Friday, 30 March 2007

Salimat Pagi Indonesia

Good Morning Indonesia

That's it. The warm up is over, the trip has now begun. We're one week into Indonesia and it's quite the different experience so far.

On arrival, we stayed in Jakarta and because it was all new to us and scary we got help form Nita's brother to book a hotel before we left New Zealand so that when we landed we didn't have to worry about anything like that. We stayed in the hotel Ibis in Jakarta.

We spent three days in Jakarta becoming familiar with the ways of the people and customs. Rule number, don't use your left hand for anything at all, especially not eating. Indonesian toilets don't have toilet paper you see, they have a ladle type thing that they use in conjunction with the left hand. Some customs I'm not going to try and get used to (bog roll in the bag). As it happens though, most places that cater for westerners have western toilets anyway so it's not a big crisis.

One of the biggest culture shocks is the number of people who, as soon as they see your white skin, coming rushing up to sell you something. On stepping out the airport, it felt like a mini ambush of taxi drivers all trying to lead us to their car - it would turn out that, with it being after midnight, we got off light. The city centre is just the same and until you get used to it it's hard work trying to keep your wits about you while people deliberately disorientate you so that, in confusion you give up and take their service.

It is also hard to walk on the pavements here, because every little bit of pavement space has been taken over by a trader of some sort. Most of these are little kitchens, many of which are on carts and get pushed around from corner to corner, but others are larger, tarpaulin covered structures that are fully established eating venues. You walk past them in the afternoon and they are busy cutting up all the meat on the same pavement table tops that later on everyone is eating off. The result is that most journeys undertaken on foot are spent walking on the road.

The roads are a whole new experience again. I looked out my hotel window one morning where there was a road with two lanes going in each direction. The traffic however, was five cars thick in one direction, with even more cars forming a sixth row at parts (but only if a right turn was less than a couple of blocks away) leaving about three quarters of a car's width for the traffic in the other direction to squeeze through, which they often manged two cars abreast. However this account would lead you to think that the roads are full of cars and while this is true, they come a distant second to the number of motorbikes on the roads here. Everyone rides a bike here, from girls who look like they should be at school to old gnarly solicitors with stack of papers tied down on the seats. The motorbike is also the perfect trading solution, with many of these having big wooden boxes that hang out behind the driver and make the bike as wide as a small car. Other bikes serve as family vehicles with mum dad the two kids and the new baby all comfortably settled on board. Usually one of the kids gets to sit on dads lap and steer the bike as they go. It's also funny to see a lot of woman riding as passengers, side saddle. At first glance, these roads just seemed absolutely anarchic but in actual fact it all works rather well. The white lines are meaningless and the traffic lights seem to be more suggestive than compulsory on some occasions, one way doesn't apply if you can sneak down the side or make your self as obvious as possible down the middle, but if you follow the code, which seems to be cut up others and let them cut you up too, it all works blissfully well. No one gets road rage here, no one quibbles. The level of awareness these drivers have is astounding too. I don not understand how it is possible I have not seen a single collision yet, but everyone knows exactly what is going on amidst all this chaos, the motorbikes are the worst causers of it too, as they nestle themselves through all the traffic. They will squeeze through the most ridiculous places at high speed, cross car bumpers, brushing them with their legs as the go and then pop out the other side as if they'd just done a normal start and stop. It is insane, but perfect. It's also worth noting that on our first encounter with a zebra crossing we stood looking at the mele wondering how to even begin negotiating the crossing when we noticed, everyone had stopped and was waiting for us.

Anyhow, whilst in Jakarta we just took the time to get used to all this and walked most of the places we went, taking in a museum where it cost a pricey 6 pence to enter and nearly 25p for my camera. We also walked down to the harbour to see all the fishing boats and wandered through a couple of markets - the poverty in some of these spots is eye opening, leaving you reluctant to bargain down any prices you are offered despite them being hugely inflated by 'tourist tax'. As it is though, neither of us are interested in the usual fare that is bird sounding whistles and blow darts or packs of postcards (this is them folks) so little bargaining was called for.

