Contact Lens Hunts And Other Meanderings
Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
74Trip End Oct 22, 2004
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Before leaving Gisborne, we stopped by the monument signifying Cook's first landing on New Zealand soil, though sadly not a statue of the man himself, more a pointy war memorial style obelisk.
Our route took us north along the Pacific Coast Highway towards East Cape, the country's most easterly point, and up to the town of Te Araroa. A veil of drizzle kept us company for most of the way as we negotiated the usual taxing roads that were made all the more tricky with the onslaught of logging trucks meeting us face-to-face on tight bends.
After a quick lunch in Te Araroa the road took a sharp left westwards along a clinging coastal road through little Maori townships with views out to sea of the volcanic White Island.
400km of monotonously striking panoramas later, we arrived in the little town of Ohope Beach just down the road from its big brother, Whakatane. Our site for tonight was at the end of a long peninsula and after bagging a place we headed along the coast into Whakatane, and as is the case in most Kiwi towns at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon everything was shut, with everyone seemingly at home watching rugby on TV.
As usual the supermarket was the only thing open so we headed on in for raw meat to barbify and to indulge in an international eggstravaganza of Scotch and curried eggs, and back at the site we barbied in darkness to the sound of the waves.
We shall call today 'The Day of the Internet'.
Abject drizzly weather forced us into the cosy confines of an internet café in Whakatane for an hour and a half, vainly trying to find a large room in a nice New York City neighbourhood for £100 a night
The weather worsened still as we neared Rotorua for our third visit to this sulphur-scented city; we just can't keep away from the fumes of rotten eggs for some reason. The idea was to stop off for coffee before heading further south to Mount Ruapehu for another couple of days skiing at Whakapapa, the ski field where it all started for us. But the weather was having other ideas and the forecast wasn't looking good for the next few days so we were resigned to the fact that we'd have to put down roots in Rotorua for a while.
We liked Rotorua so this was no bad thing and it gave us a chance to do some shopping in readiness for our forthcoming month in the South Pacific, and also to really hit the Internet hard to research accommodation options for the Big Apple.
We spent a good two hours in an Internet café and had managed to whittle down our list of 63 possible hotels to 61. It was proving a more difficult proposition than fitting and removing snow chains.
We then found a really nice holiday park a stone's throw from town to rest our weary world wide webbed eyes and to prepare ourselves for another onslaught on the NYC hotel scene the following day
The 'Day of the Internet' was finally over.
We woke to a murky wet day and headed into town ready to face our NYC crisis head-on. Our first tactic was to raise our stakes from $175 a night to a whopping $300 and that seemed to do the trick. It was, after all, our final week away so a drastically plastically splurge of the credit kind was called for, and after poring through pages from www.tripadvisor.com all recommendations pointed towards 'The Muse Hotel' just off Times Square for six nights of pure unadulterated New Yoikiness. Hey, what's two thousand buckeroonies when you're in the city that never sleeps? Gedouttahere already.
After a day's shopping and a delicious beef and Guinness pie in nice restaurant called 'Capers' we put into action our standard wet weather plan and headed for the local flicks. The depressing weather called for a funny film and we found it in 'Dodgeball', a good underdog story with Mr Stiller on good form.
We'd have to stay another night in Rotorua as a 3-month batch of contact lenses was winging its way to me from Auckland and were going to be ready to pick up the following morning (I bet you really wanted to know that? But it's actually an important point in the storyline I'll have you know), anyway, for a change, we drove down to the Blue Lakes under a deluge to book into the Blue Lake Caravan Park for the night where we packed boxes full of woolies and accumulated tat, er, mementoes ready to send home. With the skies looking as though they weren't going to let up with the soaking, Fiji couldn't come quickly enough.
We left the Blue Lakes and excitedly rushed into town to pick up some new contact lenses, only to find out that they were still somewhere over the Tasman Sea as they were in fact coming all the way from Australia (I told you there was a point to all this), so after making the optician swear on her holy eyesight wall chart that they'd be here the following morning we set off into town again for another wander. Disposable contact lens stories don't come much more riveting than this.
We'd actually seen all that was worth seeing around Rotorua so another day of coffee-shopping-lunch-shopping-coffee was called for, before retiring to our digs up the road to pack even more big boxes to send back to Blighty.
It had been a funny old time-wasting kind of day but it did end on a high note with a hugemongous bowl of sausage casserole, a real life-saver if ever there was one.
The enthralling tale of the mysterious disappearance of the box of contact lenses was finally solved this morning as I finally got my hands on 180 fresh little eyeball replacements. You can all sleep easily again.
