closed. We got to the "Craters of the Moon" – a free area of great thermal activity. It looked a bit like a rubbish tip being burned – but it was steam, not smoke, and came from inside the earth. It was very bleak and spooky and actually covered a very large area. It was now beginning to get dark. We continued to Taupo and eventually found the campsite – not very exciting and all pretty damp with more rain. We had stopped before Taupo at the Prawn Farm and bought some expensive large prawns. We now enjoyed these as a prelude to our supper.
Saturday 8th April 139km
A good sleep, although it appeared to rain all night and was still raining in the morning. Jim knocked on the door, all done up in his oilskins, on his way to the shop on his bike. We went inside and chatted over tea/coffee and some time later, after a phone call to his wife Nyree, John arrived to take us to his "hydroponic watercress beds" as promised. He had apparently stayed late at the club last night, but still seemed cheery. He is one of those people that we will cherish having met – a genuine cockney with such an infectious personality. You couldn't imagine him ever having a grudge. His wife was being ordained next week. When I asked which denomination, he said "Christian, Oh nothing awful. She sees me as her last challenge". He was dressed in a grubby, baggy T-shirt and shorts. No shoes, but no one else was wearing shoes. Jim said they told his mum it was so they could grip harder in the earthquakes! We got into the front of John's truck with him and off we went to see the watercress beds – situated on someone's farmland, where kiwi fruit and avocados were being grown. John gave us a large bunch of watercress and lots of avocados which he picked up from the ground. The trees looked rather like rhododendron bushes. The kiwis were prolific but not quite ready for harvesting. He explained to us about his watercress growing with a manner fit for any "Gardeners World". Self-taught, but very knowledgeable, with a pleasant way of imparting that knowledge. He drove us back via the beach, which looked very wild today. The poor visibility prevented us from seeing volcanic White Island out to sea. We drove past his patch of land to Jim and Jan's, then about 11.30 we left after saying our goodbyes. It had been a valuable and enjoyable time. We stopped on the outskirts of Opotoki at "New World" and filled up with shopping. There was a novel idea of helping yourself to a free cup of coffee. The idea was good, but not the coffee! Having had little breakfast, we were ready for lunch and stopped by the wild waves of Waiotahi Beach to the west of Opotoki. The waves lapped almost up to the van. We were retracing our steps for a short distance before heading for Rotorua. Just after Awakeri the road unexpectedly ran along the railway track for a short distance, which was rather disconcerting! Luckily no trains! Soon we saw Mt. Edgecumbe, with a collar of mist and soon afterwards the first of the lakes – Lake Rotorua. Dave had tried last night to describe the road to Rotorua, with the lakes coming into view. The rain seemed at last to be stopping and a watery sun shone down on to the water. We passed Lake Rotoeha and Lake Rotoiti and then came to Hells Gate. This was an area of thermal activity. We had already seen steam rising in various places and smelt the sulphur ("like fart's" John had said last night, "someone else's farts"). Hells Gate was quite an amazing place – one of the wonders of the world you might say. The leaflets will explain. It felt a bit like walking on a foreign planet and a bit scary to think of all that boiling water bubbling up right beside you. Definitely eerie, but enjoyable. It was quite chilly, except when warm gas enveloped you. We now headed into Rotorua and the campsite, where we settled ourselves in and then had a quick swim in the pool – strange in the dark – followed by a sit in one of the beautifully warm thermal pools – this was what the doctor ordered! Feeling wonderfully warm and refreshed, we returned to the van and slowly cooked supper and also did some washing in one of the machines. This site is excellently equipped, with first-class kitchens for those needing them.