We have been very cautious with the food so far too because of our delicate little western tummies, so rather than eat from the pavement kitchens (which as the trip continues are starting to look within stomach tolerance) we chose slightly classier restaurants. We found a Korean place on our first night that was totally fab but rather embarrassing. The two of us sat at a table for four and there is a little barbecue in the middle of the table where, after you have ordered, a girl comes out with a wok and the meat and cooks it up there and then in front of you. But while we are sitting there, having ordered, we get brought complimentary (though not according to the bill - which we didn't argue) starters, and then various other little dishes, then accompaniments, and salads and what-ever else's. Our table for four was entirely covered by all these things which we barely made a dent on. However, on leaving we got a couple of free cigarette lighters with torches in them. .?. There is little concept of no smoking here.

Our time in Jakarta ended with a trip in a bajja (pronounced badge eye), which is a little mostly enclosed orange three wheeled putt-putt to the train station. A trip in one of these gives you an even worse perspective on the road because you feel entirely vulnerable in the face of head on traffic thundering down on you and squeezing past. We then got a train to Bandung where we spent a night with Nita's parents before catching a train again the following evening onward to Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta is where we are now and we have been here for about three days, staying in a little losman which is a very rudimentary hotel costing £2.78 per night. From here we have seen the temples of Borobudur and Prambanann which was fab. They are absolutely massive and we went to Borobudur which is a Buddhist temple very early in the morning and got to sit at the top for a wee while all by ourselves, surrounded by life size Buddhas looking out over the cloud covered hills and jungle below. Prambannan which is a Hindu temple was less special sadly as it was a later in the day, and much hotter and the place was a lot less accessible because there had been an earthquake last May which has left the whole thing teetering. As such you couldn't enter the main temple but we did sneak off to one of the littler ones where no one was around and where you could scramble into the more solid looking ones for a wee squint around. Returning in the afternoon, we decided we had gotten a little bit of heat stroke and went to bed in the late afternoon and slept for fourteen hours.

So Indonesia is going well. We have adjusted rather well to our strange surroundings and have shaken off our fear of everything strange. One other thing too, it's not only people selling stuff who come up to us. It seems we are quite a novelty to school children who keep greeting us and asking for photos with us. This must be what it's like to be famous - and rich, £1 buys 18,000 rupiah. All is good, Bali comes next.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Our last week in New Zealand

And so after two months here in NZ, we're nearly ready to move along on our travels. The last week or so has been spent seeing everyone and saying cheerios. We had a party in Auckland in a pub for everyone we hadn't had a chance to see to come along to and for those we had seen to see one last time. And it's also a week of family dinners too.

The last of the sightseeing involved a trip to the very top of New Zealand at Cape Rianga which involved a 22km drive along a rugged gravel track. It wasn't really a fitting way to reward the car for all it's given us but it was certainly something for it to remember us by. The journey end is rewarded by a light house and then of course, the road back.

Also we stopped to see the giant Kauri trees of New Zealand which are tens of thousands of years old and are very big. Then yesterday we climbed a hill, Mount Te-aroha which has sat across the valley from Nic's home waiting for us to climb it since we got here. At the bottom of this hill are three very unique things;

1. is the worlds only soda water geyser, which goes off every 30 minutes.
2. is a drinking fountain with the afore mentioned soda water, straight from somewhere deep under the ground, and surprisingly un-eggy for it, and
3. is a natural spa where you sit in a your own private giant old oak barrel fed with the previously described hot soda water from under the ground. You can control the flow of water into it yourself pouring more hot water in straight from the spring or adding cold water to allow it to cool. But it's all the real water, untreated and if you don't add any cold, it's too hot to get into, its well cool, or rather hot. For a total of $25 we got to splash around in our own barrel full of volcano water for 40 minutes.

And that is about the sum of it. To bring you bang up to date, I have spent most of the last 6 hours catching up with this blog so that I can leave NZ up to date with only our new adventures needing written up. We have had a truly fantastic time and met so many wonerful people. Nic's family have all been fantastic hosts, which was kind of obligatory to Nic, but wasn't to me but I have felt truly welcome and very much at home the hole time, so thankyou very much everyone.

