Kia Ora! That’s hello in Maori by the way. Actually that’s all the Maori we’ve picked up so far although we can speak perfect Kiwi lingo – achieved by simply adding ‘eh bro?’ to the end of every sentence.
Every day’s a school day with us, eh Bro?
So we arrived back in Auckland safe and sound after our very close call with Cyclone Pam, ready to explore both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Neither of us really knew what to expect from New Zealand but we can really only describe it in one word – Wales!
It’s green and hilly with a rugged coastline, very changeable weather and a high ratio of sheep to people. Despite being on the other side of the planet, we can’t help but feel at home.
Kiwi or Welsh Valleys??
Arriving in New Zealand is also like stepping back in time, though we don’t mean that to sound offensive. Technology, cars, buildings and décor don’t appear to have moved on at all since the 1970’s (or so Jase tells me LOL). Even the major hubs such as Auckland feel more like small towns than cosmopolitan cities.
Houses are mainly single storey and really oldy worldy:
We spent our first week exploring the Bay of Islands, which was advertised as follows in the tourist guide:
“Renowned for its sandy beaches and long, warm days, ‘the winterless north’ is the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing holiday beside the sea”.
Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Here are our pics from the ‘winterless north":
It was absolutely bloody freezing and pissed down relentlessly the whole time we were there. We did our best to see the sights, making a mad dash from the car for a quick photo opportunity in between rain storms.
Despite not always getting the timing quite right, we did manage to see 90 mile beach as well as the Cape Reinga lighthouse.
90 mile beach (we felt a little short changed when we discovered it’s actually only 60 miles long!):
Watch out sunbathers - 90 mile beach is also an official public highway!!:
Cape Reinga Lighthouse:
The saying ‘it never rains but it pours’ certainly applied to us in our first week. Despite out-running Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, her next stop was to the north-east coast of New Zealand. On the day that the Cyclone was due to hit the New Zealand, we were in Whangarei – on the north-east coast.
Everyone in the local area was advised to stock up on essentials and only travel outside if absolutely necessary. Jase and I heeded the advice and stocked up on beer and chocolate (essentials of sorts) before locking ourselves away in our static caravan to sit out the storm. Probably not the most suitable choice of accommodation given the weather forecast but we hadn’t anticipated such extreme weather on our travels.
With no heating and only one working TV channel thanks to the storm, we spent the evening huddled together with the electric stove on for warmth, watching Dickinson’s Real Deal while our tin shed was battered by the wind and rain. Like we said, just like home.
After 2 days locked away with only David Dickinson and a bar of Dairy Milk for company, we were ready to kill each other. Thankfully the weather started to clear and our diving trip which had been cancelled a couple of days before due to the cyclone, had been rescheduled. Wooo hoooo!
We headed to Tutukaka to board the dive boat which would take us to Poor Knights Island for a full day of scuba diving. Being the start of Autumn here in New Zealand, the diving conditions are pretty cold. 20 degree water may not sound that chilly but it’s not much fun unless you’ve got all the right gear. Thankfully we were kitted out with full length thick wetsuits, neoprene vests, hoods and booties before setting sail out to the islands.
Poor Knights Island:
True to form I was sick as a dog despite taking heaps of anti-sickness meds before leaving shore. We arrived at our first dive site and as per usual, Jase and the dive master had to dress me like a small child. They squeezed me into my wetsuit, BCD, mask and fins while I stared straight out towards the horizon, unable to shift my gaze for even a second in case I puked.
The dive site was absolutely beautiful and completely different to anything we’d seen before. The sea bed was covered in bright yellow kelp which we were able to swim in and through, looking for weird and wonderful sea creatures.
We uncovered several moray eels and a rather ugly stonefish which Jase had a blinking contest with – and won!
Unfortunately for me the swaying kelp made me sea sick beneath the surface too so I spent the whole dive staring straight ahead into the big blue, looking at nothing but Jase taking lots of pictures of the interesting stuff below.
Eyeballed by a fish:
Don’t look down!
