08.12.2006 - 07.01.2007 18 °C
Greetings from month two in New Zealand, Aotearoa, 'Land of the long white cloud'..you might be interested to hear a little about month one..
I arrived at Auckland International Airport feeling ecstatic! That might not be that normal for a) someone who has just disembarked from a long haul flight or b) someone who has just landed in Auckland - many people say that Auckland is the least interesting part of one of the most beautiful and spectacular countries on the planet.....but I was overjoyed knowing that I was in the Southern Hemisphere, on the other side of the globe when I had for so long been convinced I would never make it this far...and I mean that figuratively as well as literally...
So ecstasy or maybe adrenalin brought on by crippling tiredness I felt when I headed to my first New Zealand party (evening of day of arrival) where I had my first experience of the sheer warmth and friendliness of kiwis, met my first (and up to this point only) NZ sheep farmer...(actually he was a dairy farmer but that didn't sound as good in a land of 40 million sheep, outnumbering the human population by 10 to 1) and celebrated, at midnight, 48 hours of being awake ...(flight from Mexico to LA, 12 hour wait in LA, 12 hour flight to NZ, arriving at 6am and staying awake til that night)..
Given the kiwi love of the great outdoors (more of that later)...I was packed off to the Waitakere Ranges on the morning of day two for my first tramp (hike to us English folk)...damnit it those kiwis are fit..running up and down the hills, charging their way through bush (foliage)...bless them they even tried to make me feel better by saying i must not be used to the altitude (hmm we were probably a few hundred metres above sea level) or I must be still tired from my long haul flight...I was willing to go with that excuse for my lameness, in particular my balance...which was shocking...but then I've never had to negotiate tracks that are so muddy and rocky and slippy that you have to swing from tree to tree, Tarzan-style..inevitably I did fall on my arse into the mud and Nicola has a delightful snap of said muddy arse with me in a position about to tip over again..
So Nicola is a girl from my first Green Tortoise trip and I headed down south with her and her friend Sam for a few days before meeting up with my mum in Christchurch...both very lovely people and both JAFAs (Just Another * Aucklander)..first stop Wellington, the capital...and obviously number one on anyone's agenda when visiting a capital city is.....a day out in Parliament!!!! Well what fascinating stuff...I saw my first Tui (on the way in!)...a special bluey NZ bird with a funny-sounding call...reminded myself that NZ was the first country in the world to give women the vote (1894)...so huge numbers of brownie points for that...got involved in a political demonstration, heard a speech from the FEMALE prime minister, Helen Clark (please no comments about Thatcher) and discovered that NZ has both a Rastafarian MP and a Transgender MP...now I just can't imagine that in Westminster..this must be one advanced country!! As for the demonstration...it was pretty exciting...the protesters where fighting a bill that would regulate the selling of dietary supplements...what ensued could only be described as playground antics of the highest calibre with the crowd heckling and booing the NZ First leader, Winston Peters who in turn gave back to individuals in the crowd calling one 'sunshine' and and making remarks like, 'how about asking questions, when I'm finished honey' and saying he needed to present a 'few bloody facts' to counter claims made by the Green MP, Sue Kedgley...John Prescott eat your heart out...Des you would have loved it...I laughed hysterically from the side of the lawn where I was sunning myself under the ferocious sun (more of that later too)...who would have thought political activism would be so alive and well in NZ..
From Wellington it was just a short hop over the Cook Strait to the South Island to check out some of the reputedly wet, Western coasts..and I can confirm that they did indeed live up to their reputation..the sudden decline in fortunes really began with my trip on the Tranzalpine railway to the East Coast to meet my mum in Christchurch...it's meant to be one of the beautiful railway journeys in the world but it was shrouded in rain and fog for the entire journey...actually that wasn't the decline in my fortunes at all...through some strange twist of fate my mum happened to be getting on the train at a stop further down the line so we had an emotional reunion of the platform at Arthur's Pass station before she had to go back to her half of the train and I had to return to mine (the sections were blocked off by a tantalising no entry sign in the middle!)..so a momentary increase in my fortunes occured when I got to stay in my mum's v swanky hotel in Christchurch for a night, complete with pool and spa and sauna...a free 3 course evening meal...if you don't think that is that amazing...then obviously you haven't lived in hostels and on buses for months on end...I exaggerate because actually I've stayed at a lot of people's lovely houses and you can't get more comfort and home from home than that...I even got to meet an Australian nun, new friend of my mother's who invited me to her convent in Sydney...I'll have to check it out for sure given my new found love of all things monastical..