The adventure continues next in Indonesia when we fly out of New Zealand on the 23rd. See you there.

Volcanoes and Zorbs

Continuing our vulcanistic intrepidity, it was time to climb a volcano. The Tongariro crossing is a walk that climbs mount tongariro, then goes across a huge crater, which has a perfectly flat and oddly soft layer of dust and rubble in it, which makes it very easy to imagine it as being the surface of the moon or Mars, and then continues up a ridge and down the other side offering the most spectacular views of other far less hospitably craters and jaggy bits. There were volcanic pools and steam coming from cracks and the hole thing just felt very primal. It was great. It was a full day's walk and by the end of the day, the five of us(Tania, Nicki, Warwick, Dennis -Nic & Tania's dad - and I) were quite knackered. One week after we were there, the neighbouring volcano, which had a big lake in its crater shoogled a bit and now there's not a lake there any more, so it's all still very active and exciting.

The following day we intended to visit a park that has mud pools and geysers but in the end we felt the price was a bit steep so we left it be. Instead we went along to the public park in Rotorua where it had some of the most incredibly stuff I've ever seen in a public park. Some holes with steam, some idle mud pools doing very little, some bellowing mini volcanoes, some huge big mud pools spitting and shouting at you and then this massive lake of steaming bubbling water with a rickety old boardwalk going across. Out of curiosity I quickly flicked the water to test the temperature (just to gauge my security on the bridge) and the water was scalding, so we decided not to jump up and down too much. The rest of the park, on the grass, where kids run around kicking balls was dotted with little patches of darker grass that seemed to be growing a bit longer than the rest and when you touched it, sometimes the ground was warm there, and always it was soft. You were told not to step on that if you found it because they were probably going to fall in to mud pools below but in the meantime, there was no fences or anything since they keep coming and going all the time, it was crazy.

In the afternoon, we went zorbing. Which was the most fun ever. Zorbing is the big hamster ball things that you climb into through a little port hole and then get thrown down a hillside in. You're not strapped in but left to tumble and fly around because, as it's all inflated, there's nothing really to hurt yourself on. A bucket of warm water is thrown on too for good measure to help you as you slip and scream down the hill side. The two of us went first of all, in the same one together and that goes straight down the hill side and next we did individual ones where you get sent down a zig zagging course. Thirdly I had one more go to see if i could run straight down the hill inside it standing up all the way because if you mange it you get a free t-shirt and your name immortalised on laminated paper inside the shop window. Unsurprising, i didn't stand a chance and my argument that, okay i was on my back but i didn't stop running didn't seem to count. Zorbing though has to be tried by anyone who has a chance, it was absolutely hilarious.

Hot water beach

Next we find ourselves back on the road and in the Coromandel peninsular where we visit Aunty Joy and play on the beach in Waihi, a typical surfer's town. A night with the family and it's further up the road to the hot water beach, which is a fantastic little oddity unique to that spot. People, who know about it, including us, turn up with a shovel and dig an hole in the sand and sit in it. Then, some hot spring water seeps in and fills the hole up like a hot bath. Then, because it's too hot to stay in, you divert a little channel for the sea to spill into and you get this perfect mix of hot and cold spring and salt water thing going on. Another little quirk about it all is that it only happens on a narrow stretch of the beach.

On arrival at the beach, we noticed a rather large number of cars in the nearby car park so decided to leave the spades and have a quick look over the beach first. What we saw might have been heart breaking if for the fact it wasn't such a funny thing to see in it's own right that it would have been worth going to look at anyway. On a beautiful long beach with lovely sand, there was almost no-one to be seen, except for a fifty meter stretch which was just crammed with far too many people, stepping on top of each other and generally standing, unable to move, all holding huge shovels above their heads or by their sides, trying to get a square inch of sand for themselves. There were so many people there, that even the lucky few who had dug a spa for themselves looked pretty miserable because they had feet and spades clonking them on the head or slipping into and breaking their little baths.

We wandered along a bit further, dug a hole, loosely filled it back in with damp sand and wrote on the sand: hot pool, with an arrow and stood to see if we could sucker anyone. But no-one was quite dumb enough so we got bored and left.

