NEW ZEALAND | REVISITED

The Adventures Of Captain Jayneway

New Zealand

After much cocking about, like flying from Bangkok, back to Singapore, with a five hour wait to connect, then flying to Sydney, for a whole twelve hour wait to get to Auckland… I arrived in Sydney, and thank god it was sunny. I had been up since 5am Bangkok time, having had night sweats after a beer drinking session with Dodge and then that uneasy sleep you have because you think you might sleep in, so you end up not really sleeping at all. I was on my way to Bangkok airport by 9am and I arrived in Sydney a testing 13 hours later.

I had to collect all my luggage in Sydney which was a pain in the arse, but I requested this in Bangkok in the hope that when I got to Sydney I might be able to change my flight to get an earlier one to Auckland. I located the necessary channel of information, only to be informed that there was just one flight to Auckland that day with Virgin, and that was the flight I was on. Not to be defeated by this, I wheeled myself, with my two cases in tow, across the departure lounge and went back downstairs with a twelve hour wait in front of me.

I run so well on autopilot, this is such a blessing because you do tend to find yourself in these brainless situations with increasing regularity these days. I located a lock up where I could leave my bags for the day, so I paid $12 for them to look after my clothes bag, but kept hold of my kit bag. I never dare let that out of my sight in public places, my cameras, laptop and all that stuff. I trouped off to the toilets, lugging my peli case behind me, to put my shorts on and off I went outside. There’s nothing at all special about Sydney airport, either inside or out. Singapore’s got the monopoly on airport entertainment, and after you’ve been there, everywhere else just seems shit really. There wasn’t a single comfortable seat in the boarding lounge; I sniffed at this in disgust. I had a look at what was on offer outside which didn’t amount to much, then I went back inside and bought a copy of the latest National Geographic at great airport expense, and then I went back outside and exhausted the next ten hours reading it from cover to cover about three times, there’s nothing I don’t know about the plight of the Amazon rainforest, it’s tribes and the greedy oil digging wankers who just don’t give a shit. I had a couple of excursions inside during that time to get water and some snacks which filled in a bit of time, but then I was back outside making good use of the wooden benches, which I fitted on laid down quite nicely.

As the hours passed, the sun happily moved along it’s merry path, from time to time a tree would shade me from the sunlight. I’d been sat there that long I didn’t even need to look at my watch, I could tell what time it was just by looking where the shadows were. At 4pm my bag lodgings ran out, so I went to collect that, then I put my travel clobber back on and went upstairs again to finally check in. Only another three and a half hours to go. The plane finally boarded, I found the updraft of energy to lift the 20kg kit bag into the overhead locker and got myself comfortable. There seemed to be an age before we started taxing up the runway, but we got underway and I necked some herbal sleeping tablets just to polish the job off. As the wheels were whirring just about to throttle, the captain came on the cabin airwaves and said we were going to have to turn around and go back to the departure gate because a passenger had been taken ill. How inconsiderate. I think just about everyone on the plane craned their respective necks around to see who the culprit was. In the next hour that followed, we shuttled back across the runway to whence we’d come, and then the culprit in the shape of an enormously fat Samoan boy with a splendid nosebleed was escorted off the plane with the rest of the family in tow. After this as we sat waiting, much time was spent, probably with some poor underpaid baggage clerk hunting around in the undercarriage of the plane on his knees with a torch and a barcode scanner trying to find the entire family’s luggage. The crew had the sense to turn on the in-flight entertainment in this time, so as sleep eluded me, I started my movie marathon.

When the plane finally arrived in Auckland it was about 1.30am, I still hadn’t managed to fall asleep, I think sleep was beyond me by this point, but we were only about an hour late. I then had to grab bags, navigate customs and then locate a taxi. By the time I got to Wayne’s it was 2.30am, and bless him, he was still up waiting. I hadn’t seen Wayne since we went on our bonkers trip to Egypt three years ago, and just as we had beers at 8am in Luxor to celebrate his flying in from Afghanistan and me from the UK, we thought it only fitting that we have red wine, New Zealand of course, to quaff at 3am. I think we got to bed when the sun was peeping it face up over Auckland.

