My first full day anywhere this week. The hostel is full of seasonal workers, I was warned at least twice by the owner that it would be noisy and the kitchen dirty, though I didn’t notice anything too bad. The upside of evening noise, though, is total morning quiet. After 7 or so, when most people went to work, there was nothing. I was in a lovely little room at the quiet end of the building, one South American who came and went and one twit who watched Pulp Fiction on his laptop till midnight without the sociability of headphones. They had the single end-to-end beds, but I was happy in my lower bunk next to the window at the other end of a long thin room. Twit had left for good about 6, the other gone by 7 and I lounged.
Another bright and sunny day. Gisborne is not quite the furthest eastern point of NZ, but the first city to greet the sun, and it had certainly done so today. I wandered out into the sun, stopping at Countdown for supplies.
You get longer than 30 seconds to pick up your groceries at their supermarkets.
The cashier was thrilled that I was in town for a day, and turned herself into a tourist information officer, advising me of places to go. I wanted to climb Mt Kitai, which was the other side of the river. I was less convinced it would be enough exercise when my new guide pointed out that her colleague did the walk every day – she smiled beautifully, but wasn’t the smallest lady. Nonetheless, I walked from town to the hill, up and over the top, via a bit of a sit on the beach. From the lookout I could watch the industry below – a big ship I had seen from the beach was being loaded with logs, truck after truck appearing, having its load taken off by cranes and being replaced by another truck. There was a huge stock of logs, these were big trucks; all were dwarfed by the size of the ship.
Captain Cook came here, unfortunately shot a few locals, confused by their greeting, and departed without essential stores, naming the place Poverty Bay as a result. To his credit he was full of regret at having killed anyone, and the locals are happy to have statues of him. Two, in fact, one up the hill and one in the bay, which is near that of the lookout, Young Nick, who first spotted the land. The statue on the hill was copied from another statue found and assumed to be Cook, but it wasn’t. The plaque says, “Who was he? We have no idea!”
I had lunch in town then hit the library for some Internet time. Although wifi in NZ is often expensive, most libraries offer free wifi access. Some only allow access to cardholders – the Bay of Plenty seemed to apply that stricture – but Auckland, Northland and Gisborne have all been on the freebie. I booked a couple of trains in the US, travelling down the west coast and across to the Grand Canyon, before calling it quits for the day, wandering through Gisborne, along the sea front and back to the hostel for a quiet evening.
Another day, another place. The bus ride was under two hours and I walked through town, past the city centre backpackers, just beyond a retail park and into the edge of the suburbs, just far enough in to feel quiet and out of town and arrived at the Funky Green Voyager. So far New Zealand has been similar to my Ireland trip in two vital ways – beautiful scenery and a commitment to independent hostels that has taken me to slightly out of the way places. I arrived with no agenda, but Maori culture and/or geothermal sights are what people come here for, and Anya gave me a quick rundown on the tours available. Well, sod it, why not, for three reasons;
In Paihia, my German room and tourmate had said of the local treaty grounds ‘I did not do ze cultural performance because I knew about zat’ and I figured it was my turn to have that feeling.
Going to a Maori performance in the evening gave me the rest of the day to meander whilst knowing I was doing ‘a thing’ later.
The geothermal park involved a tour in the morning, returning about 1pm and my bus to Gisborne left just after 2pm.
Those three were the mechanistic, efficient, reasons that pleased me, beyond the ‘want to see new Zealand’ ones. In doing those I ducked the main local Maori sight, that the cruise ships apparently head for, and the smaller village that is walking distance from funky land. I spent the day in Rotoroa, which I thought charming, all shops and businesses of one or two stories and covered walkways, with the ‘dining area’ almost on the banks of the lake. There are plenty of options for getting on to and over the lake, all from one hub-take your pick from speedboat, seaplane and helicopter. I saw people heading for the plane and waited around to see it take off, but it just taxied across the water. After 15 minutes it was halfway across and I wasn’t waiting just to see if it took off at that distance.
Another bright sunny day. The small group I was in was picked up by the Mitai village bus at 5.45, taken to the village for an evening of multi lingual greetings. The idea was that we were assembling a tribe of many nations and I think he found 21 by the end, only Curasol had him stumped for a native greeting. We went into the forest, past an astonishingly clear pool with bubbling geothermal base, for the warriors to canoe past, they sunk the canoe and waddled into the reconstructed village, where we joined them for chiefs’ greetings, call and response Maori language lessons and songs. Plus a haka, of course. Great performance, but it feels a bit odd to have culture packaged in this way – I certainly felt I understood the meaning of ‘I know about ze cultural performance’ now, I wouldn’t feel the need to go to another. By now it was dark and we could eat the hangi, an eat all you want feast of lamb, chicken, potato and sweet potatoes which was good, and my new self doesn’t even over eat when faced with abundant food.
I had seconds, mind.
Finally we saw the local glowworms in the next door park, once everyone had got the message to switch off their torch, and the bus took us back around ten. Cultural package, seen.
In the morning I booked my geothermal park tour, as it happened with the same three people who had been with me in the evening – we must have been the cash rich, time pour, element for that night. I booked with the owner who ended up quizzing me about my tour. I reminded him of himself, when he’d had a year off, and he took great delight in leaving me with “enjoy going back to work”. Had he been Australian, he’d have been more disappointed to realise I still have two months to go; as it was, he was just pleased for me.
Another bus, another tour. A better one, though. The park was about 25 minutes away, and our trip started with Lady Constance geyser going off. It is a naturally occurring geyser but is induced at 10.15 every day for ticket selling. Impressive, she hit about a 5m height. Originally there was a prison nearby, the geyser discovered by prisoners who were cleaning clothes in the hot water, only to find those clothes jumping 20ft in the air and spreading themselves over a large area. The soap had broken the surface tension between the 150 degree water and the layer of 90 degree water above it, causing a geyser spout. They use something similar but more environmentally friendly now.