Back in the North

We get a late night sailing back to the North Island and drive off the ferry into Wellington. We're too tired to spend time looking for a nice pic-nic spot or similar to sleep and decide a quiet road without much traffic will be enough for the night. We find such a road, running along next to the river, nice and wide with few cars so we certainly won't be an obstruction. It turns out it's nice and wide because it's the main through-fare for traffic, especially the heavy traffic going to and fro the harbour. We're woken with the car getting buffeted by lorries, the sound of boats and the constant peering in of joggers and cyclists wondering who has parked up in their favourite exercise stretch. Still it means we get up nice and early with a day to see a very nice city, including the museum with a recreated house you step into, to get earthquaked. We also take a wee tour of the Parliament building and discuss similarities and differences between theirs and ours.

We're making our way up to a town called Napier, because Nicki's brother, Clem is to be running an ironman in a few days time and we're going to be there to cheer him on along with the rest of the family.

On our way up the road, we find a nice pic-nic spot to stay the night. It's just off the road next to a lake, with toilets and tables and all sorts. It doesn't feel like the sort of place you would set a horror film so we reckon we'll be alright this time. In fact, the biggest horror was the toilets but as it was quite remote that wasn't really a problem, there were lots of bushes. We had a lovely peaceful evening and are enjoying our breakfast the following morning looking out over the lake when first we're joined by several passing cars who saw the toilet sign then screeched away in terror at the sight that awaited them, then, obscurely, an empty bus that came, sat quite a while, then left. Then it was the turn of the motorbikers to arrive, then a mini-bus full of young offenders turn up, we think to perform some community service but in fact it seemed they just came to swim and smoke, and finally we driven away when the roads department workmen turned up and started ploughing into the place.

Next on the road is Taupo, and we meet the rest of the family there to spend the day supporting Clem. The Ironman consists of three events, each supposed to be the equivalent of a marathon, a 3.8km swim (2.4 miles), a 180km (112 mile) cycle and a 42 km (26 mile) run. Clem finished in 11 hours, almost to the dot, despite two punctures and his handlebars breaking. This insane feet inspired us all and the following Day, back in Morrinsville, Tanya, Warrick, Nicki and I did our own ironman event which we adapted slightly to our own abilities, and renamed: TinBaby. a 10km cycle, followed by a 2.5km run and a 400 meter swim.

High In The Sky

We reach Christchurch where we are staying with Nic's Aunt Catherine, Uncle Brad and cousin Luke. We take the time to relax and recharge our adventurer batteries taking full advantage of the city nearby and Brad and Catherine's swimming pool. We're also invite round one evening for a Barbecue with Uncle Peter, Aunt Judy and cousins Ben and Livia. Kiwi Barbies are good!

At Luke's suggestion we phone up the wigram air field flying school because apparently a flying lesson there is only $100, which is about £36. True enough and the next morning Captain Nicki and Captain Ross take to the skies in our Piper Cherokee twin seat planes. We get a plane each and after performing our own pre-flight inspections jump in the pilots seat with an instructor each in the co-pilots seat.

Nicki is off first, taxiing towards the runway and I follow on behind. We reach the runway and stop and I'm still waiting for the instructor to take the controls back off me. He then re-caps the procedure and sits back arms folded leaving me to take off myself. Terrified, I launch us down the runway, becoming increasingly alarmed as the plane isn't quite going in a straight line but is heading slowly towards the side of the tarmac. Given the speed I'm now going though, I do not want to force the steering too much, images of tumbling fire balls going through my mind, but before i could do much more about it anyway we're off the ground and I'm flying a plane! We get about 40 minutes in the air flying side by side, along the coast and over a couple of hills before heading back in again. This time it was landing and I'm still unsure at what time I'll have to hand over the controls but again, it's left to me to bring the plane down. Landing is even scarier than take off because you have to force the plane down at much faster and harder rate than you think you ought to, with a couple of last second pull backs and forwards before touching down. We land, and this time I have to relinquish control as both planes then do a simultaneous take off again and the instructors go for a quick spin round the block showing us a co-ordinated landing between the two planes, only they were mince and i think we could have co-ordinated a landing about as good ourselves.