Well as for the decline..it all started innocently enough with constant rain cancelling every activity we had booked..whalewatching, swimming with dolphins...dicing with death while tramping on cliff edges with howling winds and rain around us...a very bad ferry crossing over the Cook Strait up to the North Island...and by bad I mean..the only way to make it through the 3 hour trip was wearing accupressure armbands, taking ginger anti-sea sickness tablets, sitting in one spot at the back of the boat and concentrating on only one spot on the horizon, meditating and not speaking or communicating with others in any way..oh yes and wearing earplugs to drown out the sound of those less fortunate making good use of their sea sickness bags...I've never seen so many people collapsed on the floor on a boat in my life!
Anyway, the next morning all I could hear was screams coming from my mum in the shower...now I thought that I had become a super nice person after doing all the yoga stuff....examining the deep, dark recesses of my mind, flushing out the bad, heralding in the new....but it turns out I'm still a thoughtless, inconsiderate person...for I actually ignored my mother's screams...if there is any defence to my actions..it was because I thought she was having one of those problems with temperature control of the shower...you know when you freeze and then scold your whole body etc etc...but anyway it turned out that she had actually put her back out completely...necessitating assitance in almost every regard..and later that day I realised I was at the beginning of what turned out to be a stinking cold...and then we got jailed on christmas eve...of all days!!!!
Actually, the truth is less exciting but possibly more strange...we did actually choose to go to prison for christmas..I'm unclear as to why two normally sane people would do that but there you go...I think it was something about all other accommodation being booked up in Napier on christmas eve if you try to make the booking on 21st December...http://www.napier-prison-accommodation.com/. The more right wing amongst you will be pleased to learn that prison is still a bit of a shit place to spend christmas eve...lucky we had that whole novelty factor and more hysterical laughter from me combined with scowling at me from my mum to get us through the night...she didn't scowl really...she's not really a scowling mother but i bet mothers in books would have scowled at that precise moment.....so we got shut in our cell for the night..the only concessions afforded us in recognition of our non-incarcerated status were 1. A curtain over the bars on the door to allow for a modicum of privacy...you could still hear everything outside though...esp. the menacing sounds of clanking as people walked down the corridors outside..plus the curtain wasn't long enough meaning one had to undress lying down behind the bed 2. A small wooden frame around the toilet (slop bucket), 3. Two A4 pieces of paper on the wall with photocopied prints at odd angles (obviously attempting to hide something!) 4. Not locking us on even though the huge bolt and padlock remained on the outside..so they could have done and last but not least 5. no ghostly apparitions appeared on that particular night...maybe they were partying with the Germans next door...
But the following morning we woke up and the sun was streaming through the bars of our cell window and I was truly happy...and I even had five presents too..amazing..thanks mum, Des and Evie....and then we had a picnic on the beach...I've always wanted to do that for christmas! If it hadn't been for Des and Evie not being there it might have been the most relaxing and nicest christmas ever...later that day we drove to Tongariro National Park...what a truly beautiful place...before heading on to Rotorua which the guidebook described as being 'smelt before seen'...how true..this is volcano country you see....so sulphery smells pervade the air....Rotorua has a long history of Maori settlement in the area...so what better place than this to enjoy our first Hangi...food steamed to perfection in a traditional Maori earth oven...I think they basically heat some stones to ridiculously high temperatures and the stones then cook the food inside some pit in the ground which is covered with some wet sacks which add to the process by steaming the food - very clever! The tourist package also included a Maori concert complete with performance of the Haka...which was truly spine tingling stuff..and we even got to check out some glowworms in the bush afterwards...what amazing little creatures! oh and eels...more animals to add on to my 'animals seen since commencement of travelling list'..