From there we went into Wai-O-Tapo park. There are three walks laid out, making one big loop if you tag the one onto the next, around 70 minutes for the lot, including stopping to go ‘wow’, ‘ooh’ or even ‘fucking hell’. Again, that’s a pretty packaged experience, but the place is stunning, from the dark carbon pools of the Devil’s ink pots, through the green and orange of the artists’ palette to the green/yellow of the last pool. A riot of colour, bubbling hot water and mud throughout the place. There is an optional walk to a waterfall, which continued my ‘is that it?’ fall tour; tiny but pouring into a dramatic lake, azure water surrounded by trees leaning in conspiratorially.
In the afternoon I was on the bus to Gisborne, a four hour ride. Gaz was on his fourth trip to New Zealand, alternating sight seeing with heavy drinking, and when he left me in Whakatame I had the skinny on pubs in Gisborne.
Reading: Nicci French, The Memory Game. Interesting and nicely plotted but without any ‘wow!’ in its revelation (or ‘reveal’ as the kids without grammatical cares are calling it).
A quick Zing! from The Guardian:
‘”I expected him to come to me in a flashy car, but I ended up driving him about in my old blue Fiesta and I was left to pay and display. Then he said he was taking me to Nando’s – my face fell” – Turns out Adnan Januzaj was right not to take Melissa McKenzie to a more expensive restaurant, given she immediately went to a tabloid and whinged about it.’
The hostel owner in Thames gave me a tip – stay in Manganui. I ignored him and stayed at the first backpackers’ round the corner from the bus stop; I’m only here for a night, my bus out in the morning leaves just after nine.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t spend my time in Manganui. It’s technically a suburb of Tangarua (Tao-wronger) but is expanding and has its own identity. I could either get a bus or borrow a bike for free, I was told, so I walked.
It isn’t the most charming of walks. After a quick sojourn in the art gallery, I started by following the heritage walk, whose chief achievement seems to be in avoiding the waterfront, though the old post office was charming. From one end of that walk – missing the more concentrated sights in the second half – I walked across the concrete bridge, past the port and oil tanks and down a long and busy road.
Hmm. However, walking lets you see more and at Blake park I noticed a sign for the cricket World Cup – this seems to be the venue for a majority of the qualification matches, which had reached the play off stages, though sadly I was on a day slap bang in the middle of the two play offs. The facilities are something, though. Manganui cricket club has a lovely old pavilion looking on to a cricket field that needs some attention. Just beyond the field, though, are two pristine new pitches and a glass-fronted club house, which must have accommodation for several teams, as doors at the back were decorated with flags and mugshots for Canada, Netherlands, Uganda, Kenya and others. I don’t know what they’ll do with the old clubhouse, which now doesn’t look over either main pitch, but they’ve gone from having one pitch to three and two clubhouses.
By now I was in Manganui proper, cafés, slightly run down houses and a hostel in the middle of nowhere. The Malaysian girls in my Thames hostel had told me to climb the mountain (‘mountain-it’s 232m high) and that they’d done it in slippers. It looms impressively over the town, though, and is at the end of a thin spit of land, looking out to sea or back over beaches. It may be short, but it ascends over a small distance. I clambered up, picking the moderate, longer route over the shorter, ‘difficult’ one, reasoning the latter might have a scramble or two. My moderate route, though, had the worst bit for vertigo boy, with a path round the edge of the hill, open to a sheer drop. It wasn’t a narrow path, but still gave me the willies, and as I moved out to allow a descending girl to hug the rock face I knew exactly how she felt.
It’s only a 30 minute wander up, though, and soon I was onto a broad track with trees giving insurance either side. It seemed suddenly scorching when I got onto the exposed paths up – I think I was temporarily sheltered from the seaside winds and that raised the temperature considerably. The views from the top are grand, and there are ships to watch – this is the busiest port in New Zealand.
I took the difficult route down, finding it made up mostly of steps. Those I could have coped with. The Copenhagen ice cream bar must be good, they had a queue out of the door, but I forewent the pleasure. My long walk back took me past the beach and, this time, along the waterfront back in pretty Tauranga. It’s New Zealand’s fastest growing city, itself on a spit of land; as close to riviera as New Zealand gets, according to Lonely Planet. In the evening I walked to the sights of the local pak n save, grabbed dinner and walked through to see the other side of the peninsula, rewarded for doing so first by a view of the sun beaming rays through the cloud and then by finding a walkway that took me back into town with water views. A pint in the craft beer pub next door, who were engaged in the easiest quiz I’ve heard – on my own I picked up 9/12 of the round I walked in on, though I should keep my knowledge of the Spice Girls’ first single/album title to myself – and I was done for the day.
It was a fair question. I hadn’t spoken yet, and New Zealand, as I may have pointed out already, is filled with Germans. But no, I have not become one – “no!” I said. My new dorm has three Malaysians, who asked the question, a compulsory German, Yvonne, who was chatty in Paihia, and someone else who has yet to appear.
Just a short hop today, an afternoon two hours on the bus to Thames. Gold was found here (1867-production peaked in 71, so it was a short rush), and though a lot of the buildings have been taken down, it still has the feel of a frontier town. I vaguely expected someone to come out of a saloon a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’. It’s a place of only 5,500 inhabitants, but with more shops than that might suggest, so it must be providing services to the surrounding area. Thames is also the gateway to walkers going up to the Pinnacles and cyclists completing the two day Hauraki rail trail.
Tree! I have lots of pictures of trees I’ve never seen before photographing them. Same caption for them all.
View from the war memorial. But why did they put it all the way up here in the first place-a steep walk away from town?
The wooden buildings, where they remain, are charming, though there’s not much going on. Apparently this is a centre of alternative living, and it’s certainly one in which to make your own entertainment. “Anything to do round here?” asked the two Brits who checked in at the same time as me, so I mentioned we had one hour to get to either museum or the gold-digging experience and they seemed underwhelmed. Cousins, I had them pegged as having travelled together for a while. It rained in the evening, for instance, and as they were leaving;
“Oh man, chucking it down. How we getting to town, I’m not walking in this.”
“No, I’ll drive. I already said I’ll drive.”
They’re probably quite comical from an outside perspective.