After that the car just didn't quite seem the same but that was what was showing us New Zealand and after about 5 days or so in Christchurch we continued up the coast towards the ferry which would return us to the North island. Passing through Blenheim, another wine producing region, we stopped in for another couple of sips but nothing impressed this time and we stopped into Nelson for an evening where we stood at the geographical center of New Zealand, which by sheer coincidence is on top of a big hill so you can stand there and look all around you. Coincidence?

Monday, 19 March 2007

Creme eggs to Dinosaur eggs

We spent a couple of Days in Dunedin meeting friends and seeing the city. Dunedin was founded by Scottish settlers hence the reference to Edinburgh in it's name. A lot of its streets also share their names with Edinburgh streets, the two principle roads being Princes street and George street.

Dunedin is home to NZ's most popular beer, Speights and also the Cadbury factory. Which we dutifully felt obliged to inspect. Both scrubbed up to standard despite visiting the brewery on its down day when nothing much was actually happening, and popping into Cadbury's between shifts, when... nothing much was actually happening. Dunedin's other, somewhat obscure claim is that it houses the steepest street in the world so it only seemed right that we should choose to walk up it on one of the hottest days of the year. we then tried to drive up it next, expecting total embarrassment at the expense of our poor car but it made it up and did us proud.

A short way out of Dunedin is a bird sanctuary where we popped up to and saw Albatross flying around above us which was great, because neither of us have seen them before. We then stayed there till after dark, because if you nestle down just off the beach, accompanied by Dept. Of Conservation volunteers, and wait till dusk, you get to see little blue penguins stumble out of the surf, amass on the sand and then waddle up into the tussocks around you to feed their chicks. It was great to see, but the birds are only pint sized and there was unfortunately a loud Chinese family there too to see it who's kids kept scaring the penguins by not sitting still. A scared penguin adopts the don't move until they're gone defense which meant it was almost pitch black by the time they came up past us but one seemed to get a wee bit lost and doubled back right around us so we got a good view of that one. Still very worthwhile.

The road between Dunedin and Christchurch was again full of fantastic scenery and landsapes and we stopped to look at the Moeraki boulders on our way past. These boulders lay on the beach and are very odd indeed. Perfectly ball shaped they look like they might once have been giant eggs that have fossilised, some are smooth while others look to have been covered in giant scales. There apparently is some scientific explanation for them, but we chose to ignore that bit and started looking for lost dinoaurs. Apparently, the sand dunes behind the beach, are full of these boulders, some being the size of a TV and others up to the size of a car. As the sea erodes the dunes, out pop these boulders which then lie on the beach. But as the tides come in and out, so the sand that the boulders sit on gets flushed away and they slowly sink under the sand never to be seen again, so it's constantly changing, but no dinosaurs.

Splashing with Seals

Following the excitement of the previous evening, the day spent kayaking seemed positively tranquil. But then, it was anyway. Guided round the sound for a half day tour we had a double kayak and followed on like little ducklings as we were shown around the fjord. There were four double kayaks in our troop, and the guide. Funnily enough, we weren't the only kayak with a Nicki and Ross from the UK. The water was like a mirror as we paddled between mountain peaks and Glaciers and there were plenty of seals which we were able to get up really close to and bob along beside. Then, at about 10 o'clock we could hear a low flying plane, then five minutes another, five minutes after that another and so the posh tourists arrived, doing their bit for the environment as they went. Still, sometimes you couldn't hear the planes, often if a big guide boat was close enough to drown out the sound. All in all though, it was still very peaceful and a totally fab play on the water.

Having played in the Milford Sound, our trip down the west coast was now complete and it was time to make our way up the east, starting at Dunedin.

Terror in the Woods

So having found a nice spot for the night and dinner done and dusted (polishing off the last of Marcus' produce), we recall the tunnel was probably the spookiest part of the trip so far and settle down to go to sleep.

Just as we're drifting off, a light shining against the trees catches my eye and almost as quick as I've seen it, it goes off. Probably just a car headlamp we think so we peer out the windows but no car to be seen. We decide not to place too much emphasis on this and reassure ourselves its nothing at all to worry about, despite noticing, for the first time in the evening, that our camp spot is rather secluded, in a wood in the total wilderness, and miles from any hint of society making us prime targets for the first victims in a slasher horror film.

