Auckland and the Northlands

Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
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Trip End Jun 27, 2008


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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Our final week in NZ was soon upon us, so the decision was made to spend that time in Auckland and exploring the Northlands (the area north of Auckland right up to Cape Reinga, the most northerly point in NZ).

First stop Auckland and a fun packed weekend with Victoria (of Victoria and Miriam fame) and her fella Grant. The bus from Tongariro to Auckland was very late arriving but as we had arranged to meet V&G in the pub, we knew there wouldn't be too much complaining on their behalf.  After a few drinks, and a catch up, we headed over to V's place in Newmarket, which was absolutely stunning.  It was very nice to be staying in a proper house, and not be sharing the bathroom with twenty others or running the risk of a bad nights sleep.

Our first full day there was a Friday so unfortunately V&G had to go to work, so Nic and I spent the day meandering around Auckland, taking in the sights and asking around about hiring a campervan for the following week.
Campervan sourced, first sight was the formidable Sky Tower.  As with most of the towers in major cities you can go up, have a nosey around and take in the view of the city.  However, this being NZ, there is an element of 'extremeness'.  First thing, glass bottom lift that shoots you up to the top.  Nice to see 50 floors of lift shaft whizzing below you into a chasm of darkness.  Next, walking around the edge of the tower......on the outside.  Yup, as well as the option to be in the safety of the tower, behind solid glass (my preferred method), there is the option to walk on the edge outside.  No thank you.  Finally, and most scarily, is the jumping from the tower option.  Strapped to a series of wire ropes, you are flung down the tower to the floor.  No thank you again - but thanks for asking.  It was at this moment of watching idiots - I mean brave souls - hurtle at 400 miles an hour to the floor that I realised my adrenalin days are behind me.  I'll stick to activities on the ground thank you very much.

Saturday and the chance to spend the day with V&G.  After a very relaxing start we caught the ferry to Davenport and enjoyed brunch and coffee in this very nice, and very relaxed part of town.  However, it was soon back to Auckland proper as the Super 14 rugby semi's were on and it was a North island verses South island rival game.  Grant is a proud south islander and some of V's friends were visiting from the south so we had plenty of inter island rivalry in our group as there were plenty of northerners too.  Earlier that day, Grant had talked me into having a wee bet on the game and knowing nothing about rugby I decided to have a ridiculously stupid bet that in horsing terms would be the equivalent of backing a three legged blind horse that could only run backwards.  Needless to say, my bet came to nothing and I went home empty handed.  However, one week later and the final, I had a much more calculated bet (involving a pin, a list and my eyes closed) and I won!! Yep, second  time I have bet in 10 years and I won.  $5 bet won me $110.  Nice.

Sunday was spent recovering from the previous night's celebrations (the south island team won by the way) and a nice Sunday home cooked dinner was prepared and served by Nic.  Yum!!
The weekend went by far too quickly - as is always the case when you are with good company and having fun - and it was soon Monday morning.  Which unfortunately, for V&G meant work, but for N&P it meant another road trip. We did try and get V&G to throw a sickie for the week but they were very grown up and went off to work. 

First stop on the road trip, Matamata.  Not strictly in the Northlands as it's to the east of Auckland but we couldn't come to NZ and not go to Matamata.  Why? I hear you enquire.  Well, it happens to be the home of the hobbits - Hobbiton no less from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  We turned up just in time for the last, and very very very overpriced tour of the day.  Our guide (who looked a lot like a Hobbit funnily enough) guided us to the farm where it was filmed and gave us some very interesting insights.  You get all the behind the scenes info on what went on, what camera tricks were used and you also get to understand just how much of a perfectionist Peter Jackson (LOTR director) is. Some of the things our guide told us, beggars belief.  Things like, leaves being imported from Taiwan and hand tied to trees.  Things like the great Oak tree that is behind Bilbo Baggins house and what effort was made to get that just right.  And finally the security that was in place to keep the location a secret.  It made for an interesting trip.

After the tour, it was time to make our way north and head for Russel, gateway to the Bay of Islands, via the scenic route - which was very scenic.  First job, book a cruise for the next morning with the option to swim with dolphins should they be in town.  The cruise left first thing in the morning and set off around the B of I.   It is alleged that if they were a few kilometres north and therefore had better climate, then they would rival the Whitsunday Islands.  They were pretty beautiful to us and we enjoyed the morning cruise around.  Unfortunately, the dolphins were out of town so we didn't get the chance to swim, which judging by the cold weather it was probably a blessing in disguise.

After the cruise it was a drive up to Cape Reinga and the most northernly point of NZ.  It was a fairly decent drive for the first part and then it was a hard slog for the last couple of hours on a dirt track.  However, once we got there, it was definitely worth it.  To be stood on the extremity of any country is a great feeling, whether it's the highest, lowest, most easterly, whatever.  At Cape Reinga you look over to where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide.  It was pretty cool to be stood at one of the most westerly points of the Pacific, knowing that in a couple of days we would be in San Francisco and at the easterly end of the Pacific. 

The hunt for a campsite, and a place to eat was not so pleasurable as everything in that area seemed to be shut as winter season kicked in, and it was now after 6pm.  But we soon found a place and got settled in for the night.

Friday was spent heading back towards Auckland with a stop off at the To Waipoua Forest to see Tane Mahuta (aka the largest kauri tree) which is over 2000 years old - it was pretty darn impressive.  We also took a diversion to 90 mile beach and took a drive down to the beach - it is permitted to do this.  Unfortunately, a Chinese family followed suit but went into the deep sand and got stuck.  The rest of the morning was spent digging them out!!

Our final day of the final road trip was to end at Mahurangi, about an hour north of Auckland, where V's folks have a weekend home.  We had arranged to meet V&G at a buzzing little place called Matakana.  This town was absolutely alive, with lots happening.  One of the first people we saw was Daniel Beddingfield (popstar from a few years ago - brother of Natasha Beddingfield).  We then saw a group of approximately 30, sixty-somethings all dressed as school girls!! Anyway, it got better - there was a very very nice farmers market and there we bumped into Angus, the guy who gave us a lift from Mount Cook to Clyde for the bike ride.  Fairly coincidental that we should bump into the only person we know in NZ (other than V&G).  We spent a couple of hours at Matakata then headed over to V's folk 'bach' (as they call weekend homes) which was very nice.  We enjoyed a tasty home cooked meal, a couple of bottles of wine and settled in for the rugby (which as you now know I won a bet on).  An early night was in order as the next day would involve a trip back in time as we flew from Auckland to San Francisco and therefore crossed the international date line!!!
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