Thursday 1 September 2011
It’s Adam’s 40th and Ethan’s 7th birthdays today and there are loads of presents and cards everywhere. It’s a day of recovery for me following the snowboarding and sorting out my washing – oh the glamours of travel! As it’s his birthday, Ethan picks pizza for tea and Claire has got two excellent cakes – a chocolate sponge and a lemon cheesecake – from a local shop.
Friday 2 September 2011
I wake up about 3am with a 4.9 earthquake. I remember it waking me and thinking ‘oh, so that’s an earthquake’ and then rolling over back to sleep. It felt a bit dreamlike. I borrow Adam’s bike for a 16km razz around Bottle Lake Park which includes a couple of kms on the beach. The Park has many mountain bike tracks as well as being a logging forest and a landfill site for a lot of the earthquake debris. As you’re cycling along through many pine trees all off a sudden you come to huge clearings where the loggers have been and the forest disappears, with just roadsigns telling you where you are.
It was my first time on a bike in about 18 months and the saddle on the bike is like a razor blade (which reminded me of this advert) and I was a bit saddle sore when I got back. It was muddy fun though. On return I make some plans for next week. Adam suggests I call one of the camper van companies as they sometimes have one-way specials to return campers to a different place that they’ve been dropped off at. As luck would have it, the first company I call, Kea, has just what I’m after, a 2 berth camper that needs returning to Auckland. I book to collect on Monday which gives me 5 days to get to Auckland. It’s a great deal, costing me only $5 a day plus $70 ferry and diesel and I have to make my own way home, which is via a $99 flight from Auckland.
In the evening Adam, Claire and I head to Chinwag, a Christchurch Thai restaurant, and meet some of their friends for a celebration meal for Adam’s birthday. The food and wine is good as is the company. When we get back, we watch a few old videos on the free music channel. It’s made up mainly of 80s and 90s rock and a few Kiwi classics thrown in for good measure. We try to guess who the members of the Travelling Wilburys are but have to resort to wikipedia to get them all.
Saturday 3 September 2011
It’s a lovely day again in Christchurch and the Canterbury museum has recently re-opened so I head there for some Kiwi culture. There’s an excellent temporary exhibition on Brian Brake, a famous New Zealand photographer, as well as a number of good full-time exhibitions on Antarctic exploration and Maori and early New Zealand life. Christchurch is the base for many Antarctic explorations and there’s lots of displays of the old technology and vehicles they used to use.
After the museum I head to look at the City Centre – or CBD as it’s called here – which is still closed following the quakes. It’s strange to see such a large space at the city’s heart fenced off and eerily quiet with even the bulldozers and diggers quiet on the weekends. Shops are as they’ve been left, with lopsided window displays and interiors abandoned as people fled the scene. There are also cracks and bumps all over the pavements from where the earth has moved.
Spend the afternoon in the local playground with Adam and the kids. Noah loves to be in the swing and pushed around while Ethan climbed all over the frames and ran around the park.
Sunday 4 September 2011
Today is the first anniversary of the first major earthquake in Christchurch. It’s also Ethan’s birthday party and we’re off to Clip n Climb with 5 of his friends. The kids have a great time climbing up the various indoor climbing walls and frames. It’s all a bit mental though with about 30 kids legging it around the place and flinging themselves off various parts of terrain. After this it’s off to McDonalds for lunch. Claire unveils Ethan’s cake and gets a great number of WOWS! from the assembled 7 year olds. You can see why here:
I try a Kiwi burger, which has egg and beetroot along with the usual McDs accompaniments. It’s very similar to all there other burgers and falls apart on eating. All the kids get facepainted and Ethan ends up as a tiger. When it’s time for the kids’ bath later that night, the facepaint turns the bathwater a horrible brown, like he’s been washing mud off.
Monday 5 September
Adam drops me off early at the Kea site at the airport so I can pick up my camper. It’s a very new, only 20,000km of the clock, VW Transporter TDI 2+2 with a fliptop roof and a 7-speed automatic gearbox with DSG (twin clutch). It’s great to drive with a high position and really smooth on the roads. I head north up State Highway 1 to Motueka to some family friends for the night. On the way I stop just outside of Murchieson for coffee and toast, made in the camper’s kitchen of course. As ever in the South Island, the drive is great, quiet roads and stunning views as ever. I stop off for a pee at a signposted site at the side of SH65 and it comes with a great waterfall only a short walk from the car park which has it’s own rainbow (thanks to Google I know they were the Maruia Falls).
As I turn off the main state highway onto the Motueka highway the valley opens up into an amazing view of rolling hills and green pasture with hazy sunshine. The area is full of farms off all sorts, growing grapes, hops, vegetables of all kinds and many types of animal. It’s about 17C and really warm in the sunshine when I find the Trice’s impressive house among all the various farms and even a place with an olive grove! I also learn that some NZ house numbers are measured in how many kms they are from the sea, so the Trices are just shy of 7km from the ocean.