And a whirling maelstrom of stress on the inside.
The bus pulled in right outside my hostel, so I was checked in within minutes. The cousins and I managed not to exchange surprised looks as the girl who came out at their press of a bell took her place behind the counter. She might be 12, I suppose, but I’d go for younger.
I used my hour on the town museum, figuring that might give more of an overview than the goldmine experience. Plus it was closer. The old lady volunteer there was curious – probably as to why the hell I was in there, only the second paying guest to sign the book that day – but given that she was surprised that I was travelling on my own, she probably can’t discern ages either and assumed I was a teenager. Good for me, anyway.
The museum starts with lots of china. Ooh, Queen Elizabeth II. Plus there are recreations of house rooms-arranged in a gallery rather than as a house-from the 19th century. The curator would probably say the theme is Thames and its development, while I would say ‘terrifying dummies’. Something for different audiences, let’s say.
There are excellent models of the buildings – post office, hotels, banks – which have been taken down and some industrial exhibits from the logging industry. As with other places in New Zealand, logging the Kauri trees was profitable until they started to run out; they take 100 years to grow. Some old bikes, including penny farthings, and shop interior reconstructions – abandon hope, all ye who gaze upon the faces in here – along with dentist chairs and an iron lung, complete the place.
Wonderful. crap, but totally wonderful. Possibly the gold might have been better, but I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. The lady volunteer asked where I was off to next and then wracked her brain for where Tauranga might be. I must be saying it wrong, it’s only a few hours on the bus. That’s tomorrow’s trip, I’ll be happy enough skipping on from here, though it’s pleasant enough, just quiet. The hostel has free laundry, there’s a bonus.
Barry seemed a problem. I looked last week, wondering if I could see to the further-away run before the more central Cornwall park. Out east, 20km or so from my hostel. No hostels or cheap Airbnbs closer. No trains, and buses couldn’t get me there for 8 (which now seems like an excellent start time). Taxi-wongatastic, and I don’t really get taxis on my own even when I’m earning. A bike, I’d need a bike.
So yesterday I had the plan of arriving in Auckland, bussing back to the hostel, dropping off stuff, back to town, bike back. But I arrived at 3, they shut at 5 – rather than faff, I ended up leaving a bag with the bike shop and cycling back with my rucksack.
From the centre to Mt Eden is about 5k, but several of those are uphill. I didn’t extend my ride.
Up in the morning, I cycled through quiet roads – even the Great South Road is quiet at 6.30 – and was at the park by 7.30. It’s a new park for a new suburb, with a town to appear. The area for the centre is marked on the map. “Future town centre”, it says. It’s a much lower-key run than many of the others; there was no one there for the run till 7.40, when the organisers came along, though a trainer had her group shuttling up and down the grass nearby, and plenty of people were walking the perimeter with intent. A car marked Auckland Council arrived, and that was the two organisers, lovely couple, who had one other helper to do disks. That’s it. With council backing things are so much easier, and they have a locker right at the start, holding signs, cones and, I think, a bike or two. Certainly the council half of the couple rode off to set the course up, and the female half rode a lead bike through the first section.
I had checked past results and knew not to expect to be up the front*. Time to really enjoy a run, cruise through in a time that just wouldn’t matter. Several people introduced themselves beforehand, drawn in by the 100 shirt, and one said to a fit looking man – “here’s the competition”. I went over to let him know he was probably safe, though he pointed out he was jet lagged after returning from Hanoi the previous day.
We set off. No marshals needed, and the course can be laid out pretty simply in part because it’s a two lapper. For possibly the first time, I thought it a fabulous enough loop to want to do twice, though not going full out may have helped that view. Or, at least, not going out as fast as I could two months ago, which has been my mistake for a few weeks. Nice that I can still do the first mile under 6 minutes, but it hurts.
After a short, relaxed briefing, we were off. I eased into it, warm from the bike ride there but nothing else. I soon found people weren’t going away from me, only a youngster and a 50 club member ahead of me. I passed the youth and tucked in behind mr 50, as we headed round the path at the edge of the park. After a second left turn, heading back into the main part of the park, I eased past, and was to keep 1st in view from then on. The route stayed on path before hitting a pebbly trail and the 1k marker came up so quickly I couldn’t quite believe it – this the difference in running more gently. Pleasingly, it was still a 6.09 first mile; I thought I’d have to drop much more to be comfortable. There was a short, twisting grassy section, a loop round young trees – their size will mark the age of park and parkrun – and onto an undulating track, before one final twist through greenery and back up to the start. Great views over the valley from there, and I enjoyed the second lap just as much.
I still need to work on realistic pacing, as my mile splits slipped, 6.15 followed by 6.23, but jet lag kicked in on Richard up ahead, and what he gained in mile two I pulled back in mile 3, a comfortable 2nd and 10 seconds adrift.
And then the chatting. I learned more about New Zealand, met several lovely people before they dashed off, and thanked the organisers several times, stressing that they ought, as a matter of justice, to have some help. They’ve each run it just the once, but it is growing nicely. Those regular walkers are an obvious target, probably needing no more than for the event to be there, rather than any direct selling, as one came up at the end to ask how to register. “Oh, I’m here every day” she said; a once a week run/walk will fit in nicely, add to the pool of potential volunteers and ensure it’s run by lots of groups.
I was last to leave as Richard, of first place fame, had jet lag chat to use and time to kill before he reunited himself with family at the airport. I cycled back in the sun, thoroughly satisfied with my morning.
Reading: The Eternal Prison, Jeff Child.
*probably I hadn’t, I realised later – my time would have put me at the front for 3 of the previous weeks, and up there from time to time outside that. I’d probably have gone the wrong way if I’d gone for it.
New Zealand vs India, and I am neutral, though usually end up finding myself rooting for one team without having realised I’d favour them. The hostel is close. I am here because I spotted the stadium on a stroll last week and realised how easy it would be to get there. With the start time at 2pm for a day/night game, I was sold, even before I found the price was $35. On the walk down to the stadium I passed the girl who literally blinked yesterday and found it was five o’clock. I stared at her, making sure that she didn’t blink. I didn’t want to miss that much of the game.
