Friday, 21 May 2010

To Australia. The expensive way.

Long bus ride to Auckland, arriving at 7pm for a quick tour before my am flight. I found a locker to store my bags in while I went for a few drinks. I met up with Steph, the nice girl who had lent me her sofa in Queenstown and was now in Auckland visiting her friend Leah. I was careful not to have too many drinks knowing that I needed to stay awake or I'd miss my flight. Having spent eleven days sober I was impressed with my discipline, having a soft drink every other round (okay every third round) and stopping drinking at 1am (okay 2am, my discipline wasn't that great). If I was tipsy at this stage I sobered up very quickly when I checked my wallet and found that I had lost the code to get my bags out of the locker.
I said my goodbyes to Steph and Leah and went to find the number to phone to get my luggage. There wasn't one. I was sort of worried now but guessed that it would work itself out and add a bit of extra excitiement to my flight. I found the nearest security guard and asked how I could get at my bags, he didn't have a key and the onlyperson who did would not be in work until 7am. Oh dear. I asked if I could break in and leave some money to fix it, the guard phoned his boss and between them they decided that no that wasn't okay.
'What would happen if I just kicked it in anyway'
'You'd be in trouble'
'Big trouble?'
'With us first the the police'
'Right. Guess I'm fucked then'
'Sounds like it'
And that was that. I was stuck in Auckland. I found myself a comfy bench and had a couple of hours sleep like the tomporary hobo that I was, eventually being reunited with my stuff at 9am. Checked in to a hostel, tired, muttering 'no use crying over spilt milk' through gritted teeth but all things considered I was feeling alright. Once I'd booked myself a new flight for the next day I was really quite happy, I couldn't do anything about it and I was still in New Zealand rather than at work. Who knows, maybe flying to Sydney instead of Melbourne will mean I meet the girl of my dreams, or a millionaire who wants to make me her toyboy, or a chicken with the face of a squirrell.

Lost locker ticket $10. New flight to Sydney $339. Being able to laugh at myself for being a prize pillock: Priceless

That night I watched impossible to follow streaming online of Saints triumphant Paint Pot trophy final, feeling a tinge of annoyance that they decided to go to Wembley without me.
The next day I made it to the airport 4 hours early, first in the queue. I wasn't missing this one. Australia, here comes the G dawg (that's my rap alias, I've heard ozzies are cool so it will help me to fit in).

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Whanganui River

Day 1. I had to go on to the river with a guided group of five people because getting to the river required carting the canoes and the kayak down an unsealed road. They were a family of for from Auckland (German mum, English Dad, 10 year old boy Christophe and 12 year old girl Yasmine) and a middle aged woman called Pip, also from Auckland. Their guide was a Welsh lad called Dave. Once on the water I was free to paddle off and explore the river and some side streams but I had chosen to stay the first night in the same campsite as the rest of the group. On the river the scenery was once again beautiful, steep cliffs on either bank coated in thick vegetation and rainforest, see pics, I won't drivel on, and it was unbroken for the whole of the 5 hours of paddling it took to get me to the first campsite.

Each of the campsites along the river have a small shelter over a picnic bench, rainwater tap and a long drop toilet. I pitched Frank, my tent, whilst the rain just about held off and soon after the rest of the group arrived. We had the campsite to ourselves as most people choose to stay at the DOC huts that are along the river. The others in the group had paid a fair bit more than me to have a guide who cooked their meals and also they were spending one night in the only hotel down the river, giving them a night with a shower and electricity.

The kids built a fire unsupervised (I like this attitude to growing up that is common to all Kiwis - Let them get on with it - if they set fire to themselves, well they'll only do it once), I ate my dinner of crackers and peanut butter then we swapped places and the others ate a proper meal of pasta with chicken and vegetables whilst I tended to the fire, not an easy task in the rain.

After the family, Pip and Dave had had their fill there were leftovers and they insisted on me having some, I felt a bit guilty as they'd paid for it but later on I earnt it by entertaining the kids in good humour. Christophe was a big fan of the 'copying everything Glyn says and does' game as well as the 'how long can you hold on to Glyn's leg' game. Two of my personal favourites, obviously, but they did get slightly annoying. After about 30 seconds. To distract from the fun I produced marshmallows from my bag and we went down to the fire to melt and drop most of them in the fire.