Needless to say I didn’t peep my head out from under the duvet until the following afternoon. I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about having to go for my first Ceroc dancing lesson later that afternoon, but showed willing, with a shove. Wayne’s an NZ Ceroc gold award winning champion dancer, which is pretty impressive considering he’s the least likely person you would ever imagine to become a twinkle toed Billy Elliot. An ex-professional Australian footballer, retired through injury, he took it up to keep fit and socialise. Because I know what he’s like personally, I’m amazed he’s done it really. But we went to the dance studio and I watched him and his dance partner Ellie teach a few people and they were pretty impressive to watch. Then came my go. I’d thought about taking some dance lessons in the UK, but it’s never really materialised, probably because I don’t like being told what to do. After this, I’m not too sure I’ll be pursuing it, I think I’m much more suited to ‘freestyling’ at a rave. There’s a lot more too it than meets the eye, and patience isn’t one of my strongest points. Who would have thought that putting one leg in front of the other could be so hard? Left leg. Not that left leg.

When we left the studio, we decided to go and sort out the complete cock up with my hire car. I was supposed to have picked it up when I landed the previous night, but due to lack of communications, there was no car to be had. I can’t be arsed to go into the details, but just lets say it was another brainless cock hole affair which involved me being driven away in a van with a stranger about 2 miles from the airport to locate my hire, whilst Wayne was sat parked illegally waiting for me, getting tourettes with no form of communication to me back at the international terminal. I eventually found Wayne, I’d got my driving Miss Daisy hire car, and we made our way back to his in Mt Roskill. By complete accident, and because we deserved it, when we finally got back to his, I think we sampled more of NZ’s finest and had another ridiculously late night. Hello sunshine. That morning, when I finally got my arse out of bed, I decided to go down to Kare Kare and see if I could see Neil and Mali down on the beach surfing. There was no sign of Mali (Boxer dog of distinction), he usually sits by the edge of the water waiting for Neil to come out of the surf, clever boy, so I thought Neil wouldn’t be there. I threw myself into the sand dunes and lay there for about three hours, vacantly pondering. It was so nice to be back again, one of my favourite spots in the whole of New Zealand. Unless you’ve ever been to Kare Kare, you’ll never really understand the magnetism of the place, it’s quite unexplainable, but one you’ve been you’ll understand how hard it is to leave.

Kare Kare

The next few days were spent finding my feet in town again. It’s so weird how you can live somewhere for five years, then leave for a bit, then come back and have forgot just about everything about it, Auckland that is. Everyone knows I’m a country girl and to be honest I have a brilliant memory for a remarkable amount of experiences, but I think you only have enough room in your head to remember certain things, the rest gets stored in the archives, with me, the archive seems to include city life best jogged in your daily life by photographs. Anyway, after two days it was like I’d never left. I joined back up at my favourite gym, Les Mills. I went back to yoga with the same amazing instructors that I used to go to, and I went to my favourite combat and step classes. I honestly loved every second of it and realised how much I’d missed that aspect. I went and met up with all my lovely old work mates from TVNZ and we had a few beers and some Asian food. It was amusing how they all still moan about the things that we all used to moan about together seven years ago, I’m so glad I left there when I did.

Almost a week had passed and I suddenly bolted upright and thought, shit, I don’t live here now, time is limited. I had to sit down and work out what I was doing with the time I had. I’d had an email off a client in London wanting me to do some work on this Italian music video, and I was thinking, shit, this might all go horribly wrong. Anyway, that all went quiet, which I’m thankful for. So I made the firm decision that I was going to go and dive the Poor Knights Islands. This is my favourite dive site in the whole country, and I wasn’t going to come here and not dive it this time around. Slapping my hand on my knee, Right oh, I decided that on Friday, I would go up to Tutukaka, stay over and then dive on the Saturday.