Laughing this off uneasily we are again drifting off when suddenly we are pulled straight out of slumber by the most chilling sound of a man screaming at the top of his voice (either in terror or pretending to be) before cutting off immediately without a whisper of a sound to follow, somewhere back in the forest. We take a few seconds to replay this in our heads, before confirming with each other that that was not a normal noise to expect. The decision is immediately taken to leave and before you could say 'why are you even parked there' the car was hurling its way down the road towards the town. All terror is starting to settle as I wrestle with a t-shirt and the town approaches, when the guitar, which sleeps on the dashboard at night, wakes up to all the activity and falls off into the passenger seat striking a horror Twang as it goes. Five minutes later, we're parked up right underneath the pub window, and most oddly of all we're both out like lights.

Fun on the Water

We headed through a few more towns, over the next couple of days enjoying small adventure and Hi-jinks as we went. Reaching Queenstown, it was time to get the wallet out as we had reached the adventure capital of NZ. This is where everyone comes to bungee and sky dive and everything else.

A fortnight or so on the road in the car, cooking by camp stove is just about as long as you want to do without a little break, and as we were less than half way round our South Island journey, we decided to treat ourselves for the night, staying in a fairly posh hotel on the waterfront. In the end, thanks to a half price offer and a little bargaining we managed to pick up a suite for the night which had a big bedroom, big bathroom, lounge and patio doors out onto the rooftop for about the same cost as a single person staying in a Travel Inn back home.

Next morning its up and off for a ride on the Shotover Jet which is a Jet boat, maxed to the gunnels and that rockets up and down a white water river, spinning donuts on the water and sraping past the canyon walls. Not quite wet enough, we book to go Kayaking next in the Milford Sound, which is a beautiful fjord, fed from the melting glaciers still visible on the mountain tops around it.

Its a long drive to Milford Sound, through some unbelievable mountain scenery, including the Homer Tunnel. The tunnel has been blasted out of the mountain and the inside is left just as you imagine the dynamite left it. Its a long tunnel taking about 5 minutes to pass through and its one way at a time. Unhelpfully though, at 8 o'clock at night, and it was a little later than that, the authorities switch off the lights inside the tunnel and the traffic lights outside it controlling the direction of traffic. As there is no way to see the other side, you have to head on in hoping not to meet anyone the other way, though truth be told, two cars could probably squeeze by. Its further made eerie by the lack of road surface, causing our car, which is not best equipped for rugged terrain to bound all over the place, thumping and groaning regularly - it was like driving into the center of the Earth.

We reach the other side trouble free and it's about another hour till we reach our destination. Milford Sound is little more than a pub, a hostel and an air strip and a whole lot more NO CAMPING! signs. It is also the end of the road, so short of any reasonable place to park up and make dinner and then sleep without a pubful of people staring across at us, we retraced our steps about 10 minutes back out of town till we found a nice little spot off the road just into the woodlands.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

The Ice Age Cometh

Further down the West coast and it's time to rejoin the tourist trail. First of all it's the Glaciers. There's two Glaciers of distinction in NZ, Franz Joseph and Fox, and a hundred or so other ones that apparently aren't worthy of the coach loads of tourists the other two get. Or, it could be the fact you have to climb to the other ones that mean most people, ourselves included, are happily contented with the main attractions.

Either way we arrive the night before in the town of Franz Joseph where we encounter a sign that will become very familiar to us everywhere we go: NO CAMPING! Unable to find a suitable place to sleep, we instead choose a wholey unsuitable place which is on the shore of the glaciers melt water. A raging torrent of cloudy, nutrient-rich, icey water, we decide the odds of a huge ice chunk falling off the glacier up river and causing a big sploosh that would envelope us, to be in our favour and pitch camp. We survive the evening and decide in retrospect that it probably wasn't our wisest decision of the trip so far. That morning it's up and out on foot as we walk up to the glacier where we get a chance after standing back in respect, to gingerly approach it and touch it, keeping half an eye on the ice shelves above us and the car sized boulders resting on top of them. Had we only come a day later we might just have caught sight of the two fools who ventured inside the glacier before it fell on them, requiring emergency assistance and ridicule, the national broadsheet referring to them rather accurately in it's front page headline as "Bloody Idiots". Then glacier number 2, Fox which we couldn't quite get as close to but was still very impressive.