Friday 7th April 324km
The morning was disappointingly grey, but nevertheless we made our way to the beach around 7.00 am. A young German chap from Aachen was the only other person there. He had dug himself a hole. We tried several places (we had brought a long spade from beside the shop), but couldn't get it right and the tide seemed to be advancing fast. In the end, we used the German's as he was leaving. It was great, until a heavy downpour came over! We had a quick splash in the large waves in the sea before we left. The rain had soaked our towels and clothes and it rained on us again before we got back to the van. We had showers to wash off the sand and were ready for our fried bacon breakfast. We left much later than usual – about 10.30. The grey had become rain and it rained all day, often torrentially, which was a shame as it made visibility poor. The eastern side of Coramandel would appear to have been lovely if we could have seen it. After Waihi we followed along beside a river, where we stopped to eat lunch (in the van). Soon after this we came to a wonderful gorge – rather Austrian in character. It was good that we enjoyed it, as we realised that we had come the wrong way (good signposting again) and had to go back to Waihi and take the road to Tauranga. Soon after here I phoned Jim Pyke and got directions to visit him and his wife Jan in Opotoki. We were travelling now through a fruit growing area, particularly kiwi fruit. In better weather we might have stopped. We drove along the coast through Wakatane to Ohope and near there stopped by the beach which was very atmospheric as it had stopped raining briefly and everywhere was damp, with a white mist over the sand. We followed the road around to Opotoki and tried to follow Jim's directions and more by good luck than judgement, found ourselves outside the RSA Club where he and Jan were working. We went inside – it was like a British Legion club. Jim and Jan were serving food in the kitchen and after a drink or two we enjoyed some excellent fish and chips and then spent a convivial evening with Jan and Jim (between working) and three friends – Dave and Liz, originally from Buxton, Derby and John – a likeable, bubbly cockney who left England in 1959 and still had an accent as strong as ever. He was a market gardener and was now partly employed in teaching Maoris agriculture! He was a very open, warm, jolly person. Dave was softly spoken and gentle, a bit like John Noakes. Liz was chatty and quite outgoing and reminded me of Mary Pinder. Conversation was easy and we spent a convivial evening. It was interesting to hear what things people missed about England (families and history) and to find out what it was like living in New Zealand. At 9 o'clock everybody stood for "lest we forget", which is read each evening. Soon after this we went back to Jim and Jan's and chatted for a while and looked at photos before retiring to the van at about 11 o'clock.
Thursday 6th April 198km
Again awake early. We wrote a few postcards before saying goodbye to Betty at 7.30 – she was going into Auckland to work voluntarily in the Magistrates Court. She had just time to show us round the garden first – it was in the "clearing up for autumn" stage. There were lots of orchid plants and many plants which we would have as house plants. In the front was a Macadamia tree. While Peter drove Betty to the bus, we telephoned Thomas. It was great to have a chat "funny that it sounds as if you're right next door when you're really half a world away". He seemed to be doing fine and was off to Wales this weekend. We had a pleasant, leisurely breakfast with Peter, then he drove us around for a couple of hours, taking us to the summit of three different hills, from each of which we had great views of Auckland spreading for 360°, changing scene of land and sea. The first hill was an extinct volcano. One was called "One Tree Hill", with - yes – one tree on the top, which someone had recently tried to chop down so was now secured behind a fence and with supports. At the third hill we just missed three coachloads of tourists! We got involved with the cycling part of a triathlon near a place called Clevedon – made the going difficult for a while. We stopped for morning coffee at a Swiss restaurant and all enjoyed a cake – mine a walnut tart. We also bought some for lunch and a French loaf. Peter added lots of useful information as we drove around. We drove past "St Helier" which looked just like Balmoral Beach in Sydney. Back at their house, we had a cool drink and then left with Peter driving in front, to put us on the right road. We now headed for the Coromandel peninsular. It was nearly midday. The morning had been warm and mostly sunny. The day continued like this – hot when the sun was out, but often cloudy. We were following the coast all the way round. It was a very scenic. We stopped for lunch beside the sea, looking across the Firth of Thames to the Coromandel Peninsula, reminding us of looking across the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, but also looking like the west coast of Scotland. After this, the land became very flat, until we reached Thames, at the southern end of the Coromandel. The drive up the Western side was very attractive, wooded hills coming down to the beach, separated by our road. At Tapu we took a road across the middle, through more Kauri trees. The road was unsurfaced and winding and we got into the clouds. We descended on the eastern side of the peninsula and made our way to Hot Water Beach, where there was a campsite, but also there were hot springs on the beach. The location was spectacular and beautiful – a bit 'west coast of Vancouver Island'ish. After parking, we walked onto the gorgeous sandy beach and sat in one of the "holes" dug by someone else. It was a strange sensation – sitting in the dusk (it was 6.00 pm) with a new moon above, a sand "wall" around us and feeling as though we were in a warm bath, the sea just inches away, lapping at us. There was a strange camaraderie amongst the people there. We alternated our "bath" with a splash in the rough waves – an effect a bit like a sauna. We came back and showered to wash off the sand and hope to repeat the experience in the morning, as it only "works" near low tide.