Much to my joy, Neil decided to come up there with me. So on Friday morning, fashionably late as is expected of my dear friend, Neil picked me up from Wayne’s and we drove up north. It was so nice to see Neil again, I do miss him, it’s ironic that I encouraged him to come over here in the first place, then I jumped ship and he’s been here ever since. It’s about a two and a half hour drive to Tutukaka, but it’s a lovely drive and we reminisced about the time when we’d drove all the way up to Cape Rianga for my 34th birthday. The Cape is a long drive, you think you’ve got there, but you haven’t yet. When you do eventually get to the lighthouse at the tip of the country, you’ll probably have driven for eight hours or more. That time, we hiked down the cliffs from the lighthouse at the most northerly point of New Zealand, lit a fire, danced on the beach and drank red wine. Then much later, once we’d navigated our way back up the cliffs in the pitch dark, we had to sleep in my vintage Mitsubishi Galant because we were pissed, in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t think of a better option.

Tutukaka

We arrived up in Tutukaka and I showed Neil where the dive shop was. There’s not much in the way of retail around that area, but we managed to locate a dairy and get our hands on some supplies. Drinking before diving, I should know better than anyone, not just because I’m an instructor, but especially after my spectacular all-nighter, the night before I dived the Rainbow Warrior a few years ago. The valve came off my dry suit, which then resulted in my dry suit becoming a wet suit. I arrived at the surface like the Michelin man. I almost got hypothermia and it’s a wonder I never got the bends really. But I didn’t and will probably never learn or change. That night, me and uncle still managed to get through a carton of Monteiths summer ale and had a few wines to finish off with as well. What a lovely night, we went down to the beach and climbed around the rocks at low tide, we talked for ages sat on the rocks and watched the sunset. That’s the beautiful thing about true best friends, you might not see each other for ten years, but it’s always like yesterday.

The place I’d rented was just like a two bed house, so for the first time since I arrived in the country I could starfish in a bed all to myself. In fact, I think I passed out in the glory of it all before I even said goodnight to Neil. Later, Neil at ungodly hours, unceremoniously woke me up, I think at about 5am, he was in the other bedroom. I’d thought he’d fallen out of bed the thud was so loud, what a twat making all that racket, Doive thought. But I rolled over and tried to ignore it, he’ll be right. As it turned out when we got up, he’d been getting medieval on a mosquito in his bedroom. Thankful for small mercies, it wasn’t in my room, because I would have been covered in bites for from head to toe.

We both felt a bit knackered when we got up, but stuffed some weetabix down us and a cup of tea, to be honest, I’ve felt a lot worse. We got all our things packed and stacked in the car and made our way to the dive shop. The chalet that we’d stayed in was being auctioned off that day; we both had a stab at how much something like that would be worth. There was nothing to the place, but the location might have made a difference. To me, it was no different from the static caravan old John Almond used to live in at the bottom of the drive at our farm in Yorkshire.

We arrived at the dive site and went to sign in. I was so excited about diving the Poor Knight’s again. I was a bit gutted Neil ended up not being able to do a Discover Scuba dive, he had to confess he gets asthma on the medical release form, so that was him out snorkelling for the day instead. The skipper was funny, we had a great ride out to the islands, which takes about an hour.

After working on dive boats in the past, it was funny just sitting back and not even having to set up my own gear, the DM did that for me. I still had my own Mares 5mm Semi Dry suit that has been living at Neil’s in my absence, I bought it 10 years ago in OZ and it still fits like a glove, which pleased me no end. I hate wearing hire gear, especially a wet suit that you just know a thousand other weak bladdered nerve pots have probably pissed in, the neoprene always smells  funny. The rest of the gear was hired and fitted well enough apart from the tank clonking me on the back of the head underwater a bit. Why they make luminous green fins, I have no idea; they scare the fish away, but that’s what colour mine were.

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I psyched myself up to jump in, this was probably only about the third dive I’ve done in New Zealand in a wet suit. I’ve done hundreds of dives here, but bought a dry suit and never looked back. There’s something ace about wearing your clothes under your dry suit, jumping in the water for an hour, getting out, unzipping, and climbing out dry. I thought the water was going to be freezing, it was a shock when you first got in, but it was so warm when you got used to it. It was about 22 degrees, practically bath water. The first dive was a bit weird, it was good to be back in there, but having dived The Poor Knights quite a few times, I have no idea why they picked that site for our first dive in such perfect conditions. Probably, I guess, to accommodate less experienced people, though our boat was supposed to be for intermediates, oh well. It was good, but considering what’s on offer around there, I was a little bit disappointed if I’m honest, but have to try to remember that every dive is a good dive, you’re just lucky to be down there at all really. Meanwhile Neily was on the surface trying to conquer his deep water ‘what’s down there’ fear. It’s a shame he couldn’t have been down there with me.