Frankly, I arrived a little later than I’d wanted for build up purposes, but the ticket pick up and entry were so slick that I was in my seat 15 minutes before the action started. There had been a lot of noise while I walked in to the stadium, I assumed for some warm up activity. 10 minutes later I revised that opinion. A few of the Indian players wandered on to the pitch for a photo, and the noise was immense. Check the first picture – this was one empty stadium. Immense, I tell you. Three seconds later i made a mental note – watch some cricket in India. It must have been deafening as Sachin came out into a full stadium. I was sure this match wouldn’t affect me emotionally, but that noise did it. It’s the ‘I’m really here’ factor again – I thought there wouldn’t be a sense of occasion for me, no spine tingling quiet moment of “crikey, MCG, Boxing day’, but the Indian fans created one for me.
They did it again. The noise built and built as the players readied themselves. The crowd cheered, clapped the bowler in, the odd whooooooo escaped… Guptill cut it nearly to the boundary, and they cheered it all the way there, too. I even waved my 4 card in celebration. New Zealand’s innings started with a flurry of runs, slowed as Ryder was out for 20, though buoyed by 16 early extras, and Guptill and Williamson dug in and gradually accelerated. Williamson made 50, Guptill 100, but once they were both out the innings stuttered, included two crazy run outs-both risking the same fielder’s arm-until some bashing from Ronchi looked likely to take them well over 300, then even getting there looked unlikely with the lower order at the crease, Southee unable to lay bat on ball. He managed it in the end, run out off the last ball with the total at 314. The kiwi crowd found their voice in the middle, but with a flurry of wickets they were drowned out by drums and dancing from Indian fans.
“Now would be a great time to grab a combo.”
They might be right, at the change of innings. But that message was also put up on screen indiscriminately, often at times when the action was most intent. It really wouldn’t, I like to think everyone was thinking.
India’s innings got off to a quick start after a quiet first over, Dhawan watching 3 balls from McClanaglenahanaeverything* before driving the fourth into the stands, with the openers proceeding in similar vein for 9 overs. After that the shackles were put on by Bennett and magic arm Anderson-a crowd favourite, he’d already been cheered to the crease when coming in at number four, watched a ball, driven the second into the stands and then got out for 8. After 15 overs, India were 75-3. Kohli’s wicket was a relief – although he’d stopped by then, a flurry of boundaries would surely have restarted the witless, loud, “Kohli, Kohlay” from just behind me.
I’d christened Anderson ‘golden arm’ when he picked up a wicket in his first over, roared on with chants of “Corey, Corey”, but he soon had 3-11, India were 79-4 and Microsoft Dhoni was at the crease. Blame The Guardian for that name – their writers suggested they couldn’t think of anything else whenever they saw ‘MS Dhoni’, and now nor can I.
Raina and Dhoni made a decent partnership, but Raina fell just short of 150, which was my marker for ‘don’t lose another before then’. Even so, they ticked along, the rate rising but not to disaster point-from over 34, 5-6 an over would get them to around 100 from victory from the final ten, and that would be the time to have a go.
I read him wrong. He took the power play in the 36th over, lofted a straight six and was then caught past square leg; magic arm, 4-29, India 184-6, 9.14/over required, game and series surely done. A few of the Indians drifted away. Bridge over troubled water played on the tannoy.
After 39, Ashwin had shown he can bat, though English people don’t need reminding, and McClenaghan had given Jadeja the opportunity to show he can put away the rubbish balls, too. 219-6, Not over yet the soundtrack. An over later and Jadeja had shown Southee that a length ball can be dismissed too. 231-6, 84 needed from 60, no one leaving now. It was apparently still a great time to go get a combo.
42 gone, 249-6, Ashwin 56 (37), Jadeja 24 (19), noise only from one lot of supporters.
44 overs, 261-6, ticking over.
45th over. McCollum has to bowl through to the end now, and has been neat and economical. Until Ashwin deposits him with a swing, into the second top tier. Indians are cheering then biting their nails behind me. A couple of singles then Ashwin launches one, is caught near the boundary and fortunately the fielder realises he is near the edge, throws the ball back up and steps back on to complete the catch. The level of fielding these days is so impressive. Blackcaps fans find their voice, their feet and a single finger each. 271-7.
46 overs gone, 276-8. The sound system suggests blaming it on the boogie. At least when compared to the moonlight we have now or the sunshine from earlier.
47 overs. McClenaghan has never seemed a threat, been expensive and been hidden, rather than saved, till the end. 284-8 after a big six from Jadeja, 42 (34) and a huge appeal for a catch off the last ball that no Blackcap expected to be turned down.
48 overs. I was wrong about McCullum, Williamson must have served up more than 2 overs of filth. Golden arm is back, and my script is working – a cheap over sees him pick up his fifth wicket. 286-9 and various enormously fat ladies are rushing to pull combo meals out of their mouths in preparation.
49. Whichever fat lady Jadeja has in sight is not ready to sing, as he smites six down the ground. Bennett misjudges a catch and he has his fifty, from 38 balls. The scoreboard is reluctant to give us numbers any more after some harum scarum cricket, but eventually we find 18 are needed from the last. 297-9.
Golden arm’s first goes for four, second is wide, the repeat a dot. So is the next, though only because Jadeja turns down a single to stay on strike. An attempted yorker is given wide. A four makes it 8 needed from 2. Ball 299 goes for six, and the place is bedlam. 2 needed, everyone on their feet.
They get 1. The golden arm isn’t entirely tarnished. A tie, and what a fight. Fabulous. I discovered I was totally neutral, happily clapping every boundary, every wicket, brought to my feet by that last six, and with no preference for an outcome from the final ball.
*McClenaghan. Not that difficult, but he’d appeared as “McC’GHAN’ when batting, so it took me a moment to work out who this Clena-something was.
A travel day. I was on the bus just before midday, the YHA dropped three of us off in town before ten, for their own reasons, which gave me time to explore.
