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Mar 01 2008

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New Zealand – 2008 – Diary

Monday 11 February

Ferry crossing was 6 hours not 3 as there was a problem with the engine and we limped across the gap between the two islands. It is very beautiful scenery especially when the weather improved (it had been trying to rain when we boarded).

Between the islands

En-6 hours-route

Met Gordy and Carol, two fellow motorcyclists, who were generous with their time and patience going over some ‘must ride’ roads with us on our maps. They live in the North island.

Carol and Gordy, Lynda and Kevin

We met Carol and Gordy on the ferry

Once we got off the ferry we decided to ride to the ‘Art Deco’ capital of the island, Napier, which is just next to Hastings! (The early settlers must have all been very homesick as there are so many ‘English’ town names. We’ve seen Hastings, Aylesbury, Blenheim to name a few). The town was destroyed in 1931 in a huge earthquake and the resulting rebuilding was Art Deco, a style which the town has embraced. Next weekend there is an Art Deco weekend so we were lucky to be here a bit earlier, otherwise we might not have found anywhere to stay. This was quite a long ride squashed into a short afternoon.

Stayed at a modern motel – the Deco City – where we had a nice apartment with two bedrooms and a huge Jacuzzi bath which I made full use of. I was just drying myself when I spotted a huge insect on the floor! We decided it was a cricket. It was a good 2.5 inches long not including the antennae.

Tuesday 12 February

We spent some time looking round Napier and visited the National Aquarium. It’s very small (especially compared to the Monterey Bay one we saw a few weeks ago) but was very interesting. They have concentrated on fish that are from this area and some of the other interesting creatures such as the Kiwi and crocodiles. They have a dinosaur exhibition as they have been found here too.

National Aquarium

Another great day

Lynda in Shark teeth

Would you get in the water if this chap was around?

Crocodile

This fellow was very real but lazy – I only saw him move his arm once!

Later on we travelled to Taupo, a lakeside town where we had a bargain stay in a motel which, it has to be said, has seen better days but is on the lake so we had a good view.

The bikes are behaving OK despite one of our panniers falling off. Luckily it was at our petrol stop on Sunday so we were able to buy bungies and it’s quite secure now. The tyres are beginning to look satisfyingly worn and both Kevin and Richard are enjoying riding the long sweeping bends. They put speed indicators on most of the bends so it’s quite easy to get to know how tight the bends are and take them at a satisfying speed. We did have a funny moment earlier today when we were going round a right hand bend and suddenly the bike did a jiggle when Kevin was made to jump by his foot touching the ground (not as much of a jump as I had though!!).

Anyway, I’d better stop now as we’re both really tired. I think our bodies have got into the time zone but all the riding and fresh air seem to be having an effect on us!

Hello again! We’ve been trying to find somewhere with Wi-Fi so that we can send this but for over a week we’ve had no luck. The fact that you are reading this means that, finally, we have found somewhere. We’ve had a terrific week. We made the right decision to go north as, from speaking to people and seeing the TV, the south has been deluged. Reports are that the fine weather is here to stay in the south so now we’re back here we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Wednesday 13 February

Kevin was keen to go to White Island which is a live volcano that last erupted in 2000 so we arranged for a helicopter ride. Quick dash to Whakatane airport, (50 miles) then onto the helicopter for the 50k ride to the island. What can I say? It was the most amazing experience to be in a helicopter flying over the still active volcano, then even more amazing to land on it and get out. We were equipped with hard hats and gas masks and the pilot was very knowledgeable about the various different geological features including the sulphur lake which started developing as recently as 1985, the mud pools with ferocious bubbling and the steam vents. There was an overall smell of bad eggs but we were lucky not to have to resort to putting on the gas masks. A once-in-a-lifetime experience that we were all very privileged to have enjoyed.

White Island

Up close and personal!

After we flew back to the airport, we were keen to return to Rotorua to go to the geysers – a site that Billy Connolly had recommended in his NZ video. The weather was really hot and we got back to the site with about an hour and a half to closing time. It has to be said that the geysers and mud pools were OK but not a patch on our live volcano experience so we were rather disappointed. Kevin and I had a nice walk through the park though and I was able to practice some more Maori faces again.

Maori sculpture

That’s me on the left!

We then headed up through Tauranga to Katikati where we stopped the night in a nice Motel. We dined at the Landing, a pub-come-restaurant, where we were the last people in there at 8.30! The bits of the town we saw looked very interesting. There were many paintings on the sides of the buildings and a sculpture of ‘Barry – a typical New Zealander with his dog, Spot’ – sitting on a bench reading a newspaper.

Thursday 14 February

Rainy day today. We spent most of our time in waterproofs as we rode north. We visited Dorothy, a friend from the PEMC who emigrated to NZ about 6 years ago. Her house in Whangamata was fabulous – over three floors with great views over the harbour. It stopped raining long enough for us to take a quick walk round the beach. It was very peaceful but Dorothy informed us that it is actually a popular surfing beach; presumably when the wind changes direction.