The second dive however, was a completely different, erm… kettle of fish.  We moved the boat for the second dive and moored right above this underwater pinnacle, the stuff The Poor Knights is famous for, the depth dropped off to some 60m and beyond. So basically you’ve got this underwater mountain which nests in sand at the bottom, at around 45m. There’s other smaller bommies down there, but once you look away from the rock, it’s just the big blue. You can choose how you want to dive it, that’s the beauty of having a few dives under you’re belt. Not that chuffed with my last companions; I approached a chap on board and asked him if he fancied diving with me. So I had a new buddy for this dive, a guy from South Africa called Wolfgang. He was a lovely guy, but it did crack me up every time he said “Yah”, which is their “Yes”, but he just sounded like a posh polo player from Windsor. Or Darcey Bussell on her first night on the panel of Strictly, god I love that woman.

We jumped in the water, swam to the decent point, signalled down, and off we go. Me and The Wolfman speed descended to about 36m, we could have gone further. The best stuff we saw was at about 31m and that was where we should have stayed, but you don’t know that until you’ve had a look everywhere else. We basically cruised around the base, and made our way up the rock like a corkscrew, swimming round the pinnacle keeping land to the right shoulder. It was beautiful and amazing, the visibility down there must have been 45m+ horizontally, never mind vertically, it was crystal clear. I saw so many Moray Eels, I am the master of spotting stuff underwater and I was back in my old instructor boots, pointing things out to my buddy. One of the Eel that I saw had a head bigger than a breezeblock, and it must have been about eight foot long. Eels normally hide in rock crevices, you have to look out for them, but you do occasionally see them swimming which is a cool thing to see. I saw Nudibranchs, which are amongst my favourite sea critters. These are sea slugs and come in the most fabulous shapes, colours and sizes. Look it up on the net and you will see what they are, I can and have literally spent hours looking at these things underwater. We saw all manner of fish, anemones, crustaceans and we saw some very big tuna swimming very fast, probably away from something even bigger, but you don’t think about what that might be when you’re down there! I saw Neil floating about on the surface, which was funny from below, I dived straight underneath him to send him some big bubbles up, I knew he’d be filming on his GoPro. Wolfgang got low on air, which was a bit of a pain in the arse, I still had about half a tank left, but you have to go up with your buddy as a general rule. We did our safety stop at 5m and surfaced. It was a fantastic dive, and it only made me wish I were up there for a three-day trip. Actually it made me wish I was back here diving all the time. We only got two dives in, which is standard on those day trips out, but by the afternoon the sun was out and the skipper took us on a bit of a tour around the islands which included going into the biggest underwater caves in the southern hemisphere, which was a nice finisher.

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Neil and I went for a drink afterwards, followed by chilling out by the beach for an hour, Neil had a nana nap and I took photo’s, and then we had the drive back to Auckland. We had a nice afternoon dinner in Whangarei in the marina on route, then it was foot to the floor, it’s a bit of a hike back to Auckland. I’d had a text message off Wayne telling us to take care on the way back, a bunch of kids had been killed on the same road that morning, something that’s not that unusual here unfortunately. Neil dropped me off back at Wayne’s and as is standard after a big day diving, I was out like a light… after a glass of red wine or two!

