Chapter 2 - Auckland, Cape Reinga & Bay of Islands
05/06 Feb 2013
We did not want to get up at 05.00 hrs, but had no choice as our pickup to get to the airport was at 07.10 hrs! Very full flight on our Airbus A380-800, so full in fact that Joy and Michael were bumped off the flight and had to take another one later. Very understandably, they were not pleased!
A long flight to Melbourne, not helped when Mike found that he had an elderly man sitting next to him who was very deaf and appeared to have the early stages of dementia which meant he kept repeating himself over and over again VERY loudly! The man in the seat in front of us was also a problem as he appeared either to be drunk or high on drugs - the cabin crew were aware but felt it was better to leave well alone unless he became aggressive, although we felt very sorry for the two people sitting in the same row who had to put up with him for the twelve and a half hour flight. They requested to be moved for the flight to Auckland for which I couldn't blame them! Even though the thought of a further three and a half hour flight sitting next to our elderly gentleman gave me a sinking feeling I couldn't let poor Mike be subjected to him again so I nobly volunteered to swap seats so Mike could have some peace and quiet. Actually he was quite a sweet old chap, who just happened to be stone deaf, spoke at megadecibels pitch and repeated himself endlessly! He was actually a retired hunter who was Austrian by birth but had spent the last forty-eight years living in Harare, and was going to New Zealand to see his son and grandchildren. I think the whole plane also knew this by the time we got to Auckland!
We eventually arrived at Auckland, very tired having had no sleep whatsoever, I had a raging headache. We were greeted by a very cheerful Kiwi driver who sent us off for a coffee whilst a few others arrived on another flight. He eventually drove us to our hotel.
Much to our amazement, Joy and Michael had already arrived! They had been re-routed via Sydney. No hope of any sleep as within the hour we had a date to meet our tour leader and the rest of the group, who all seemed very pleasant apart from one lady who arrived with a face like thunder and spent the rest of the evening complaining! Maxine (Maxi), our tour leader, had been with the company for the last twenty five years and had obviously seen it all before and soon sorted her out and the atmosphere became much warmer!
07 Feb 2013
Gorgeous next day! Bags had to be outside the room by 7.00 am, which meant getting up at 5.30 am. Into the coach at 8.00 am for our first day, the jet lag was not good. Great driver, Paul, a Kiwi of Welsh descent who had a 'Tommy Cooper' sense of humour and entertained us with great stories, some of them tongue in cheek methinks! We stopped for refreshment, and visited a Kauri Museum which contained an amazing collection of Kauri timber in all guises, furniture, replicas of machines used in the Industrial Age, and old carpentry and farming equipment. My father would have been in his element! Kauri tree timber was used for hundreds of years first by the Maori and then by the European settlers. Some of the trees have been dug out of bogs, I think the oldest was dated at over 40,000 years in age, the wood of these ancient trees was found to be still workable and in good condition. The trees grow very slowly and are like a hardwood pine. They also produce a gum which looks like amber, and we saw some samples of solidified gum with spiders and insects trapped inside, all beautifully preserved.
We then were driven to the Waipoua Forest to see ancient Kauri trees still growing. We met up with our Maori guide, Bill ??? (something unpronounceable), who took us to see the mighty 'Tane Mahuta' Kauri tree, thought to be at least 1,500 years old. This tree is very sacred to the Maori people and he sang several songs as prayers to 'Tane Mahuta' during the tour as well as regaling us with lots of tales of Maori culture - all very interesting. The day finished with us arriving at Omapere and our hotel which was set on the shores of Hokianga Harbour, believed to be where Maori voyagers made first landfall hundreds of years ago. After a quick shower we had a delicious dinner accompanied by a lady serenading us with Maori songs. Probably very touristy but still really entertaining and enjoyable!
08 Feb 2013
Another early start next day but at least it was another sunny one! The trusty Paul drove us to Paihia in the Bay of Islands, where we picked up Lenna, our Maori guide for the morning. Lenna talked us through the history of this area followed by a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where in 1840 the founding document of New Zealand as a nation was signed by the first governor and an assembly of Maori chiefs. There is still a lot of dissent about this treaty, the Maoris feel this has not been adhered to and the general feeling is that this dissent will continue for a long while to come.
Lenna also took us to a Maori 'marae' which was a beautifully carved building painted in traditional style. We were treated to a demonstration of the traditional 'Haka', a truly terrifying spectacle. Those men were huge!