Dorothy Kevin and Lynda

Dorothy took us to her beach

Once we left Dorothy’s we headed north through Auckland and experienced our first NZ motorway. It was very busy and Kevin was filtering through what appeared to be sleepy non-attentive drivers. Richard commented that following Kevin through the motorway traffic was like following Moses through the Red Sea. We’re not sure whether filtering is allowed but we passed a couple of Police – one in a car and one on a bike – and we didn’t get a pull so expect it is OK.

Carried on through Auckland and up north again to a small town called Waipu. This time it took two attempts at finding accommodation. The first one was bedrooms in a shed with a shared bathroom which would have meant a long walk outside and sharing it with the loggers who were staying there. Not my idea of luxury so we moved onto the next place which was much better.

We walked down to the local pizza come pub place for a very nice meal. We thought it was heaving because it was Valentines day but apparently it is busy every night. Amazing for a small place that is no bigger than Shepherdswell. The walk back was lovely, the air was very warm and the stars were out. There are a lot of large bushes with flowers on that  look like the house plants we buy in the UK on steroids.

Friday 15 February

Took a leisurely ride further north again taking a ferry to Russell, a holiday town with nice ice cream. Again there was another war memorial. This is something that we’ve noticed – at every place we stop, and even those tiny places we’ve just ridden through, there is a war memorial. Once we’d been to Russell we continued on up to the very top of the country, along a stunning road. It had long sweeping bends and Richard and Kevin were in their element. The only snag along the way were the road works which seem to be even more numerous than in the UK. One we went through was just like riding through cement and there was a sign saying ‘LIME – wash car today’. Just as well we’re on bikes then! Just as we thought we’d got away with the road the ‘seal’ stopped and the road degenerated into gravel. Actually, gravel is too posh a word for the aggregate that was on it. 13 miles of ‘off road’ (actually, that’s too grand, more like ‘no road’) on a touring bike fully laden and with pillion. Not a pleasant experience for either of us.

Bumpy Road

This was a ‘good’ section of the road. As you can see I wasn’t hanging on for dear life and was able to take the photo!

I asked Kevin twice to put me off and let me wait for him to come back but he wouldn’t. Once we got to the top we decided it would be worth trying to get me a lift down and one of the people Richard was talking to volunteered to take me. Thanks to Ingrid and Dave for saving me from another 13 miles of hell. Released from the concern for me Kevin had a great ride back down taking full advantage of the off road courses he’s attended.

Lighthouse

The lighthouse in this picture is at the very top of NZ. It has one of those signposts like the one at Lands End

Our final section of the day’s riding was to Houhora and a nice motel with a fantastic view over the bay. We dined at the local sport fishing club where Kevin managed to nearly throw his meal over some poor unsuspecting Kiwis. This was because there was a dance floor with an inch lip which he managed to turn his ankle on. When he got back up every eye in the place was looking at him!

Saturday 16 February

Up early and the plan was to ride for a while then have breakfast. 1.5 hours later we stopped at a little cafe just outside the ferry to Rawene which we took to save us quite a few miles. The weather was a little unpredictable. The weather forecast had been for heavy showers but we managed to avoid most of the rain whilst we were breakfasting. As the day moved on we were lucky enough to mostly get to places just as the rain had finished.

We stopped off at the Waipoua Forest and looked at NZ’s biggest Kauri tree, the Tane Mahuta (‘God of the Forest’). It was very big but difficult to get a good photo with people to scale as they protect it by having specified walkways which are several metres away from the tree.

Kevin and Richard on Bikes

Where are we?

We finally stopped in Te Awamutu at the Commercial Hotel. The hosts had just bought it 3 months ago and could not have been more accommodating. I learned that the hotel had burnt down in the 30s and been rebuilt and one of its famous visitors was the Queen Mother. She hadn’t stayed in our room though!

Another find of the evening was the Roast Shop – a Chinese owned shop selling roast dinners. The three of us sat down to roast Lamb/Beef, with roast potatoes and proper veggies for the princely sum of NZ$42 (approx £17) and that included our drinks!!! It was lovely. Definitely the cheapest night’s stay and eats to date.

Sunday 17 February

Long ride down heading for Wellington and the ferry back to the south island. Weather was OK but we were in clouds for some of the time this morning. We had several slides on wet surfaces so were going relatively slowly. However we did come across a huge patch of aggregate and Kevin (bless his cottons) decided to run it like he ran it the other day when he was on his own – in other words, throttle it and go for it. Unfortunately with me on the back the bike doesn’t respond the same way and a very nasty moment ensued. Richard thought we were off! Needless to say we’ll be taking those patches much more slowly in future! For the record it was a masterful piece of recovery.

Continued onto Wellington despite all of us being bum-sore and Kevin suffering from his right arm, his left knee and coccyx. No change there then 😉

Got to Wellington in time to be too late for the evening ferry so booked for tomorrow. We’re on different ferries – it seems that the entire population of the North island is going south today and tomorrow.

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