The following morning I was up early, I had to set my alarm to initiate this, I don’t think I’d have woken up without it. I drove into Auckland CBD in my nana van, toaster on wheels, to meet Louis and Lyndsey to go over to Waiheke Island to see the Sculpture trail for the day. A bit of a cognitive curfuffel when I had sudden recall and realisation that there are two possible car parks at the location to meet at, so I hoofed it to the park that I wasn’t at, and then back to the one I was at. All good, Louis was just pulling in when I arrived back where I started. The event is something that is put on every year by arty farts types, but I can’t remember seeing it when I lived in Auckland and I don’t think Louis & Lyndsey had been in donkey’s years or ever. How it works is, national artists can propose an idea, then if accepted, they are given quite substantial grants, to the tune of about 10k to make a piece of sculpture art to exhibit in the open air and sell, if anyone is mad and cashed up enough to buy. We got to the ferry port and it was packed with people, I think it was the last day of the exhibition. We got a good seat and away we went. It’s funny how you forget all the bonuses of living in such a cool city, half an hour over the ocean to the island. To top it off, we saw an Orca off the boat on the way out there, big black killer whale playing in the water, that would have made my day without anything else happening.

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When we arrived on the island, I’d never seen Waiheke so busy, people everywhere. Queue to get in, queue to get out, we laughed about this. The sculpture trail was a few km hike, the track started away from the ferry terminal, so we had to get a bus to the start…which we had to queue for. It was an entertaining walk; it’s not typical for there to be such a barrage of people on similar events here, not that I’ve experienced, you usually get a bit of space to appreciate what you’re looking at without it feeling like you’re in a people bubble. On some of the sculptures you had to struggle over peoples heads to see the piece, other times you had to queue to see it. At times, in between, I was just trying to pat this daft Dalmatian that always seemed to be next to me. Never the less, it was interesting and I did feel that I might just be in the wrong job. There was one ‘sculpture’ that wasn’t even a physical sculpture. It was a radio, triggered by a sensor, in an opening in the bush which just had a looped soundtrack on it, with a man’s eerie voice saying something who’s exact words escapes my mind now, but it was something like, ‘sit down, stay a while’, looped. If he got paid ten grand for that, then…

Some of the sculptures were by famous NZ artists, and they were fantastic, all of them were thought provoking, one way or another. One had won an engineering award and whose structure was this humongous moulded hulk of metal that had been positioned on the rocks down by the beach and looked like it was falling into the water, who knows how they got it there, or even why that spot, but I suppose that’s the intrigue.

Crumpled up corrugated iron sculpture. That one was beyond me, though I did quite like it. Plastic poppies on sticks, I liked those too. Temporary signs, road signs put in weird places everywhere, you know I love typography in the landscape. All in all, I really liked it, and it always helps when the suns shining. We made our way back down to the ferry terminal and ummed and aahed about getting a beer, then decided to go back up to Oratia to Louis and Lyndsey’s place. Not a nicer place on earth really, a house that they built themselves donkeys years ago and which has 360 degree views of Auckland, it really is something special. We had a few beers and a lovely dinner. Lyndsey showed me photographs of their trips to Asia, they’ve done the lot over the years, just about. Amazing photographs from thirty years ago, when Koh Samui was just an island with not much on it and nearly no tourists, it was a lot different from how I saw it a few weeks ago. Time to say bye for now, its always a pleasure to spend time with those two lovely people.

The next day I was packed up and on my way to Napier, to see Dingo and Carole. I left Wayne’s and set off on my merry little way in my nana mobile. Heading south, I thought, you know what, I’ve never been down that way before, so I decided to go round the East Cape instead of cutting across the country to Napier. Little did I know, I mean I know the map said ‘not to scale’, but…

I’d been driving for about three hours out of Auckland and I was in the middle of nowhere. This is the least populated part of the north island I discovered, I really didn’t expect it to be like that. When I’ve wondered where all the Maori people live, now I know. There was nothing in between here and there, and I struggled to find fuel. The countryside was absolutely spectacular, beautiful, untouched and raw. The roads were winding and you didn’t see another car for what felt like hours. There was also no phone signal, but you try to not let your head play tricks on you. There’s one thing travelling with friends, there’s another completely different thing, a girl, travelling on your tod. I had a little panic moment on at one point, I’d been driving for about five hours at this point, and I was very low on fuel. I really didn’t know if I was going to make it to some sort of civilization before I ran out. Then I came out on the road from the bush and onto the open coastline and there was this red neck petrol pump, basically in someone’s garden, hallelujah. Happy Days. They only took cash, or Eftpos. I had no cash, so I was so bloody glad I still have my New Zealand bank account, otherwise I would have been stuffed. The lad who filled up my talk didn’t know if they took Eftpos or not, even though it was in their yard, I thought it was hilarious. Eftpos is the way you pay in NZ, it’s so easy, you never have to carry cash. I think he was the son of the woman manning the till, Maori, I wondered if he’s ever been to school, didn’t seem like it. I don’t like to say thick as fuck, but…