Just round the corner from the bus stop in Whangerai was The Piggery, a large second hand book shop. I happily lost half an hour in there, wondering whether I fancied any New Zealand fiction (writers from the country, I think, rather than ‘NZ is a large spaceship’, ‘NZ was sculpted by a golem and flipped precisely four times to give mountains time to form’) before remembering I am travelling without masses of space, and have a list of books as long as your arm. Middlemarch simply refuses to read itself.
I had time to browse Clapham’s Clock museum, which they tell you is the national clock museum so you don’t get confused with any others. Very sensible – clock museum status is absolute bloody chaos in other countries. If you want to get in there and make a time based pun, you’ll have to be quick, the German lady behind the counter was straight in there with ‘the perfect *time*’ when I said I had an hour to kill. Just part one of a rich vein of material, I’m sure.
While I was in there plenty of people came into the shop but only I paid the $7.20 entrance fee (10% discounted for my BBH card), which got me VIP treatment, I felt, from the other member of staff, a Russian, who gave me an intro and set some of the novelty clocks going so I could see the action. There’s a clock mender there, too, obviously to fix the exhibits but also taking on anything people bring him. He was German, too, making it feel like an enclave of the foreign. Perhaps Kiwis just can’t take the constant tick tock and cuckoo, cuckoo. This is not a place to come and be reminded of the current time. With over 1000 clocks from different eras and of different accuracy, it would be a nightmare to keep them in sync, let alone the cacophony that would ensue on each hour. Setting them to different times means you will hear hours marked in all sorts of different ways no matter what time you visit.
It’s small but perfectly formed, and some of the actions are mesmerising. I really liked the NZ Maori clock, a female figure twisting through 90 degrees every 20 seconds. Once she stopped, the chain hanging from her mace (probably something more peaceful, in fact) twisted round the pole at each corner in turn, untwisted and then a slight jerk made it twist round the other way. Archibald Clapham was ‘a character’, which you can take either way, an engineer who didn’t just collect clocks but also tinkered, mended and improved them. The clock face with Japanese movie stars replaced by photos of him and his wife now has eyes which move, creeping you out around the room, for instance. He was also a football player, who represented New Zealand.
I caught the bus and was back in Auckland by three. Not before a stop at the tearooms, Nicki’s favourite part of the journey on the way up, for a dose of quaint. I had a bike to pick up, to save me a taxi ride to parkrun, and abandoned the idea of bus to hostel, dump stuff, bus back to town as two hours seemed a bit tight and stressy. After a short but uphill ride back I could chill out for the evening and book my flight home for April 4th.
Quote of the day: “the days go by so fast, I literally blink and it’s half past five” I think you’re blinking wrong.
I’ve got a picture of you in my phone
Whangarei, New Zealand
Whangarei, New Zealand
10.15 bus out of Paihia. The party bus, in that both Emma and Nicki were on it too. My party was short lived, as I was off at 11.30 on reaching Whangerai (fun-ger-ai). It hadn’t looked up to much when we stopped there on the way up, but my temporary friend, Daniel, had mentioned waterfalls and walking, and that was enough to make a night’s stop feel worth it.
I was picked up from the bus stop by Graham, as the YHA is at the waterfall, 5km away from town. Graham gave me a short tour and I was, not for the first time, impressed by a hostel owner’s ability to say the same things to different people but remain interested.
I stayed at the YHA Whangerai Falls, so seeing the waterfall required little effort. That’s at one corner of a triangle, though, with an hour’s walk to Abbey Caves, a further hour from there to town, and one more back to the hostel. That was my afternoon sorted, then. The waterfall was just stunning – 2 minutes walk to a dramatic fall, surrounded by greenery, flowers setting the whole thing off, compared to 1.5 hours walk to little Huraru falls. No justice.
The caves are described as the budget conscious traveller’s answer to the Waitomo glowworm caves, as they are free. They are ‘undeveloped’ – not turned into luxury homes? – and signs warn you off. These are not designated safe, at your own risk, etc. I realised that blithely saying “I’ve got a torch” when I could have borrowed a head torch wasn’t the best idea. My torch is a keyring alien, with a button to push for 20 seconds of light. As I scrambled down into Organ cave, I realised the peril of a handheld torch – you need both hands to hold on, plus light to see by. The cave, once past the steep descent in (think 70 cm high drops from one rock to the next, no steps or easy wander down here) was pitch black.
Onward. I at least had a leaflet, so knew what to expect. Or did when I read it, in the cavern. Just 60m in is the 50ft cavern. By the time you get there your feet are wet from ankle high water, but the blunder through the rocks is worth it. Lights off, as two fellow cavers suggested, and there was the glow from the worms.
Who aren’t worms, but fly larvae, but never mind all that. Stunning. They glow brighter as they get hungrier – they seemed mid digestion to me, but the look is fabulous, very like looking up at the stars, though with a greenish tinge. There was now no one with me to say ‘ah, but when you’ve seen the stars from the salt flats of Bolivia…’, or ‘Waitomo is grander’ so I just took it as it was.
Organ cave is the largest, with another 120m or so, but getting to the grand chamber involves a waist-high wade through water. The people ahead had opted out, and so did I, passing a group of four at the entrance. I climbed out quickly, only then realising that they were waiting to come down, looking like they had made their first refusal at the fence. I ought to have offered to help, perhaps.
Heading down the path, through limestone outcrops and glorious greenery, I and a German girl – looking slightly more expert with a helmet hanging from her backpack – wondered if we were on the right path, but it was just a case of following the main path and there was middle cave. This is a short one, about 90 through, and with a ‘tricky climb out’ at the end. More pitch black, and this time it occurred to me that my tiny torch was doing a great job, but without it I was banging into the rocks, and I’d had this thing for years without using it: how much battery life could there be?
I reached the end, stood up on a rock and contemplated my exit. They weren’t kidding about the ‘tricky’ part, I could reach a hand above my head, figured I could jam a foot in about a metre up and maybe go from there, though I didn’t really see how. Just through from there I could see two more holes leading out, though, and scrambling under a large rock – quick obligatory thought of “been there for years, is now the time for it to slip?” I found a narrower way out that looked much easier. I decided not to be put off by the mass of spiders webs near the entrance that suggested no one else had used this exit, abandoned climbing manual etiquette by lifting a knee onto the first surface and went out, punching the air gently.