A Town Named ROSS

Arriving at a village near tea time we decided to stay for the night as we rather liked the name of it: Ross. It seemed like a nice little place with a pub, a pond and very little else except lots of big signs with my name on it. Parking the car at our spot for the night on the local playing field we popped across the road to the pub to sample the local ale and took to a seat outside where we were joined over the following couple of hours by the owner and then several of the regulars as we sat under the porch with our drinks. Drawing the evening to a close reasonably early, we bid goodnight to our new friends and settled down for the evening in the car.

Our first rainfall arrived that night and the clouds had clearly been storing it up as we looked out the car windows in the middle of the night to see the water rising around us. We moved the car to the Tourist office car park and settled down again. The following morning, we are getting ourselves into order when we bump into one of our friends form the previous evening, Aireeni the pottery artist who is having her early morning fag.

Ross is a goldmining town, still actively mining gold today but very reminiscent of it's heritage. Sadly for Ross, the tourists really only stop for the toilet before carrying on past. They don't see the heritage walk which meanders through the hill sides past hundred year old tunnels leading into the old gold mines. No action has been taken to prevent tourists from wandering in to them, because so few tourists actually take the time to explore them. You can squeeze in as far as you dare, passed the pit props until you decide they are too rotten. We then popped back down to the town for breakfast and popped into a little cafe run by Marcus who runs the cafe from the living room of his house and has converted his garden to grow as much of his own produce as possible. After a fine sandwich and coffee we promised to spend the second night parked in his drive way if we stayed and left with handfuls of his garden produce to take on our travels and cook up as we went, gratis. Then round to Aireeni's for afternoon tea and to see her workshop and we decided Ross was quite possibly the finest town in the world. That said, we had an agenda and decided we owed it to the rest of New Zealand to find the second best town if we could.

Monday, 12 March 2007

The West Coast

Our first stop for the night is just outside Westport, where we find a beach to park up at and make our home before heading on the next day. This will become the routine for most of our journey. Reach somewhere, park out of town to sleep and then head in or on the next morning. The one thing we didn't manage to fit in the car was a shower but as this is a nation of camp sites, we've not done too bad, sneaking in and out of parks 'testing' their facilities, including at our most audacious, sneaking in in the evening for a shower and leaving our ice blocks in the freezer and sneaking back in in the morning to collect our frozen blocks for the cooler bin and washing our dishes.

The journey continues and driving through Blenheim, we find ourselves in one of NZ's major wine producing regions. As such, we dutifully pop in to a winery to sip a glass and try our best to conjure images of woodland walks with hints of elderberries and faint whiffs of such and such. As irony would have it, we picked the one winery that exports all it's produce to the UK, and keeps very little for it's domestic market. So if you pop into Sainsbury's have a look for the Grove Mill label, we've been to check it out and it was very nice too.

Stopping in at Greymouth for the afternoon, we dole on up to the town's top10 holiday park for our showers before finding somewhere to stay. Looking in to the back of our car to get our stuff we suddenly realise that disaster has struck. The chilly bin, full of bags of ice cubes to keep our food (and grove mill wine) cool, has broken free from it's seat belt which keeps it up right, sitting on top of our bed and it has tipped over, pouring water all over our bed. We park up right at the beach and entrance to the camp site and hang our bedsheets over the fence and stand our mattress up against the car to dry them all in the afternoon sun. Eventually successful, we had a dry bed again but also a beach full of people who thought we had had a 'little accident'. A few of the passing children gave us understanding glances.

During these days we saw quite a few things too. We saw a seal colony at Cape Fowlwind, pancake rocks at Punakaiki which is a big rock structure that has formed like lots and lots of pancakes stacked on top of each other, and the lesser spotted Kiwi, albeit in captivity - A dangerous beastie right enough, that when it smelled us through a gap in the glass started trying to break through it to get to us, but don't worry, it didn't manage it.