Wednesday 5th April 270km
Awoke to the rainforest sounds and looked out to an almost African sky beyond the pine trees. The clouds in the sky were tinged pink and there was a part rainbow in the sky. Later we saw more rainbows – one very flat in a valley. We watched some brightly coloured parrots and listen to the carroling of the magpies – we had forgotten their name (black and white, but totally different from our magpies). We found out from the warden – a strange lady who we didn't really take to. Soon after leaving, we stopped at the neighbouring visitors centre and saw lots about the Kauri trees. We drove south and were soon out of the Kauri forest and into far more open, pretty, hilly country. At Dargaville we drove up a hill to see the maritime museum, where there was somewhere to empty the chemical loo. We thought we'd stop here and make some tea/coffee to enjoy on the adjacent picnic table, but heavy rain showers prevented us from doing this and we had to resort to sitting inside with the last of our Pam's chocolate muesli bars (very good!). We drove into Dargaville in heavy rain and more torrential showers typified the day, but with warm sunshine in between. We continued south and stopped at Matakohe and visited the superb Kauri Museum there – so much to see that we did a "quick tour". A large party of school children was also visiting and we were pleased to see that children are children everywhere! They could have been English except that many were barefooted. We ate an enjoyable lunch (pie and cake) in the tea shop opposite, sitting overlooking pretty country. There had been a heavy shower while we were in the museum. We joined Highway 1 southwards, only for a few kilometres, retracing our outward journey. Through Wellsford and Warkworth (where we did a small shop) then down towards Auckland. We had hit the Auckland rush hour and it was very busy. We intended visiting Jeff's parents (he works with Adrian). After some difficulties we located the right area and then Adrian telephoned them. We soon found their house and then spent the evening with them. They, like their children, were widely travelled. After a short trip out by car, Peter cooked us an excellent meal, which we enjoyed with Cloudy Bay wine. After much chatting we were ready to retire to our campervan parked outside for the night.
Tuesday 4th April 216 km
We're still waking up early. We enjoyed seeing the sun rise, but it soon went into cloud. The day was then mixed, going from cloud to sun, with the odd of spot of rain. This afternoon we saw an intriguing half (or should I say quarter) rainbow. It was warm all day and sometimes hot in the sun. We left sometime after 8 o'clock and drove down to the beach, which looked quite beautiful. We wondered why we hadn't enthused over it more last night. We sopped up the atmosphere for some minutes before reluctantly leaving and retracing the 10 miles of unmade road back to the main road. This is where we picked up the campers / hitch hikers and dropped them at Mangonui, a very attractive waterside town and a past port for the Kauri trade. The Kauri tree dominates today's itinerary. We stopped just afterwards at Coopers Beach, an idyllic spot where numerous birds were "lined up" on the sandy beach. We stopped again at Taipa, where the primary school was beside the sea and we wondered if the children enjoyed it. We have decided not to make any of the "Ninety Mile Beach" trips, but did want to have a glimpse of the beach. After a slight detour, we did manage to get to the southern end of the beach. It was quite magnificent and made the more enjoyable as it was really warm and sunny. We paddled in the sea and found the pull of the waves really strong. Not wanting to leave, I made some tea / coffee which we enjoyed sitting in the sand dunes overlooking the beach. We met up with a German couple who had been on the boat trip with us yesterday. They were from Munich and quite chatty. We realised afterwards that they thought we were from New Zealand, but then we thought that they were with the party of Germans yesterday. We thought that we had better get going again, but just down the road came to a roadside "shop" selling gifts made from ancient Kauri wood. There were some wonderful tables etc. to see and also smaller things like bowls, but very expensive. We did buy a pot stand made of different strips of named of wood. A bit further on at Awanui, we went into a small store and bought butter, milk and rolls and also posted our cards. The butter was "Pam's butter" and we have been very much enjoying the "Pam's" purchases which we got on Sunday – the disposable plates, bowls and mugs were very reasonable and are of excellent quality. Soon after Kaitaia we stopped for lunch at a delightful spot in the Raetea Forest. We had turned just off the road and found a stream beside an area of grass, with woods behind. It was windy but warm and we sat at a rustic picnic table in this idyllic haven, once again having to tear ourselves away. We enjoyed seeing the Pampas grass again today, fringing the road with its plumes of various shades of white, green and pink, looking like giant versions of grasses I so enjoyed in Australia. At Mangamuka Bridge, we turned off onto a smaller road which took us to a ferry at Kohukohu to Rawene across a large inlet of water which reaches the sea at Hokianga Harbour. This was a very pretty area with huge hills of sand. We continued south to the Waipoua Forest, an area renowned for its Kauri trees and we stopped to view the largest living Kauri tree – possibly 2000 years old! The road through here was often unsurfaced, but there were also frequent roadworks – at one we had to wait about half an hour for them to clear the road. It was now getting quite late and campsites were rather known by their absence, but we did find one at the Forest Visitors Centre – devoid of people and unfortunately with nowhere to empty our chemical loo, which is full and in need of emptying! We had been playing our "rainforest" tape in the van, but we didn't need it tonight – the natural sounds of the forest sounded just like it.