The glowworms were pretty there, too. A couple of paths led away, I picked one, baulked at the steep descent to a gully, thinking I’d get down only to find I was nowhere, then spotted the German girl at the bottom so figured I was back at the entrance. I scrambled down and it didn’t look familiar – I was at the entrance to Ivy cave, as it turned out. This one is longer, over 100m, and sounded straightforward enough. 60m in, a section of low ceiling before you emerge towards light, last 10m gets wetter and has a mud base. I went in. I hadn’t spotted whether GG had gone in, and that turned out to be crucial. I reached the low ceiling with nothing other than renewed wetness in my shoes as penance, and looked. This wasn’t a path with, ooh, low ceiling, there’s the entrance. Instead, a gap through jagged rocks twisted away from me and headed down, looking more like the mouth of a predator, with a downhill route, than a passage.
The leaflet says there’s a gap. I couldn’t work out whether I’d go through head or feet-first, and wanted confirmation I’d get through, but waiting and listening for a few minutes – probably not something to get a reputation for doing in caves, “oh look, squatting there by the side, in silence, it’s that British guy again” – brought none of my fellow cavers through. All probably still trying to negotiate the entrance to organ cave-hard with people watching, easy to do without, because you can (and I did) go down on your arse. I bottled it. Stuff Ivy cave, I said to no one in particular, and wandered off.
I could put my headphones back in, now. Soundtrack to the day, Grouplove, Tongue Tied-happy happy happy – but I had belatedly realised in the organ cave that barging in with my tiny torch and headphones in was a little too relaxed and tucked the iPod away. I sat in the sun for a moment, feeling alone in “little earth’ as the next door backpackers is named, surely in testament to the scenery. I had just opened my mouth to sing when a group of four passed me with a hello. Before wandering on to comment on the loon with his mouth wide open, no doubt.
Caves and glownotheyrenotworms seen, I continued along the road into town. Quite a walk, but the scenery was spectacular, with the caves up high, hills dropped away on the route to coastal Whangerai. The city (50,000 inhabitants here to qualify, it just does) was described as a bit spread out and unplanned by the hostel owner on Paihia, but the town basin is pretty enough, with a huge tourist info centre. It’s just a place where you have to get used to walking through one developed bit, then feeling like you’re walking out of town as you pass industrial or run down buildings, before you find the next bit. The library is tucked away – in a nice square, next to a park, but also next to a graffitied bridge and a couple of empty buildings that look slightly post apocalyptic after the row of neat shops that precedes them. I was only there for the wifi, though enjoyed a tour round the library once I realised it was open.
Back to the hostel, at first along the long road I’d been driven along but as soon as possible onto the river track. Stunning. The waterfall is dramatic-much more so than Huraru, and for much less effort, though returning to it admittedly took me several hours. The riverside is studded with red flowers, which could have been picked for their splashes of colour, offsetting the greenery and rippling brown water beautifully. I even managed not to be too envious of the joggers, pounding the track.
Returning to the hostel after 7, still in daylight and sunshine, I expected to flake out. I went into the kitchen for water, was ignored by a German couple then turned to go out and the tall girl in the corner, who I hadn’t really looked at said “I’ve got a photo of you on my phone, haven’t I?”
So it turned out that yes, I had recorded myself on her phone the day before at the lighthouse. A video, in fact. She’d in fact been on the same tour as me, though keeping herself to herself. Offering to take her photo then buggering off without small talk had been the right approach, then. We got chatting, she sat down to dinner; ooh, make or break time, faux pas to join or not? Seeing as we’d chatted easily without resort to “where are you from?” “where are you going?” or “what are your plans?” I figured it was worth carrying on, and boy was I right.
I have been so lucky over the last few days, meeting, now, three people with whom to have proper conversations, and laugh at those who sit, wave a finger in the air and switch I transmit, motto;
“I’m probably only waiting for you to stop talking, so that I can.”
I realised how long I have suffered those sort of conversations when I was actually surprised to find one of the girls continuing a running gag that I had made; oh! You heard! Better, Long Louise (tall – Thai masseuse, “you lo-ong!”) is a pisstaker of many accents, with a quick laugh and happy to laugh at herself. “I worked on a farm, watched them cutting the animals’ bollocks off. Because they didn’t want them to breed.”
“Oh right – not just for the cooking pot, then? Are you used to talking to Americans and having to explain everything?”
She gave as good as she got, mind, first convincing me she had seen glowworms 40cm long, before looking at me funny till I realised flies that large would be the talk of the world, and later:
“Oh, my little brother looks like Leo Di Caprio.”
“Cor, lovely.” (Pauses, looks puzzled for a second).
“Did you have different parents?”
No post walk collapse, then, just another last-ones-standing night, finally into bed some time before 2. I’ve said it before of many things, but it’s true here too – this is exactly what I hoped my time off would be made of.
Sandboarding, scenery and snapshots
Mangawhai, New Zealand
Mangawhai, New Zealand
Like the Hundred Years’ War, 90 mile beach is named more for the way the name sounds than the reality. But I have been there, and it is one long, long beach – 90km, just under.
The tour worked – I took NZ Awesome’s Cape Reinga and 90 mile beach tour. This time, I heard my roommate get up and figured I wouldn’t be alone waiting for the bus, and when we had all gathered there were four of us for pickup outside Seabids/Cap’n Bob’s. I’d made friends with the only one not from my hostel, Daniel- G erman, of course – so had someone to chat to once we stopped.
The bus paused for a couple of pickups early on, then we were off, up the coast to get to the beach. Our driver, Grant, made sure we were paying attention as we went across ‘Great River’, which was as well because this was a blink and you’ll miss it spot. Still morning when we got to the beach and we drove straight on. The weather had closed in a little, so heading south to see the stretch that way was pointless, but Grant pointed the bus that way for a few hundred metres before swinging us round to head along, gleefully taking us through the swell at the shore’s edge to spray the side of the bus.