My view for the entire dive:
The second dive was inside the Riko Riko cave which is the largest sea cave in the world according to our skipper and was virtually pitch black and freezing cold. The acoustics in the cave were incredible and despite the skipper’s encouragement for the only Welshman on the boat to belt out a line from “Bread of Heaven”, Jase confirmed that due to a severe tuning issue he’s had since birth it was better for everyone on board if he didn’t oblige.
We descended to the sea bottom and I was relieved to discover that there wasn’t any swirling seabed to make me puke. With a torch to guide us, we dived along the sea bottom before reaching a jaw bone from a sperm whale. It was absolutely enormous – around 2 metres long!
We swam back to the boat along the cave walls, using the torch light to check out the psychedelic coral. We both had a cracking dive.
Riko Riko cave coral:
Sperm whale jaw bone:
Over the next week we worked our way down the east coast and around the stunning Coromandel peninsular, travelling through every type of weather you can imagine.
The landscape changed from rugged coastline to wide expanses of pine forest to coves and bays that reminded us of the Med.
Craggy Whangarei Coastline:
Top of Mount Paku:
The little pink thing is me!
With such gorgeous scenery, we both agreed it was an ideal opportunity to don our walking boots and get some mileage under our belt in preparation for our 5 day trek across Milford Sound on the South Island next month.
We spent 3 days in Te Ahora, a small and very charming town on the Karangahake gorge. Once a very successful goldmining community, Te Aroha is like something out of the Wild West with saloon style bars and grocery stores set within heavily mined mountains.
Rolling valleys en route to Te Aroha:
The Karangahake Gorge:
We hiked along the gorge, through old railway tunnels and explored the old mining ruins. We also trekked to the summit of the Te Aroha Mountain which took us 7 hours in total and left us in tatters that evening. With sore feet and aching limbs we couldn’t help but wonder if we’d underestimated the effort required to trek across Milford Sound.
Spooky old railway tunnels – over 1km long:
Mount Te Aroha Summit :
We’re going up there!??!
At the summit – eventually!
Our next stop after Te Aroha was to Waitomo. Anywhere with a resident to pub ratio of 5:1 is surely worth a visit, however it was Waitomo’s underground caves that attracted us to the area.
Jase had arranged for us to stay in a local B&B which was also a working farm. The owner was a very lovely but eccentric old lady who was clearly a hoarder, with a love of animals, an aversion to cleaning and a very unhealthy obsession with peaches. Peaches were shoved into every nook and cranny available and in every imaginable form – fresh, preserved, pureed, whole, sliced and diced. We even spotted them wedged in between the books in the book case.
The B&B owner kept a large number of animals inside the house, which coupled with the piles of crap everywhere really put us off eating inside. We went out for food before heading to the caving centre. Jase had booked us on a trip through the Otorohanga caves, home to the famous Waitomo glow worms.
I was really looking forward to a gentle boat ride through the cave system to see these amazing creatures for myself. Given that Jase was left to his own devices to organise this trip, I should have guessed a gentle boat ride wasn’t on the agenda. My suspicions were confirmed when we were handed our wetsuits, jackets, wellies, hard hats and head torches.
It’s hard work being this damn sexy:
We set off with our young guide Gareth across a huge farm before reaching a very small dark and dank hole in the ground, with a ladder leading down into the darkness. We squeezed ourselves down through the hole and found ourselves in a foot of water at the start of the cave system.
We turned on our head torches ready for our underground adventure. The caves were dark, wet, cold, muddy and absolutely bloody brilliant! We spent the next few hours navigating our way through the huge expanse of caves, at times 150 feet below ground.
We climbed over collapsed sections of cave, squeezed our way through small holes and swam through flooded sections in 7 metre deep freezing cold water which we shared with freshwater eels.
A few tight squeezes:
There were a couple of “No Chance” moments when we were asked to squeeze through some tiny spaces whilst neck high in icy water but we managed to make it through each one successfully (admittedly one hole did require Gareth to pull while Jason pushed but my fat arse eventually conceded).