Monday 3rd April 261 km (with yesterday)
Again we were awake early. We didn't take a photo last night, as it was rather cloudy. This morning it was clouded mist! We had decided to go on a boat trip to the Bay of Islands. We had breakfast and packed up (the joys of a campervan – nothing to do!) and left about 8.30 and drove down into Russell and purchased our tickets. We had parked initially in the bay for "Russell Mini Tours" and the lady driver of the mini tours van told us so, very nicely, as we have found that most New Zealanders do! With our 10% discount, it came to NZ$88 for 2 (£30). We waited at the end of the jetty for the catamaran. It had loaded up at Paihai and there was very little room for the 4 of us who embarked at Russell. The boat was on 3 levels with indoor and outdoor seating. We tried indoors, but found it too claustrophobic and bouncy and spent most of the time sitting at the rear of the ship. We passed several of the islands (about 150 altogether in the Bay of Islands). The Captain explained some of the history, but it was difficult to hear. The "big thing" about this trip, was going through the "hole in the rock" – a sort of Durdle Door set at the end of the many islands. The captain hummed and hahed, but we did go through it – it wasn't madly exciting, but we should have many photos! It had been pretty rough. The rest of the ship seemed almost exclusively "saga" holidays from Germany with Americans, New Zealanders and Japanese. The Germans were noticeable by their lack of politeness and friendliness! On our return stopped at Urupukapuka Island. This was a delightful spot and we enjoyed first tea /coffee with a "hole in the rock" muffin and a "Lamington", sitting by the shore. We only had just over an hour here, but long enough to walk up to a "lookout" and beyond. It was more beautiful than I can put into words – islands everywhere and an azure sea – a bit like the west coast of Scotland but warmer. The day had been pretty mixed, but was now warm and sunny for our return trip to Russell. The water was azure blue, and we saw dolphins swimming. It was now approaching 1 o'clock. We sorted out some money at the bank and then bought a filled "pitta bread" for lunch, which we enjoyed sitting on "The Strand" at the edge of the water. We were joined by numerous birds who wanted to share our lunch! Afterwards we visited the small, but packed with artefacts, museum – even Charles Darwin got in on the act and visited the local church! This area is steeped in early New Zealand history and is quite delightful and very attractive. What did Captain Cook think of it all, we wonder. Did he appreciate beauty, or just want to grab for land for England? It was about 2.30 when we finally left Russell – a place which will keep a place in our hearts and memories. After a short distance we came to the ferry northwards – the coast here is very indented. We came to Paihia – a very upmarket town full of hotels but still attractive to drive to and then to Waitangi where we saw the treaty house where in 1840 the treaty was signed between the Maori and the British. On northwards through pretty country, but the effects of the travel pills we took for the boat trip took their effect and we became extremely dozy and had to stop for a while. We then looked for a campsite and followed the unmade road to Taupo for about 10 miles! At one point we had to wait a while – they were upgrading the road and had blocked it with roadworks. When we finally got to Taupo, we found a not unpleasant site, but not on the beach and with not a lot to offer! The lady was pleasant enough and there was no turning back now – it was 5.30 (it gets dark soon after at 6 o'clock – a big disadvantage). We parked the van and walked to the nearby cove before returning for showers and to cook supper. We are the only people here except for two hikers – from England discovered when we gave them a lift tomorrow. I wrote our first postcards before we collapsed asleep again.