After a while we stopped, shoeless in preparation for sand boarding, to ‘feel’ the beach. The sea was cold, the sand hard packed. Daniel’s choice of jeans was fine at this point.
We turned off the beach and up a shallow river. Here was a rarity – possibly the only sign in New Zealand to say “speed up”, and we duly did, thundering through the water (Te Paki stream, I think). Several other buses were at the dunes, but it’s organised enough that each takes its own slope. We grabbed a board for a briefing and trudged up the slope-allowing a group to go up ahead of us have us some footholds to walk in, at least. Getting off the bus this time I’d spotted one of the others was significantly fitter than everyone else – to go along with the one person I’d spotted who was significantly older, bald head gleaming. He ignored the sand boarding.
I wasn’t sure about the boarding, but ended up climbing the slope four times, aiming for more speed on the way down each time. Up is a drag, down is a blast. Graham was to say on the way to Whangerai YHA the next day, “still pulling sand out of your pockets?” and I was. Back on the bus, we were exhilarated, hot and sweaty.
Next stop the cape, where it’s a short walk down to the lighthouse, looking out over where the Tasman sea and Pacific Ocean meet. Though whether the world would recognise this spot as two separate bodies meeting, I don’t know. It’s pretty dramatic, and steeped in native folklore; spirits are said to have made their way up 90 mile beach to this point, so people would come for one last meeting. Not my bag, but NZ has a slightly less problematic relationship with its natives, at least, so there is a sense of reverence done without over-compensation for past evils.
Getting off here I spotted that the fit girl had a 70.3 tag on her bag from Sunday’s race, so managed to babble something inane about triathlon and hear that she’d taken a whopping 30 minutes off her pb. I had her pegged as a triathlete because she had shoulders, Long Louise because of her guns.
We wandered down to the lighthouse, Daniel again looking comfortable in his jeans with a cooler temperature after working hard to walk up the dunes. There is a signpost marking the distance to various cities, which is an obvious photo spot. Daniel offered to take my photo and was either looking for good natural shots or surprised by my stopping so as to avoid being in other people’s shots, as I have four of my back before a couple of my front. The moment, captured.
I spotted a tall girl holding her phone out and stopped, but this was self portrait, not photo of lighthouse, so I wandered off. How rude of me-I went back and asked if I could take one for her, then realised I couldn’t because it was still set to use the camera pointing at me. Set to video that, in fact, and I had pressed record. Long Louise is reintroduced in a couple of days, but at this point I didn’t even realise she was on the same bus.
We wandered back up and the triathlete mused that it was a bit of a concern to spot the police on our bus, and there for some time. They did the rounds, and seem to generally be on the route-“are you telling your passengers to belt up?” And later, from Grant, “to be on the safe side pulling out of here, belts on please”. We were pulled over, or stopped to chat to following police, later, but with no comeback.
Next stop was lunch and swimming at a beautiful bay. The sea was cold, so I settled for just the lunch, watching others in the sea, including our driver, leading the way. I now actually met Emma for the first time-fresh from a pb, part of a big group of triathletes over from Sydney, and happy to talk sport over lunch, foregoing the swim without a wetsuit-we agreed the water was cold after a paddle, only to be shamed by our driver and others taking their boards and diving straight in. I was later to gain brownie points for “I had you pegged as an athlete because, well, you look athletic”, brickbats and a stop-digging moment for “I noticed you weren’t quite as young as the others”. Give and take, or something.
We were due back to the bus at 1.20, and idly checked the time, aware that plenty of people were in the water. 1.29. Plenty of people, but none of *our* people. ****. But we could still see the bus, sat there. Ah, a bus, but not *our* bus. A quick jog to the car park and there he was, turned round, engine running but unconcerned. The lad in the seat over the way leaned over with a smile, “I was going to tell him you weren’t here if he set off” which was a nice bit of esprit de corps.
Most of the rest of the bus took the chance to fall asleep, but Emma and I were on a roll now, sport and life conversation passing the time as the countryside rolled by. We had a few more stops to make, and stopping for ‘the best fish and chips’ sounded exciting but service was so efficient it was like a conveyor belt, and we ate on the bus on the way to the Kauri kingdom. Small portions, too, meant we ate at four and then had to find another dinner later, a mark of sheer decadence. The ‘kingdom’ is a shop, filled with a mixture of the impressive and tacky, made from Kauri trees. They grow so slowly that over-cultivation has reduced the stock hugely, so it’s now a case of being patient, or digging older, fallen, logs out of the ground. The staircase in the middle of the building, hewn out of the centre of a trunk, is impressive, but by now the tour was a bit ‘stop bus, disgorge tourists, give them chance to spend’.
Last stop for the day was a kauri tree walkway that was built for the queen’s visit, cost $1,000,000. The whole thing is under 400m long, but Queenie wandered in a few metres, pronounced herself satisfied, posed for photos and was off. According to the stories, even the photos didn’t come out so well, with the queen in front of enough of the sign to make it ‘Mangina’, considered rude enough to leave the pics on the cutting room floor.
We entertained ourselves by taking more pictures for my “Tree!” collection, that being my caption for any tree I don’t recognise. Or at least, whose type I don’t recognise, or I’d be at it constantly. I have lots of ‘Tree!’ pictures anyway. Apparently one of the youths on the trip hadn’t bothered heading down to the lighthouse because ‘I found better pictures on google earth, no way I can beat them’ and I refused to take pictures of some of the trees on the same basis. When he realises the internet has spread round the world taking shots he won’t even have to go travelling again.
With that, we were done, managing not to be last on the bus this time. The road to the walkway is narrow and winding, but that back to Paihia was smooth and quick and we were soon, too soon in the bright sunshine of late afternoon, back into town. I waved my morning busmates off and continued into town, walking back from there along the seafront.
