Racists, Booze And Thermal Baths

So there we have it – our travels are done! Time to go home and return to our normal lives and go back to work. Ah, no – hang on – we’re only halfway through. My mistake.

I’m sitting on the tarmac (not literally – there is an aeroplane underneath me) at Auckland airport, waiting for our flight to Santiago to take off. Oddly, we will arrive there 5 hours earlier on the same day that we leave New Zealand which makes me wonder whether simply flying over the International Date Line again and again might be enough to prevent ageing without expensive cosmetics or surgery but I digress – I still have three days of New Zealand to write about.

The ferry journey from Picton in the South to the capital, Wellington, in the North was quite spectacular but also extremely windy, causing us all to retreat inside once the boat had entered the Cook Strait. Not before we’d enjoyed the amazing scenery as the sun rose on the way out of Picton though. The sight of some dolphins playing in the water at the bough of the boat added to the enjoyment of the trip.

We decided not to spend any time in Wellington as we only allowed ourselves three days to do the whole of the North Island and instead drove up the west coast to a beach at Otaki where we ate some sandwiches and I tried my best to herd some malevolent seagulls with limited success. From there, we hot-footed it right up to Hastings on the east coast so that we could get most of the driving done in one go.

We found a campsite in the town and quickly set about cooking dinner. Once we’d eaten, the retired Scottish-born Kiwi staying in the caravan next door got chatting to us and we shared a few drinks and stories. My favourite line of his was about how he had been married for many years but in 1992 ‘the TV went wrong and we realised we had nothing in common’ so had split up. Great stuff. We were joined by an already inebriated local who bore a strong resemblance to Lou Carpenter from Neighbours and who’d brought a bottle of 10 year old single malt whisky for us all to share. Sadly, none of us really wanted any so he had it all to himself. Things were going pretty well until the Scottish guy mentioned something about the number of ‘coloureds’ in the country and Lou upped the ante with a long rant about the Maoris (including a rambling load of drunken nonsense about a benevolent old English Lord called Cecil he used to work for who treated him quite well – amazing). ‘The white man made this country’, was Scottish man’s contribution and the evening was ruined. We made our excuses and retreated to our van to play some cards, leaving Lou and his new friend to drunkenly stumble into their respective beds.

Next morning we drove up the coast to the town of Napier. A huge earthquake had destroyed the town in the early 1930’s so the buildings here are all in the prevailing style of the day – Art Deco – which makes the town look quite unusual and very interesting. Next was Taupo where we lunched and saw Huka Falls where enormous amounts of water gush into a very small river at huge speeds, then we drove up towards Rotorua and stayed at our last DOC site, next to another lake.

This area of the North is known for its thermal springs and volcanic activity and the next day we visited the newest thermal area in New Zealand, the steaming lakes having been created as recently as 1886 by a huge eruption. Smelling of sulphur, the lakes are around 50 degrees C and are quite acidic. In parts, they appear to boil but this is apparently due to carbon dioxide and other gases bubbling up from the bottom. Having walked the route, we drove to Rotorua and spent an hour or two in the natural hot springs of the Polynesian Spa which was oddly exhausting as it was like sitting in a warm bath for ages.

Exhausted, we dragged ourselves back to the vans and drove up to a campsite at Matamata which we picked only because it was only two hours drive from Auckland. The campsites are good, because they have electricity and hot showers but the DOC sites are absolutely stunning places to stay and we all agreed that we should have stayed in more of them. A superb meal was created and consumed and the mere 6 (SIX!!!) bottles of wine that remained were downed, leaving only the dessert wine which would be eliminated the next day in the park.

Some large hangovers greeted us in the morning so packing up our stuff and driving up to Auckland was tiring but we made it in time, checked into our hotel, dropped off the vans, drank the dessert wine and shared our last meal as a four – a superb Italian in Ponsonby. Our travelling companions left for their flight and we collapsed into bed.

Our last half day in the wonderful country of New Zealand was mostly spent trying to find a pie. Contrary to most people’s idea of the kind of food Annika prefers to eat, she has taken to pies in a big way here and, having read about a shop called Ponsonby Pies in Adele’s guide book, we set off at 11am in search of The Piely Grail. Having spent 2 hours looking for it, we discovered that it is now a t-shirt shop so we had to settle for a pie from one of the other 900 places that sell pies in Auckland, most of which we had passed by whilst on our hunt!

A brisk walk back to our hotel and now we bid farewell to the land of the Kiwi. Or should I say the land of the wine?! We reckon that we consumed more than 70 bottles of the stuff between the four of us since we arrived, 19 days ago – and that doesn’t include tastings and the odd glass or bottle in restaurants and bars! We have all agreed that we are bad influences on each other and a period of austerity will immediately follow. Probably.

It’s been a great couple of weeks – it was excellent fun to catch up with friends so far away from home and our thanks go out to Damon and Adele who are, like us now, in the air on their way home for booking the vans and coming out to join us on our trip. New Zealand is well worth visiting, whether you’re into booze and good food, activities or just amazing scenery and nice people.

But now we move onto Chile. Obviously the earthquake has had an effect on our plans and we’re still not sure what we’re going to do yet. All we know so far is that we have 2 nights booked in Santiago and then we’re off for our detox – to the wine country of Mendoza. Oh. Dear.