From there we made our way up to the Coromandel to stay at a B&B where breakfast wasn't included...and that was run by people who panicked about our whereabouts with the result that they called the police...fair enough we were out after 10:20pm.....On the happier side of things we did get to check out a Hot Water beach where you dig a whole in the sand and you can then have a bath in water that is literally scolds you...I know it's all appealing stuff...from there we headed to the Bay of Islands for a relaxing new year's eve...eating fresh New Zealand fish..yum...watching the sunset over Russell harbour (all in your honour Russ!) and new year's day checking out some bottlenose and common dolphins...they've just been promoted to my new favourite animal...and I didn't even have a favourite animal before! From there it was just a brief stop in Waipu in a B&B with the most incredible view from our bedroom...before returning back over the harbour bridge to Auckland...I was a wee bit sad the next day when I had to see my mum off at the airport..she's just flown to Sydney on the next stage of her round the world trip..
The little things that make kiwi land not like Britain
Let's be honest here...New Zealand does have a lot in common with GB..some dramatic mountains (Scotland), lots of sheep (Wales) and Marmite, crunchie bars, meat pies and fish and chips...or rather fush and chips...(England)...ahh us blighties always colonise places and leave the best parts behind.....but that's good because it makes me pay a little bit more attention to things in order to hoke out the real differences...
1. The pronunciation of English - as mentioned above...here we have 'fush' and 'bitter' instead of 'fish' and better' and so forth..
2. Fruits I've never heard of before but are tasty - Fejoa
3. Animals I've never heard of before...Tuatara (one of the oldest reptiles in the world), Kakapo (flightless parrot), Kea, Weka etc..
4. A particular species of bird that plays chicken in the road with oncoming traffic...they don't even fly out of the way when you approach..they sort of scuttle quickly..to give them their due though I never saw a squashed one which cannot be said for possums...mind you kiwis deliberately swerve to hit them..they are a major ecological nuisance here you see...I bet it's still mainly men that do that though....perhaps someone can help by identifying what this bird is? It's brownish with white patches on the under side of its wings.
5. Continuing on the subject of roads..the best anti drink driving signs I've seen...'Catch a drink driver, bloody legend!' and 'drink while driving, bloody idiot!'. I love them...I can't imagine those bureaucrats at the Department for Transport authorising that back at home...Ad I even think it beats 'Don't weekEnd it!'..
6. Forests or bush as they are known here look like tropical rainforests...as I suppose they are...and the giants ferms are truly pretty awe-inspiring..as are the big kauri trees...puts our deciduous collection a little to shame..
7. Kumara - well we have it but under a different name..sweet potato..it's very yummy steamed in Maori earth ovens I discovered!
8. Eating out is a zillion times cheaper..I ate a meal in a pub for two pounds and I got two portions of fish and chips for less than 2 pound 50!
9. Flightless birds..that's what you end up with when you have no native mammals (except for a few miniature bats) and therefore no preditors..not sure kiwis are that cute but there's certainly something about them..
10. Although I compared the mountains here to those in Scotland..the scenery and landscape here does really outclass the UK..
11. Outdoor culture - although they do appear to share our avid love of Corrie! These New Zealanders are so into their great outdoors..that one kiwi mother even told me a tale of a time when she wanted to go surfing so much (the waves were that good) that she tethered her 15 month old baby to the tent further up the beach so baby could explore the area around the tent while mother caught some waves...no weekend is complete without a tramp, kayak, bungee jump...even grannies are doing it...and outdoor shops abound..
12. Everything's the other way round...sun's path, January means summer, and water swirling the other way down the toilet..
13. New Zealand is 268,000 sq km, while UK is a piddling 244,800 sq km..both are smaller than Colorado though!
14. Football here means the All Blacks.
13. Shiny, happy people...they sure are friendly folk..
So to sum up...I like New Zealand...all of me does with the exception of my skin which hates it here..who can blame it..my face is covered in a mixture of constant sun burn (nose), mosquito bites (6 scattered about cheeks which have only faded to the point where they look like huge spots) and a rash on my chin...
Those of you interested in a yoga update will be pleased to learn that I am continuing my daily practice in all manner of places with no regard for personal dignity...
That's all for now..I shall love you and leave you and go and pay the whopping internet cafe bill I've just accrued writing this...if you have made it to the end, well done, thank you and peace be with you...