We eventually reached a very large and beautiful section of cave, when Gareth told us to switch off our head torches. The whole cave was lit up like a Christmas tree by several thousand glow worms. The amount of light they gave off was unbelievable, we could see each other perfectly when we would otherwise be in pitch darkness. It was bizarre but beautiful.
In the cave was a rope which held together several huge rubber rings. We were handed one each and Gareth demonstrated how to get it in them.
He climbed up the side of a huge rock, leaned forwards with his back to the water, held the rubber ring against his backside and pushed himself off with his legs landing perfectly in the water several metres below.
It looked like great fun and easy enough so I went first. Sadly I think I was a little lack lustre in my jump as I pushed myself off the rock but forgot to lean backwards, thus face planting the ice cold water in a giant belly flop. Once I got my breath back I was able to join in the laughter which echoed around the cave. Then it was Jason’s turn to jump, which rather predictably was perfectly executed (though in my opinion a little boring) and we were on our way.
We hooked ourselves together into a chain and Gareth paddled us through the caves with no lights so we could admire the glow worms above. It was at this point Gareth told us glow worms are actually maggots and the light shines out of their arse as they burn off their excrement. This additional information somewhat spoiled the otherwise romantic moment.
Chilling out in our rubber rings:
We had immense fun and after several hours of adventure, it was time to leave. We clambered up over rocks and boulders until we emerged in the middle of a field, at least a mile from the hole where we first descended. We had a long hot shower before rewarding ourselves with pizza and beer.
The following morning Jase and I quarrelled over who was going to go and tell the owner we didn’t want to eat breakfast. Just before we resorted to paper scissor stone, we realised it was 8:30 and breakfast was served. Shit.
We ploughed our way through a breakfast of peach salad, peach juice, toast and peach jam before packing up our things. Just as we were about to leave, the owner invited us to go and meet her farm animals. She was really sweet and we did have time to spare, so we said yes.
The farm was just as strange as its owner. It was a menagerie of ostriches, pigs, bulls, llamas, alpaca’s, emu’s, goats, sheep and horses which all shared a single paddock.
We hand fed and petted the enormous animals tentatively, which became very aggressive whenever we ran out of food. After we finished our last tub of corn, the 7 foot ostrich started going nuts, snapping his beak and flaring his wings while the llama and alpaca both circled us aggressively.
Then we heard a loud thumping sound and turned around to see that the bull from the far side of the paddock was now legging it full steam towards us.
We shat ourselves and looked to the owner for assistance, only to discover she was stood there looking utterly petrified herself! Had she ever actually been inside these paddocks before?!?!
We left – very quickly.
I’m more of a city girl to be honest:
Hurry up and take the bloody picture!:
Our next stop was New Plymouth where Jase had booked us into a lovely sea front cabin for a couple of days. He certainly redeemed himself after our stint at the Peach Paradiso.
Our seafront cabin (and sporty Nissan Tilda!):
Sunset from our porch:
We were blessed with great weather and made the most of it by walking for several miles along the beautiful coastal walkway. Sods law the first bit of great weather we get and we both get sunburned – gutted!
Perfect weather for long coastal walks:
Black sandy beaches in New Plymouth:
Ever heard of sun cream?
We had brunch in Wellington today before boarding the Cook Strait ferry, which is where we’re sat right now typing this. We’re en route to Picton which is where we’ll start our one month tour of the South Island.
The Cook Strait Ferry:
Thankfully it’s only a 3 hour crossing as I forgot to take my sea sickness tablets which are in the car below deck. We tried to get some fresh air up on top deck but it was a little blowy for our liking.
Jedward eat your heart out!
Jase has been busy making plans for the next few weeks including a number of sporty and adrenaline based activities to put us through our paces.
In preparation we’ll be cutting down on the booze and chocolate from tomorrow so tonight is our ‘last supper’. We’ve got a boot full of beer and are planning on enjoying another little taste of home tonight - Fish n Chips :-)
So we’ll speak to you again soon…… Eh Bro!!!!!