Wonderful. Nicki and I had foregone the nightlife the previous evening but agreed to head to the pub that night and I invited Emma without specifying which one. The best of the three looked to be Thirty30, which had live music outside again and with us sitting outside, she managed to find us. Apparently there was a sailing regatta the next day, and the bar grew busier as the night went on. Three of us on two sofas left space next to Nicki, so she was first to get bothered, Emma and I oblivious to the Aussie next to her getting a little free with his hands. He seemed to be sitting so placidly, too. Finally one of sailors chanced his arm and was in to his life story, potted version, when I came back, not even distracted by Emma being nice enough to start to ask him about the sailing. I’ve started so I’ll stop when you continue talking regardless.
I finished a great day star spotting, realising I’d not looked up into NZ’s clear skies. Nicki was able to tell me a few of the constellations but neither of us able to find Orion’s Belt. He’ll have to sort his own clothing out in the morning.
Clunk, clank, vroooom! The sound of the bus, heading off for 90 mile beach, just after 7 in the morning.
Shuffle, shuffle. “Shit”. The sound of me changing position and watching the bus go.
I was next to the hostel at the time, sure that’s where Nicelady had told me to be, but it seemed as though the bus had stopped on the main road and was now pulling off. I walked up to the main road and hung around, pacing, repeating the odd profanity gently. Frankly, with rain forecast it was just looking like too nice a day to be bothered, though of course a decent day would be better to tour on. 10 minutes later an NZ awesome minibus came along. Ooh, I’d booked through…
He wasn’t stopping either. I wafted about for a bit, feeling conspicuous as people stopped and grabbed food at the bakery, then walked into town once it was clear no bus was coming back. The info centre was open despite it being 8am, and I found Nicelady at her desk again. She was horrified, checked with not even the suggestion of blame laid upon me, and let me know it had been booked but then not transferred onto the list the driver gets.
“So it’s not my fault?” I asked with a smile, and rebooked, to totally unnecessary apologies, for the next day. I was slightly hyper by now, up early and with a belly full of muesli, and didn’t care so long as I’d not wasted a tour booking. The sun had glinted through the clouds for 5 minute spells a couple of times, lifting my spirits even further each time, and I decided I’d walk to Haruru Falls, marked on the Bay of Islands map I’d got, to the West of Paihia. I’d read the map wrong, and it wasn’t 1.5km, but 1.5 hours walk to get there, but stuff it, it was early. A km on the road and I turned onto a field, ignoring the entrance to the treaty grounds a little further up the road in favour of getting onto the walk as soon as possible. Talking to people later, all of us had had the same ‘hmm, $25 entry, do I want to pay that – maybe I’ll walk and see what I can see from outside” thought, but they’d actually walked there. Nothing, was the answer, you can see nothing, so my small shortcut worked for me.
It was very windy, but the walk to the falls is enclosed by trees throughout. It’s quite a narrow path, in fact, but scenic – the vista opens up, pictured, at the first bridge over the river, before a boardwalk across a swamp and back into tree lined undulating track. It was pretty quiet, just one walker and one runner passing the other way while I was walking there, and I was at peace.
I’d seen grand falls in Japan, and wondered what I was in for. Not very much, it turned out, though I felt a sense of peace there (despite the campsite just over the way below the waterfall and houses on the other side of an ugly road bridge over it), probably because the first thing I saw was a man sitting by the falls, looking entirely at peace. Small falls, though.
I sat for a while, joined by various couples and groups. I thought they’d done well to stay so close to me on the trails – giddily, I’d run the downhill stretches – but in fact they were pouring in from the car park. Very different feeling, that – this would only be a short stop, nothing to hold you here for long, then on to many other, probably more impressive sights. Whereas I had a long walk home with the walk, not the falls, the focus. Interesting. Sort of. I stood on the bridge for a photo and felt a nudge on my leg. This being safe-wildlife NZ, I was immediately sure it was a dog rather than something deadly, so I finished the photo before looking down. A dog! Sorry, I mean – a dog. No surprise there. No owner in sight, so we had a short chat before he drifted listlessly off, unimpressed.
The walk back was equally lovely, if a little busier. I caught up with a couple I had seen at the falls, and scuffed my shoes to try to avoid startling the lady, who was at the back. Total failure, but she smiled as I pulled her back onto the path and waved me off as we brushed the undergrowth from her clothes*. “Walk more quickly!” I neither said, nor thought, smiling in the sun, though regretting my choice of jeans as the day warmed up.
I was back at the hostel for lunch, finding Nicki still contemplating her options. Buoyed by mood, I recommended the walk, forgetting the fally anticlimax. Once I eventually got out of the way of the door, she set off – a warmer walk than I’d had guaranteed.
It was exceptionally windy once out of the tree cover by now. As I went through the turnstile that marked the covered area an older runner was jamming his cap back on his head, though I could at least reassure him that he was safe on the path. I had several raised-eyebrow ‘gosh isn’t it windy’ wordless interactions on the way back.
In the afternoon I figured I’d cover one of the other walks on the map, but thoughts of the long coastal walk were scotched by the high tide. Or the fact that I tried to start it in the wrong place, obviously, but I’m blaming the tide. Instead I went round town in a figure of eight, convincing myself there really wasn’t much there, started back to the hostel to change to shorts, stopped for a snooze as it cooled, then started the 30 minute climb ‘bush walk’ just behind Paihia just as it got hotter. Great views from up there, once I’d dived off the path to avoid a couple of runners hurtling down the hill, as there were from a similar uphill “gentle gradient” walk which wasn’t as gentle as I’d thought the sign suggested. Maybe I was reading too much into it.
The day got better and better as it went on, and I ended it sitting in the sun with fish and chips on the beach. With paper in the way this time – using the beach as a plate doesn’t work, kids. Nicki came back not at all angry that a non-walker had walked that far to some average falls, and we watched Ocean’s Eleven after 10pm as a rebellion against the hostel going to sleep once the kitchen/upstairs communal area shut at 9.30. It felt ever so naughty breaking into the dorms near midnight, though the effect was spoilt a little by one of my roommates waving a goodnight over his book. A day with a thwarted tour experience, an active and fabulous day.
*may not actually have fallen off the path. May possibly have suffered some cardiac arrhythmia later due to deferred shock.