In Aotearoa - God's Country
27.08.2008 - 17.09.2008 17 °C
New Zealand (Aotearoa) is magnificently beautiful. I've been traveling with a company called the Magic bus - a sort of backpacker tour company. Along the way, both in the north and south islands, I have seen so many amazing viewpoints that I feel too guilty to try and get some sleep. Staring out the window is just so worth it
New Zealander's are generally a pretty good, easy-going, down-to-earth bunch. Except during Tri-nations rugby! I had to watch the Wallabies go down on Saturday and see the All Blacks clinch the Tr-Nations trophy for the 4th consecutive year. They're killing the tournament... but Kiwi's don't care!
My visit started in Auckland. I was pretty suprised at the size of the city - its much smaller than I expected. In fact, that pretty much sums up NZ - large parts of the country almost feel deserted - there is often not a soul around, especially in the south island. Auckland's Sky Tower is impressive - the views of the Auckland area are something else. The city centre is pretty small - I saw most of it in under an hour. My backpacker's room was eventually ok; I decided to move to my own room after coming across two fly-infested dorms (some funky, ripe old food in some bags I think). I met up with old East London mate Brendon Sparg on the waterfront for some drinks. It was great catching up, and Brendon introduced me to a few great Kiwi brews.
Without going into detailed daily accounts, I'll give you some of my highlights from the last three weeks in New Zealand:
Rotorua and the Maori cultural show:
So a bus picks you up for a cultural show, and before you know it, some massive Maori guys are just about decapitating our selected 'chief' and sticking their tongues out at us, doing the whole eyeball thing, and generally making every tourist squirm, as we are challenged to enter their 'village.' Then you go into the village, have a fat chat with these guys who have just threatened us with our lives, and eat 'hangi' - a kind of stew cooked under the ground with hot rocks/coal. A good experience, but unavoidably touristy.
Rotorua is also something of a hot spring capital, with various areas throughout the town closed off to public access because of boiling mud and geysers. There was a field of geysers just outside our YHA backpackers. As it turned out, the YHA is run by the grumpiest staff in New Zealand, and upon enquiring as to why the bar and restaurant closed at 7pm ("If there's no one in the bar, we close!"), they directed Irishman Gary and myself to another eatery. We didn't know as we set out in the dark, but the owner had directed us straight through the geyser field. We barely escaped with our lives. She probably sends all complainants there. That's were all the missing backpackers in New Zealand can be found, I reckon...
The Magic Bus:
The Magic Bus (www.magicbus.co.nz) is full of characters. The most interesting are the bus drivers, mostly because they are partly crazy. Since they are tour guides, they fill us in with interesting facts, such as the story of the possums: apparently there are either 19 million, 25 million, or 80 million possums in New Zealand, they are destroying the forests and they came from Australia. I didn't know this. Other fascinating facts are that you cannot sue in New Zealand, a Japanese guy once fell into 200 degree boiling mud and died, NZ is the most dangerous country in the world, and other facts. Sarcasm aside, the bus guides are pretty good blokes and apart from the occasional questionable fact, give you some pretty interesting stories about New Zealand, which keeps the trip pretty well entertained. They also stop off at great lookouts for photo opportunities, which lets you see so many great spots as you journey through the countryside. There are interesting passengers on the bus - I've met loads of Irish, English and Australian travellers.
Tramping in New Zealand
NZ is great for terkking, or tramping, as they say here. So far I have done walks through Tongariro National Park (Mordor from Lord of the Rings), Abel Tasman National Park and a little trip out to the Franz Josef glacier. All have been spectacularly beautiful. I've also done a bit of cycling - hiring bikes at Rotorua to see the Blue and Green lakes just outside the town. Like I said, and as you can see, NZ is spectacularly beautful.
Summitting Mt Ngauruhoe (Tongariro Crossing) felt like quite an achievement, but unfortunately the weather had closed in for most of the day, and the spectacular views that it is famous for were completely blocked by mist and sleet, which was worsened by the bitter, cold wind. It was still pretty cool seeing the area where the Mordor scenes were filmed though.
Wine tour and rugby in Napier:
I visited my mates from Nepal, Jason and Philippa Readpath, in Napier. What a great town. Pip took me on a cycling wine tour (hmm....poor combination?) on her day off. We mountain-biked through farm backroads and ended up on a Pacific beach. It was pretty weird seeing an old concrete World War 2 bunker on a quiet, desolate beach near Napier - built for the expected Japanese invasion back in 1942. You kind of forget just how far-reaching the 'world wars' were sometimes.
Pips and I then headed off to the vineyards, where we sampled some great white wines, and added knowledgable comments such as 'clearly an autumn harvest,' and 'yes, 2004 - a great year' to taster conversations. The Mission is a great little winery.
On the way home, Jason called to announce that a rugby match would be on later that night. Hometeam Hawke's Bay v Taranaki, the big, superior rivals!! And, big suprise... the hometeam won! It was a great game, and the local provincial rugby scene reminded me a lot of the domestic rugby atmosphere back home in South Africa.
Overall, I really liked Napier - its a great town.
I met up with my old Wimbledon housemate Gen Talbot in Wellington, and she took me all over the place - Wellington, although often cold and chilly, seems to have quite a trendy arts scene. Its headed up by the most amazing museam - Te Papa. Personally, I think its far better than any museum I've seen in London. I was really impressed. The city is spread out and runs along a large bay. Fortunately, the weather cleared and we managed to walk up to a great viewpoint on my last day in Eastbourne, Wellington to get some photos of the bay.
Snowboarding in Queenstown
Wow wow wow!! Well, what can I say - snowboarding is just awesome. I love the sport, and may well be addicted now. If you've done it before, you'll know how cool it is. I went to the Remarkables Ski Resort for two days. Queenstown is also unbelievably beautiful - the views from the hillside down to the town, and up to all the surrounding mountains are really incredible. I stayed at another YHA, along with the Irish and Aussie crowd from the Magic Bus. I'm kind of glad to be leaving tomorrow - this town sure can break the bank!
Til next time when I'm in Fiji, adios!