Day 2. Paddled further than the others to Mangaparua campsite and I was the only one there. Because of this it seemed appropriate to get naked and build a fire because it had been raining it took me 2 hours to get a fire burning properly. I was dressed again by this point and started pounding my chest shouting fire like Tom Hanks does in Castaway. I managed to heat soup and a packet of noodles over the fire which was enough to make me feel like Ray Mears. Then it got dark. I saw a rat. I heard strange noises. I was scared, only a bit, but I realised I'd never been alone in the wild before. I got more scared when inside my tent I heard an animal run past, it was definitely bigger than a rat and it took me a few minutes to reason that it was probably a goat as I'd seen a few along the riverbank earlier. I didn't go and check I just put my headphones in and tried to ignore the noises of rats and goats.

Day 3. Crossed the river to the bridge to nowhere walk - the bridge is strong enough for large vehicles and it connects two patches of rainforest that have no roads. It really is a bridge to nowhere. I then paddled to Tieke Kainga, arriving at 1:30.
It was just me and a Maori woman called Leslie with tattoos from her bottom lip down to her chin. Leslie looks after the place which has a beautiful Marae (Maori meeting place) and a large carved totem pole along with a hut for sleeping in and a hut for cooking. Leslie explained that the land had belonged to her family but the Department of Conservation illegally built a hut on the site. The Maori didn't like this much so they threw the hut in the river. This happened three times before the DoC came to an arrangement with the Maori that they would build and maintain huts on the site but they would belong to the Maori people who would welcome visitors. More people arrived, one of whom was a river guide with a passion for the great kiwi sport of possum bashing. I saw two and showed them to the guy but I missed the one that he did get. In hindsight I'm quite glad I didn't see it because although they are a pest they still look deceptively cute.

Day 4. I didn't have far to paddle so I spent the morning waiting for the rain to clear, reading and chatting to Leslie. For all Leslie's pride about her Maori heritage it turns out she used to be a pole dancer with a pet yellow python called Willy.
I cruised down to the next campsite at 2pm and a few hours later was joined by the others that had entered the water with me. Christophe greeted me by shooting me 3 times with a stick then hugging me. We built a campfire and everyone insisted I have a portion of their dinner - beef curry - for happily putting up with Christophe constantly talking and shooting me. The truth is I quite like kids really and I also like curry so it was happy days, especially as I had run out of my own food earlier that afternoon. Marshmallows were toasted for pudding, chatting and drinking in the last night of the trip over-looking the river and so to bed.

Day 5. This was the most fun day of paddling and I did most of it with the group. There were some decent rapids that I went through twice as well as a mud cave that we wallowed in up to our knees follwed by a cave housing a waterfall to clean off the mud.

The whole trip was probably the best thing I have done in New Zealand and thoroughly recommended to anyone that visits. Perfect end to a perfect country. Just on to Auckland for a few hours before my flight to Australia. Too easy.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Northern Circuit

Thursday 18/3/10. Went for a walk around Lake Rotorua, taking in more bubbling mud and sulphurous gases seeping out of the ground. I'm sure I'd been transported to another planet. After that I got on a bus back to Taupo and spent the remainder of that day and Friday 19/3/10 planning my last week in New Zealand. I wanted to do the Northern Circuit great walk and the Whanganui river great walk (not a walk at all, kayaking but it's part of New Zealand's great walks network). The Northern Circuit is a recommended four day walk, I had one and a half days because the only way I could do the kayaking was by starting on the Monday.

The Northern Circuit is a circular walk that includes the Tongariro crossing, regarded as the best one day walk in New Zealand if not the world. According to the leaflet's estimated times from hut to hut for me to complete the route in one and a half days meant I would have to walk for about ten hours on day one and possibly eight hours the next starting at 6am in order to catch my bus to Ohakune for the Whanganui.