I spun the gravel on the way out of there, I was so happy to have some gas, weeeeeee. From there the road seemed endless, and there was nothing there. The scenery was gorgeous, yes, but there was nothing there, no people, no cars, no shops, and no accommodation for miles and miles and miles. I’d been driving for about 7 hours at this point and I was starting to flag a bit. Given what I’d seen so far, I didn’t know if I’d even find anywhere to stay before I reached Gisbourne, which was erm.. lots of miles away. It was getting dark.

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Ask the universe, the universe shall provide. You think that’s bullshit? Try it! Within about ten minutes of my asking, I came upon this weird boutique hotel. It was only weird because of where it was, you’d never get planning for that in England. There, propped up on the edge of some cliffs in the middle of nowhere at Te Kaha, was this posh hotel. I didn’t even question the price, I was so glad to find a place to stay. When I walked into my ‘suite’, I felt like I’d had a bit of a lotto win. Only a two bedroom apartment, completely bonkers done out, with the latest gadgets, a bit of a rock star pad. It was only when I walked out onto my extensive balcony that I really realised what a true gem of a place it was. The view from my balcony was jaw dropping. The coastline was so gorgeous, I’ll never forget it. I had a few beers sat there, and when the sun was setting I had a bit of a queer questioning of ones sanity. This was because I was on the East coast, you know, sun doesn’t set over the water there, usually. I had a bit of a Fear and Loathing moment. That soon passed and I was as happy as a pig in shit. In between all this, I realised I didn’t have service for my mobile broadband, no surprise really. So on noticing I could pay for connection, I headed down to reception to see if I could sort something.

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Looking back now this makes me laugh and cringe. I went to ask for connection at the reception, and was told that they only do dial up, and that’s the way they like it. Somewhere in all of this, I said I needed Internet, for work, was dial up going to be fast enough, Oh, I’ll manage. What sort of work do you do?

Here steps in Doive, and says, ‘Photography’, and after a little pause, ‘and travel writing’. I’m not going to go into it too much, but the plot thickened to the tune of me doing a write up, and the next morning I got all access to the hotel to take photos and ‘do my thing’. They were so lovely and I will do my best to promote them, in my own way.

I set off after that feeling a bit guilty, but the view from the top of the hotel was ace, I’d never have got to see that. From here, I drove for another seven hours! It definitely was a one off trip, if I ever do it again, not one to go back where I came from, it’s the sort of trip you do over a few weeks, and possibly with the company of a guard dog. When I finally arrived in Napier, the Dingo’s were all sat eating tea and the sun was setting. Seeing Dingo and Carole was like it was only yesterday when I last saw them. Johnny Carr was over on holiday too, so it was like being out in Northallerton, except it was warm, the pubs were much better and it felt like being on holiday, we had a great night.

Napier Port

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The next morning we went to have a look out over the port, it was another lovely hot day. This was it for me, I was on my way back up north again, flying visit and now I was on my way to Snells beach to see my good old friend Kim. Less of an epic drive back, but still at least six hours, I decided to stop off in Rotorua on the way back. I’ve always loved Rotovegas, even if it does stink of rotten eggs. A massive thermal valley, I love just about everything about the landscape. The difference now from when I first saw the place, was now they charge astronomical entrance fees to most of the thermal parks, out of order I think. I’d have loved to have gone back and seen the champagne pools, but I wasn’t going to cough up those prices when I’d already been a few times in the past. I did a bit of hoofing about on foot and that was enough. I had a motel for the night, which had the most gigantic spa pool in it; you could have fit six people in there. I did my best to put the luxury to good use!