Sunday, 2nd April
We awoke around 4.00 am and then dozed until 6 o'clock, when it was just beginning to get light. For the next hour or so we watched the changing light from our window. The huge plus on this van is the huge back window and windows at the side, so from our bed we can enjoy the beauty of outside. We watched as the mist came up and then slowly cleared. The beauty was indescribable and the reason for us enjoying this type of holiday. Having not turned the gas on from outside, I managed to make a cup of tea using the microwave. The van is minimally equipped – just 2 cups, glasses, knives, forks, spoons etc – nothing extra at all and nothing like hooks for hanging. We decided that it must actually be new, although the mileometer says otherwise. Elsewhere we will make a list of good / bad ideas for future reference. I cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs (one thing we will really miss in the van is that there is no toaster or grill or oven), then we finished our tea / coffee sitting beside the water. The tide was now right in and we had a pleasant swim in the still water, followed by a shower. We had had a lovely stop for our first night. We left the site drove and down to the surfing beach at Mangawhai Head, where we had a lovely walk along the beach in the sunshine. Being Sunday, there were quite a few families enjoying the beach. We stopped again a bit further north at Langs Beach, where again we had a walk. The sky was beginning to look a bit erratic and at one point later we had a downpour for about one minute. By the state of the road in many places, we could imagine what it was like the couple of days before we arrived, as there was much evidence of landslides, and sand / soil covered the road in many places. Just before Whangarei we came to a fairly large supermarket which was open (on a Sunday) so we were able to buy many of the things which we needed, including disposable plates and bowls at a very reasonable prices and 4 large glasses for £1. We drove through Whangarei – we were now late for lunch and stopped soon afterwards at Whangarei Falls and ate our lunch there before viewing the falls. On again northwards, but we fairly soon took a road right – very quiet and pleasant with no other traffic. The road was unsurfaced for much of the way through Russell Forest, with many Kauri pines and eventually to Russell. Here we stopped at "Russell Holiday Park"– the names here don't have the same meaning as they would at home! I came over incredibly tired, so Adrian cooked supper of steak, potatoes and peas. After this I woke up a bit and being a lovely evening we decided to walk down into Russell. It certainly is a delightful place. It is one of the earliest places to be settled by Europeans and in the past had a reputation as a "hell hole", where brawls, drunkenness, and debauchery were the order of the day. Now it is just a delightful place beside the water. We returned early for bed.
Saturday 1st April Auckland airport is rather reminiscent of Adelaide. It's the size of airport that I can cope with! We arrived at 6.00 am. It was still dark. By 6.30 we were through customs and wondering what to do, as we saw no one to collect us and had no phone number to ring. We bought a phone card and telephoned home and spoke to Emma. She asked us what the weather was like and at that stage we didn't know. Two seconds later we walked to the entrance and felt the warmth and humidity. We found out later that it had rained heavily for two days, but for now it felt lovely. We look out to tropical vegetation and lots of the "upside down" trees which he first noticed in Portugal. Next to the entrance was a McDonald's – although I fancied a Cup of coffee, I wasn't starting my holiday in New Zealand there! We walked towards the arrivals area and found another small cafe – not a lot better, but I enjoyed my coffee! Still only 7.00 am, we wandered outside, wondering what to do. We decided to ring Maui to find out what we were supposed to do – the person Adrian got through was the representative just inside the airport, in an area we had missed as it had a no entry sign. It was 7.15 and the courtesy coach had just left, the next was 7.45. At least now we knew what to do and after picking up dozens of leaflets from the tourist information, went and waited in the warmth outside. We were taken the short distance to Leisureport, where we were duly linked up with "our" van. In fact, it wasn't the one we had booked, but another, with a special offer – for $10 a day more, this one had a loo and shower. We said yes and were shown over the van. We loaded up our luggage and were off. First stop was to buy some food. Supermarkets aren't quite the thing they are in England or France. Fruit and veggie shops everywhere. We stopped at the nearest "store" and bought enough food to start us off. Certain things – like coffee – seemed expensive and there wasn't a great deal of selection. We set off northwards. The scenery was wonderful, but the road busier here than I had expected. Signposting was very bad – no advanced signs and the maps we had didn't help and we had no idea of the scale. We seemed to do a bit of a tour going nowhere, but it was pretty anyway. We stopped and bought some rolls and buns for lunch and ate these at a picnic site which reminded us of being in Australia near Buderim, looking out over lush vegetation. After Helensville we continued north to Wellsford and from here down to the coast at Mangawhai. The similarity of place names was another difficulty we had to cope with, but when we arrived at the "Hideaway" site all our problems vanished! At first the site made us think of the golf course one on Vancouver Island but the lady here was certainly more pleasant – in fact everyone has been very nice. As we went to "pitch" our van and were wondering about the length of our cable for electricity, a man (presumably the owner of the site), called over, "can I help" and suggested we stayed by the water and he'd fetch a longer cable. It was so beautiful looking out across a narrow stretch of water to green trees and hills beyond, that we decided to go for a walk in the warm sunshine. It was now about 4 o'clock. The sand/mud was very splodgy underfoot – a mud bath must be good for the feet! Memories again – this was a bit like the Teign Estuary. We walked quite a distance, but the tide was coming in and we thought we had a better return. Back at the campsite a group of campers were sitting around and called out for us to join them. We probably would have done, but were now so weary, that we had a shower and then tried to "organise" the van, which looked like a bomb had dropped, as we had dumped our luggage and food and not found homes for anything. In fact finding a home for things proved difficult, as we discover how little space there actually was and my suitcase wouldn't fit anywhere – something I had thought of that home, but we didn't think would be a problem. We sorted as much as we could and then, too tired even to eat, collapsed into bed!