Saturday 20/3/10
Up at 6:30 for the bus to Whakapapa (pronounced Fakapapa). Everybody except me got off at the start of the Tongariro crossing, I dropped some bags at Whakapapa and got walking at 9am. I can't put how good the walk was in to words so look at the pictures to get some idea of how incredible the scenery was. Even they don't come close to doing the landscape justice though. In one day I went from bushy scrubland to the top of a red cratered volcano, past turquoise lakes, a blue lake and on to a volcanic rocky desert before entering a forest where the Waihohunu hut I was staying in was sat overlooking a pretty river. I'd covered 30km of tough terrain by the time I got to the hut at 5:30 so when some of the seven people tried talking to me I struggled to give more than monosyllabic answers. The next morning it was an easy four and a half hour walk back to Whakapapa. It had been yet another unbelievable experience. Just another day in New Zealand.

I was left with three hours to kill and in this tiny village there was only one place to kill time. It was pub o'clock. I'd earnt it and a couple at lunch time doesn't count as drinking so I was doing well on sober day 6. The girl putting out tables opened the bar early for me and gave me drinks at local's prices. A lot of tills in NZ have two prices. She also only charged me for two of the three drinks, apparently because she was leaving soon and didn't care any more. I had a good chat with her and her boyfriend before catching the bus to Ohakune. At Ohakune I had a dorm room all to myself, it occurred to me that I hadn't slept alone for nearly two months so I celebrated by getting naked and farting. Adventure complete (the walk not the fart) and tomorrow it would be the start of another great adventure - The Whanganui River.

N.B. I have breasts in the picture of me in front of the old red hut. I don't know where they came from or where they went but I wish I knew they were there so I could have had a go on them.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Tormented by my inner drunk in Rotorua

Travelled to Rotorua on my last Kiwi experience journey. Rotorua is situated on a very thin bit of the earth's crust and so has steam coming out of vents, bubbling mud and geysers all around the area. I visited Te Puia to see the biggest of the geysers and also some Maori cultural history then walked back to town for dominos (crap) and a dvd - Iron man, also crap.
I didn't want to go out because whilst away, I hadn't been drinking every day but on my budget I was drinking far too often. I wanted to do a full week sober and this was only day 2. But it was St. Patrick's day so when a slightly punk looking German girl who had just finished work asked me if I fancied a few and offered to buy me a pint of Guiness, I had little choice.
The first of Rotorua's three Irish bars we tried was rammed. I queued up for 20 minutes, 4 rows of people back from the bar, I was surrounded by smashed people and I didn't have a drink in my hand. I had to leave. We walked to the next Irish bar, I half hoped it was rammed so that I could make my excuses and avoid drinking. It wasn't, so I went to the bar and ordered 2 pints of Guiness resigned to the fact that I am a weak willed drunkard.
But wait, it wasn't game over yet, one or two pints of Guiness on St. Paddy's doesn't count as drinking and to my delight the German girl was incredibly dull, there was no way I wanted to spend more time in her company than was necessary so I was in luck.
I had to wait for a second pint because I'd bought the first round and as much as I wasn't fussed about drinking another it went against my principles to turn down a free one. After yet another awkward silence German girl asked 'So what music are you in to?'
'Could you quit the small talk, I've got an empty pint here, it's your round and your bland personality is honestly making me angry' Is what I should have said. Instead I let out an audible sigh and named some bands I hoped she hadn't heard of. Sadly she had heard of Gomez. 'Gomez, I love them' She said without emotion 'What's that song they did?'
I sighed again, where is my pint? 'They've had a few, they've got about 6 albums so you'll have to narrow it down'
'Oh umm, I can't remember how it goes or what it's called, but it's really good'
And my pint? 'They are good.'
'Oh yeah I love Gomez, can't believe you like them too'
Pint? 'yep.'
'I need another beer, do you want one?' I said
'Oh no it's my round, I'll go' Thank christ for that!
I drank my Guiness in 4 swigs, apologised that I was tired and left her talking to someone at the bar.
I know it's a poor reflection on myself but I was really proud that I'd gone home after only 2 drinks when there was so much going on in the town. I've certainly never managed it on a Saturday night in Southampton so maybe this was the start of a change for the sober? Well soberer.