Snells Beach

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The next day I headed up beyond Auckland and up to Kim and Glenn’s. They live in an amazing house overlooking Snells Beach, near Warkworth. It was so good to see them both and we duly sampled plenty of local produce (they live right next to a vineyard), put the world to rights and giggled the night away.  Me and Kim go quite a way back and had some very slack nights out when I used to live in Auckland, best party buddy and person for making you laugh until you just about wet yourself, she never changes and I love her dearly. I was supposed to head down to Neil’s at KareKare Beach the next day but didn’t quite get organised in time. Ted the dog ran off, and by the time Glenn had intercepted him I’d made the executive decision to stay another night. Kim got back from work as a posty manager at about lunchtime (shit knows how she got out of bed at 5am to go to work in the first place after the session we’d just had the night before, what a legend).

She decided, off the cuff, that I must see Tauwhanui Beach, so we chucked all our beach gear in a bag, got bikinis on, and stopped off at the bottle shop where we organised some cider and then off we went. It wasn’t that far from Kim’s place, and not far from where I used to go diving just about every weekend, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it or been there. What a hidden gem. Sand the colour and consistency of flour. An azure ocean, and midweek, the beach was practically empty. It was so hot we took shade underneath a Puhutukawa tree, which is the Kiwi Christmas tree and has lovely red flowers around then. In the water Kim saw endless fish and rays, it was total paradise, you’d have thought you were in Hawaii or somewhere like that. New Zealand is paradise, and thankfully it’s far enough away from the rest of the world for it to not have been too spoiled, yet. What a great day. I’d had a few too many ciders to drive to Neil’s as you do on a sunshiney day, so I ended up staying another night, which was cool.

The next morning I really did have to make a move and set off back down the North Island to Neil’s at Kare Kare. I stopped off in Auckland on my way through and bumped into three people I knew on three different streets, talk about sliding doors. I caught up with Stevie Butler and that was lovely. Neil and his girlfriend have just bought a house in Kare Kare. It’s such a lovely place, a wooden house nestled on stilts in the Waitakere Ranges National Park and just down the road from the surf beach. The house has got a deck that comes right out of the front of the house and looks down the rainforest valley, it’s pretty special. Kare Kare beach is one of my most favourite beaches in the whole of New Zealand, I spent three months there last time I was in the country and walked what must have ended up being hundreds of kilometres around the bush on my own… in a pair of $15 trainers because I couldn’t fit my hiking boots in my bag. I’ve always said if I was going to come back and live in New Zealand, It’d either be here or Queenstown. I was only there for a few days this time but it was great, it’s just a fantastic place to chill out.

The Climb Down

The highlight of staying there this time was the day we did the hike down to Mercer Bay. I’d never been down there before and I’ve always wanted to go. It’s not that far from where they live, and it’s definitely not a hike for the faint hearted. You have to climb down a seemingly impossible big rock cliff to get down to the beach. There’s three rope swings on the way down in different places to winch yourself down when there’s nothing else to hang onto. It was so dry and rocky under foot, half way down my legs were like jelly. The gradient was so steep, the strain on your legs muscles was mental.  I don’t know how long it took us to get down there, must have been an hour or so climbing, or it felt like that! Just when you thought you were nearly there, there was another section to conquer. Somebody has died doing the hike in the past, they fell off, and that was it, you appreciated how easy it would be for that to happen when you’re doing it, you really have to watch what you’re doing. I reckon it was more hairy than climbing down to the BASE jumping exit point in Switzerland when I was there.

neil fishing

When our feet hit the sand I felt a great sense of achievement, and didn’t think too much about the going back up part of the equation. What a magical place. It really has such a fantastic energy about it down there. It’s definitely a blessing that it’s pretty hard to get to because it keeps the riff raff out. I was blown away how much edible seafood there was down there, a definite testament to the fact the Asian population of Auckland can’t be arsed with the effort of getting there, they’re so greedy when it comes to fishing of any kind, they always take more than they’re supposed to. Neil had his fishing rod and threw a line in but didn’t catch anything, I had a potter about around the rocks. There was one big crack in the rock where I saw more crabs than I’ve ever seen in one place.