Thursday 30th – Friday 31st March 1995
As usual, a very busy approach to our holiday, being the end of term for me – I even managed to get to the final performance of "The Pirates of Penzance" at school and we both attended the 'do' afterwards to say goodbye to Jane and Polly at school. Adrian had spent the last day chasing around and buying a new video camera, having had the other one seen to, but thinking (incorrectly) that it still wasn't working properly. Thursday dawned bright and sunny, (after a frost) – two days earlier we have had a lot of snow! The morning disappeared fast and soon it was midday and Thomas was home to have a sandwich with us and then drive us to Reading where we were to catch the Railair link coach. The day had now become cloudy with a chilly wind as we stood waiting for the coach. We were glad of our new fleece jackets. When we arrived at Heathrow we were rather dismayed to find an enormously long queue for Air New Zealand – all the way here and back again. This was due to an earlier breakdown of the computer! We took our place in the queue and by the time we were through everything, there was no time to 'waste' looking in the shops – we had a quick look around "Past Times", then off to our plane, which after the confusion took off about an hour late at 6.00 pm We went straight into cloud, and soon afterwards into darkness and almost the whole 24 hours of our flight was in darkness or so it seemed. We soon settled down to a drink and then dinner, then slept more than we expected and were soon approaching Los Angeles. Just beforehand we passed the amazing sight of Las Vegas – an oasis of lights in the darkness and the way I would like to remember it. Our 'travelling companion' had been a very pleasant middle aged lady, born in Scotland but at present living in Germany with her American husband. She was returning to Los Angeles for the funeral of her aged grandmother in law. At Los Angeles we had an hour so to spend in the exciting transit lounge along with many others. The local time was 7.00 pm. To us it was now 3.00 in the morning. We had been served breakfast before leaving the plane – strange at 2.00 am! We were glad to be able to get a free cold drink while waiting. Soon we we were back on the plane for the never ending night. I watched a rather superficial film called "Muriel's Wedding" while Adrian slept. He had watched a couple of films on the previous flight, including a Thirties black and white version of "Little women". Our seats were in the worst possible place for the screen, being level with one screen and a great distance from the other one and unable to see it over the seats in front. Time did drag for the last few hours, particularly not being able to move around. Our feet were incredibly swollen – when I looked at my ankles later, the ankle bone looked like a red mosquito bite slightly protruding from swelling! The veins in my hands were enlarged too and my palm, at the base of my thumb, had turned blue. Breakfast was very welcome, although there was a slight disaster with the carton of maple syrup which we didn't use and which got squashed and leaked out over a lot of things later. Having crossed the dateline we found that it was now in fact Saturday, so I shall continue today as the 1st April.
New Zealand – first impressions – differences – similarities Tropical shrubs in bright colours – red, yellow, mauve. Bottlebrush trees.
Bad road signs – other signs e.g. rest area – not specific.
Lot of traffic around Auckland. Bad driving – pulling out.
All low cabin type housing.
"Upside down" trees (Norfolk Pines). Agapanthus. Morning Glory. Datura.
Aloe everywhere and Pampas grass.
"Unmade" roads – sometimes just short stretches.
Lack of supermarkets. Lots of fruit/veg shops.
Lots of birds of prey.
Lots of old cars (60's).
Signs on road written Way Give.
No exit for No through road.
Lovely children's playgrounds.
Chocolate and coffee expensive.
Lots of flower nurseries.
Situations with Maoris – not integrated.
Dislike of Asians – particularly Japanese.
Low level shopping precincts like Australia.
'Superette' for small supermarket.
Zebra crossings still.
"The main" for area.
"Bluff" for hill.
"Judder bar is" for ramps.
Single lane bridges.
Toll free (freephone).
"Creamed" (set) honey.
"Slips" for slip of earth, landslide.
Line Up – queue.
Very few crash barriers.
Walking tracks, but no footpaths (called walkways).