Then by day 4 we were to be passing a rather well named town that seemed worthy of a visit if just for a photo by the sign, Ross! We stopped for an hour and ended up staying for two days.

Heading South

Making it back to civilisation safely, we pack the car for the grand trip to the south Island and set off. A four hour drive to Wellington, an overnight sleep in the car between the dockside service road and the railway line, a three hour ferry crossing and we drive off the other side onto the south Island, turn on the radio and manage by sheer chance to catch the owner of the Waihiki ferry company getting a roasting about the previous night's debacle which managed to make the headlines. The South Island is going to be good.

Our plan for the trip is to drive in an anticlockwise direction around the South Island and arrive back at the top in Picton (the ferry town) in three and a half week's time. We're driving a Nissan Prairie which is Nic's Mum's car, and which has been kindly lent to us to facilitate our seeing of NZ. It's a car for the Japanese market, so nothing we have in the UK. All round it's a pretty decent car (if a little underpowered), it's a pseudo people carrier with seating for seven if required or it can all fold down. In folded down form, the flattened seats resemble something of the floor of a bouncy castle, roaming up and down in a manner that doesn't really fulfil the manufacturer's promise of a bed in the back. No problem though, and a visit to the timber yard later, a few 2X4's and some ply, some old bed struts from the garage and a couple of foam mattresses later and we have our selves a fully working proper bed, as comfy as a real one. Underneath the bed, between us and the undulating seats, and doors, there are plenty of nooks and crannies that have offered us all the cubby holes and storage solutions that we could ask for. With easy access to everything we need and all of it out of the sight of burglars, it's a mobile home that IKEA would be proud of.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Party Time and Riots.

Our first week in New Zealand was mostly spent settling in, and catching up with friends and family. We're staying at Nicki's house which is in a town called Morrinsville, about half an hour from Hamilton and an hour from Auckland.

It seemed we arrived in party season, and upon arrival, we're immediately enlisted on the party circuit. First up it's an exlcusive invite to possibly Auckland's swankiest party of the year, Nicki's friends Russ & Nita's 3 year old daughter Katya's pirate birthday party where everyone's dressed up, funnily enough, as pirates. Several Ginger beers later, and a day or two to recover, party number two is upon us and the nautical season continues with more friends. This time it's Phil, an expat from England who loved Auckland harbour and it's city views so much he bought a boat to live on and do up and so we spend an evening bobbing and sipping wine looking across to the lights of the city.

So far so good, and when party number 3 cast us an invite, which was to the pre-opening dinner of a new swanky winery and restaurant located on a very posh Island in Auckland harbour called Waihiki, there seemed no sensible reason to refuse, the head chef, Will being another friend of Nicki's.

The dinner was lovely, the wine was lovely, and the ferry trip over in the afternoon too, was lovely. The last ferry home that night though, at 11.30 was less lovely. Well I say that, it may not be true. We unfortunately were not on it, as like us, the guests of the two unknown wedding parties on the island and the big dance party also had a similar timetable to ourselves. Left with about 70 other people on the pier, we stood watching as our boat sailed merrily into the blackness without us.

Despair was not upon us however, as the ship's crew assured us it would return in an hour for us. To a sensible man, and woman, common sense would suggest that with a 45 minute crossing each way and a couple hundred drunken people to get rid of at the opposite end, an hour was optomistic, and true enough, it was a much longer wait. As we sat there waiting, you could see the crowd of mostly young, drug fueled dance party idiots becoming more and more restless as they wandered around in little groups bumping into property and each other. As the situation became less and less savoury, and as all hope of seeing the ferry again dwindled we started thinking about moving away from the area. As people broke into the ticket office, smashed bottles and stole onto boats moored in the harbour we decided it was time to go, leaving in time to see the mob setting fires on the road and ransacking the terminal. Taxi's being as rare as ferries off the island, it was only by jumping into someone else's that we managed to escape to the otherside of the island, and to Will's place where we spent the night before leaving the next morning on the now very unpopular ferry.