We had about an hour to have lunch before our afternoon cruise. Mike had discovered that his Canon camera battery charger, which had been in a plastic box with all his plugs and electrical stuff in his suitcase, was broken, probably happened when his case was damaged during our trip from Birmingham. We thought it was unlikely that we would be able to find a replacement as the town of Paihia was quite small, but amazingly there was a small camera shop. Lo and behold, we found a suitable replacement charger!
During the same shopping spree Mike also found a decent pair of leather sandals and I bought a very nice sun hat - a very successful, and probably the quickest ever, shopping expedition! We just had time for a quick, enormous, sandwich and then met up with the rest of the group to board a boat to cruise across the Bay of Islands. This was a lovely trip gently motoring around the very beautiful bay to the Cape Brett Lighthouse and the famous Hole in the Rock, which on a calm day we were told the boat could sail through. It had become pretty choppy with a strong breeze so discretion being the better part of valour the decision was made by the captain to stand off. The sun was very strong and although we both had sunscreen on we were very red on our return, we weren't the only ones. Paul then took us to our next hotel which was to be our home for the next three nights, in Paihia. Our room was facing the sea with a wonderful view, the scenery was gorgeous. Paul then left us, to return to Auckland for the weekend. He would be back to pick us up at the end of our stay in the Bay of Islands.
09 Feb 2013
A long next day. We left at 9.00 am on a different, specially adapted, coach and travelled to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand, where we walked down to see the magnificent lighthouse and saw where the waters of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. We really could see a very distinct boundary in the water where the two oceans met. Again this is a place of deep spiritual significance to the Maori people and our Maori coach driver, Hughie, told us lots of stories and sang Maori songs to us on the long drive. Unfortunately it was very difficult to hear a lot of what he was saying as it sounded like an announcement on British Rail - I got one word in ten - making it very difficult to hear a lot of the facts he was sharing. The highlight of the drive was when the coach drove at high speed along the sands of Ninety Mile Beach, which is actually about sixty eight miles in length. We sped along the beach for fifty two miles, driving at up to 70 kilometers an hour, deftly avoiding the soggy bits, racing other coaches and stopping a couple of times for us to take photos. The coach sped past one spot where people were sand-boarding down the high sand dunes! It was quite an experience! Eventually we returned to the hotel around 6.00 pm, very tired but my day was not finished as I had a date with the washing machine - the first time we had had the opportunity to do any washing. It did not go smoothly and without boring you took the entire evening, which meant it was too late to have any supper. However, we had eaten so well up to now that we weren't too hungry - a drink at the bar was sufficient!
10 Feb 2013
We both had the best night's sleep of the trip so far! Next day was our first 'Scenic Choice' activity day. The whole group had chosen to go on 'Darryl's Lunch Cruise', which turned out to be a very good choice. The boat cruised slowly around the bay where the scenery was fabulous, and we then had an excellent lunch of roast lamb (me) and venison (Mike) with potatoes, sweet potatoes and delicious salad, with wine/beer etc. I have decided to abstain from wine for the present as the weather is pretty hot and my whole body seems to swell up in the heat, this is not helped by the dehydrating effect of the wine, so water it was. As a bit of fun we were each asked to tell the others a bit about ourselves whilst wearing a sailor's hat and silly glasses!
The boat dropped us off at a small town called Russell which had a very interesting history associated with the original settlers. It was a pretty and quaint little town and we spent about three hours there, including visiting Pompallier House which was a Catholic Mission in the nineteenth century. The Catholic Parson who initially lived in the house acquired a printing press which he used to print religious books translated into the Maori language. These he distributed free to the Maori people and also set up a tanning facility in the house to provide the leather to cover the books. The printing press and book binding machinery were well preserved and in excellent working order, as demonstrated very ably by our enthusiastic Maori guide Helen!
We took the ferry back from Russell to Paihia and walked back to our hotel along the pretty bay back to the hotel, where I spent a couple of hours writing up my diary as there had been no time at all until then to do anything! Eventually I was dragged away by Mike to have a fairly late supper. We walked a short distance from the hotel across a bridge to a berthed sailing ship which had been converted into a fish restaurant called 'Shippey's'. We had the best fish and chips we had both ever had, absolutely delicious! We were very lucky getting a table as it was so busy; there was a really good singer guitarist playing live with a girl bass guitarist. It also turned out to be a jam session with one young man coming up to nervously play bass guitar and several ancient hippies with dreadlocks, beards and 'Roy Wood' clothes playing bongos. A good evening!
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