We then staggered into the town's Post Office carrying three big boxes, each one the size of a lucky little boy's Christmas present, and unlike Singapore and Australia who offered sea-mail options, New Zealand only used air-mail to the UK. This forced our little flexible friend from its walleted safe haven once more, just as it was recovering from an attempted homicide at the hands of New York's cut-throat hotel business. Our quivering wreck of a credit card was swiped with no mercy once again, reeling from its misuse with a receipt for NZ$450! Jesus, Joseph and Mary, we could have had a night in a flea-ridden hovel in Harlem for that.
After exchanging some Kiwi Dollars for Fijian Dollars, we left Rotorua for the third and final time, savouring for the last time its choking fragrance of a million stale egg-salads.
A 200km trip along roads we'd travelled along before led us to State Highway 2 where we picked up the Pacific Coast Highway again to snake our way to Orere Point, and to our final caravan park in New Zealand. And we thought this day would never come.
It was just a shame our last caravan park was a total dump, with ancient showers and a mad boy in white wellies who wandered the park while practicing different ways of emptying the contents of his mouth with varying degrees of success. At one stage he even knocked on our door to see if we had a spare box of matches to give him, which would have been a bit like asking Sven Goran Ericsson to give your daughter a job as his secretary. Very dangerous indeed.
At one stage an American couple paid for the night, pulled up next to us, had a quick look around before jumping back into their van to speed off into the distance, never to be seen again. We held fast and spent the day forlornly packing our rucsacs in readiness for our next chapter on the road.
After Spring cleaning the van in readiness to hand it back, we set off on the hours drive to Auckland, and with Soph at the controls and me at the A-Z we found our way to the oh-so trendy suburb of Ponsonby. I wonder if they looked at the locals before deciding on that name?
We found a little café on the high street and tried to mingle in with the dark-shaded, stubbly-chinned, skin-headed, baggy-trousered urbanites of West Auckland.
Hang on a trendy minute, did that description fit me?
After a nice poached egg breakfast we took to the designer streets of Ponsonby and spent a good hour peering through expensive shop windows without the audacity to actually walk in due to our backpacker attire. Soph could have done serious damage to three square inches of plastic here, but ours was sadly still in shock and considering rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic, but sadly he didn't have the credit available.
Soon the Auckland rains came and chased us back into the van for the remaining trip north over the harbour bridge and back to Kea Campers. Once at Kea we traded in over 500 litres of BP diesel receipts for a bumper glossy book of Kiwi scenery and bid an emotional farewell to our home of 53 days before jumping in the back of a courtesy van to take us back over the harbour bridge to a hotel near the airport.
The Oakwood Manor hotel was a mock Tudor mess ten minutes from the airport but it was a whole lot cheaper than the Jet Inn up the road and included breakfast. Our free upgrade to a business suite turned out to mean just an extra square foot of floor space and a pizza ordered via room service turned up two hours later due to a forgetful chef. Our pizza was later waived from the bill due to the mix-up but Oakwood Manor was a funny old set-up all in all.
After 10 weeks and 11,580km on the road our visit to New Zealand was nearly over. The South Island was stunning (when it wasn't raining) with highlights being skiing at Cardrona, cruising the Milford Sound, eating Bluff oysters, hiking the Franz Josef Glacier, seal-watching in Kaikoura, mountain biking in the Marlborough Sounds and jet boating on the Shotover River.
The North Island too had its fair share of the action with the standouts being sand-tobogganing on Ninety-Mile Beach, tearing through the Bay of Islands on a speedboat, getting all steamed up in Rotorua, exploring Wellington, watching the All Blacks in Auckland and learning to ski at Whakapapa.
And places that came under the bracket 'We Could Live Here' were Wellington, Nelson, Wanaka and any vineyard.
New Zealand may not have the all-star, singing, dancing attractions of Australia, but what you do get is a complete bite-sized package of jaw-droppers without the need to travel for days on end to see them.
We L-O-V-E-D, LOVED New Zealand, it never failed to surprise us, unlike Australia which only lived up to expectations, very good expectations mind, but New Zealand kept us constantly agog. It may be a day long flight away for most people and a whole lot more expensive than the Costa del Sol, but that's no excuse, you get yourselves here NOW.
Words cannot sum up New Zealand; instead I'll leave it there while we go off to complete our emigration paperwork. I think that says it all.
Next up: The South Pacific for a month of relaxation after 22 weeks covering the length and breadth of Australasia . . .
The Cape Crusaders