Mercer Bay Sphinx

The absolute icing on the cake was when I saw the Cathedral Cave. I never even knew this was there and it was pretty mind blowing. You can only get to it at low tide, so we waited. You have to enter the caves on the opposite side of the mountain and walk through inside the arched rocky cave in pitch darkness for about 60m, feeling your way along the walls in the dark. That was a sensation all by itself! When you see the light appear at the other end it’s amazing. This wasn’t it though. Next door to this cave was another cave, you walk into it and can’t really be prepared for what you see. It’s a gigantic blowhole that must have been there for thousands of years. The Cathedral Cave reaches right up some 100 odd meters to the surface of the rock that we’d climbed down to get to the beach, and you see daylight through it while you’re stood inside looking up. It was huge in there and you couldn’t help but be in awe. When you turned around in the other direction, the ocean was lapping up on the rocky outcrops outside. We fumbled our way back through the darkness and then back out on to the beach again. The cave is something I’ll never forget, I’d do the climb again no worries. Neil had another go fishing off the rocks, and me an Alyssa just sat chatting. We were the only people down there.

As the sun was starting to creep over the mountain, we set off back up the way we came down. I reckon it was so much easier getting back up there, I was like a monkey on the rope swings, I think I must have got a second wind. The end of a perfect day. I can still remember the wonky legs the next day, I think it took two days for my legs to stop aching, but you get that when you go from doing loads of exercise back in the UK, to basically doing non in comparison while I’ve been travelling. I’ll be getting a beer belly next.

QUEENSTOWN NZ-3382

It was time for me to head off down to the South Island, another absolute favourite destination. My main port of call was to see my good friend Woody in Queenstown, meet his girlfriend and catch up. About to become a Dad around about now on writing this, baby Lucas is due any day. Laura’s from Argentina, it was the first time I’d met her and she was so lovely, a real gem. Things were pretty much up in the air for them, they were about to move house, his parents arrived from the UK for the birth, and Laura’s parents were due over from Argentina, who I don’t think speak English, so that’ll be interesting. As you know I’ve got no problem what so ever entertaining myself, I hired an off road bike and spent four days mountain biking around the Queenstown area. The scenery is second to none, everywhere you look. My biggest day was about 60km, and I went off road from Queenstown to Arrowtown and back via Lake Hayes. It was hot day, but the ride was superb. Over every hilltop I had to stop to have a longer look at the awesomeness of it all, there has to be some of the best mountain biking in the world down there for scenery and trails, I loved every second. I got something to eat and had a beer in Arrowtown to ‘keep the legs going’ for the 30km ride back, when my garlic bread arrived I couldn’t believe the size of it, it was a whole loaf of freshly baked bread, sliced. Supposed to be working the lard off not putting it on, I think even a gutso would have had problems getting through that.

We had some great cook up’s, I got chance to get back in the kitchen again which was brilliant, I love cooking. We had to have a Roast and Yorkshire puddings once of course, as well as a load of other concoctions. The house Woody and Laura were living in was amazing as well, over looking Lake Wakatipu. As it turned out, it was a shame I wasn’t there for longer, because I could have taken on the tenancy for that house and Woody had a graphics job lined up for me. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes, but I’d have loved to have lived there. We had a photo shoot on the beach one afternoon, Laura, Woody, with Sue and Phil, Woody’s Mum and Dad, which was a great laugh. I put a book together for them before I left. Bloody sand flies were a pain in the arse, I got two whopping bites on my leg and two on my shoulders. They took a week to go away. I went out and bought a bumper bottle of fly spray after that.

I was really quite gutted to be leaving Queenstown this time around and I could easily have stayed there. But, the flight was booked and I had to go. Rubbish at goodbye’s, I prefer a see you later sort of exit. Me, Woody and Laura went down to the lake for a few beers before I had to go and catch my evening flight back up to Auckland, where I stayed for the night. I was up at 3.30am the following morning and on my way back to Sydney…

Another incredible trip around New Zealand… One of my favourite places in the world…

Thank you so much to all my beautiful friends for spending some time with me… Love you XXX

2KZOOM1

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