The Trice’s house is up steep driveway and is hilly. They have fit looking pigs (saddlebacks), sheep (Romney-esqu) and chickens (mainly bantams) with feathery legs that they rear (as well as many rogue rabbits), and it is teeming with birdlife. As I arrive Ian has to tend to a bleeding sow, who has been treated to a lovebite from the boar. A quick spray of iodene does the trick. The views from the hills are great and you can see all the way to the coast and beyond. We have a lovely lasagna, made from lamb reared on their small holding along with a few beers and wine. Ian and Susie are keen to hear new music, especially folk, so I inflict some of my collection on them with the promise to send more on via CD once I’m back in the UK.
Tuesday 6 September 2011
To earn my board I help Susie to feed the pigs and heard the sheep and even get to stroke a tame ram, all of which are firsts for me. I learn about a Judas lamb and release the chickens and watch them scratch around the yard as we have a morning brew before heading to Nelson. On the way I stop off at Tahunanui beach for a paddle.
When I arrive, Nelson is gearing up for a ‘long lunch’, a charity day when the centre of the town is closed off and long lunch tables set out. Locals can buy a place at the table with the money going to charity. People then have a long lunch at the table and generally have a good time. I take a look at the fancy but small museum. The woman at reception asks: “Are you local?” and when I answer “no”, I have to pay a $5 fee to enter!
After a potter around the rest of Nelson and buying a couple of books, I head to Cable Bay on Ian’s recommendation for a walk. Cable Bay is the site of the first telegraph line from Australia to New Zealand and is a beautiful spot. However, when I get there the walkway is closed because of the lambing season! After a stroll around the beach and lobbing a few stones in I realise there is no-one else about so decide on a swim. It looks very inviting but when I get in it’s very cold and after a few dunks and a few strokes, I’m soon out and drying myself in the sun. That’s swimming in the Tasman Sea chalked off the ‘Things I Must Do in New Zealand’.
I’ve a ferry to catch tomorrow morning so head to Picton for the campsite, through Blenheim and wine country. The North of the South Island really is lovely and would be a great place to live.
Picton is the main ferry port for ferries to and from Wellington in the North Island. There’s not much to it and after setting up the camper for the night, working out how the bed is unfolded and the blackouts are inserted, I stroll into town for a pint in the Irish bar and then some really good fish and chips (Gurnard and a half scoop) I have an early night.
Wednesday 7 September 2011
Up early to pack away and it’s foggy! However, inbetween the rising Rugby World Cup fever, the radio predicts sunny skies and 16C (+5C above average). Breakfast in the van of coffee, banana and toast and it’s off to the ferry terminal and onto the boat with little fuss and the crossing through the various Sounds to Wellington. It seems quiet on board and the journey is easy going and we catch site of a few dolphins playing in the bow wave.
On arriving in Wellington we’re soon off the boat and I park in Wellington for a stroll around the busy city centre. It’s a strange mix of people in work clothes and tourists here for the World Cup. Stages and screens are being erected on the sea front as locals jump into the harbour and catching tiddlers. I happen across the House of Representatives and a pretty, old graveyard next to the highway. However, the wind is now getting up, the clouds are coming in and my boots start rubbing as I’ve been bitten on my ankle (probably at Cable Bay) and they’re inflamed and itchy as hell. I hurry back to the camper and get out of the city, eager to find countryside and put some miles in. It’s slow going on the highways out of Wellington and it feels much busier than I’m used to. Finally, it opens up and I pick a town on the map, Wanganui, and head for it. As I make a turn on the highway to head west, there is an amazing sunset through the clouds to cheer me up.
I reach the quiet campsite on the edge of town in complete darkness and have fun trying to find my pitch and reverse park in the blacknees. Luckily, I miss all the trees, picnic tables and power points. After the day’s inactivity I head out for an 8km run along a flat road that follows the river where the campsite is.
With it’s bungalows, orange street lighting and flat, quiet roads, it reminds me a lot of running in Thornton and Cleveleys. During the run, I overtake a man on a bike who looks very surprised – Wanganui is so quiet I don’t think anyone has overtaken here before. There is a trainline on the run and as luck would have it I have to stop for the slow, long train on my return run. I chat to some of the other campers who are staying at the site; a few Aussie couples and a British couple over for the World Cup. At night there is a chorus of squawking, grunting and screeching from the nearby bush and river.
Thursday 8 September 2011
After a fitful sleep and being troubled by a rod on the bed at shoulder level, I make an early departure for a walkway on the map about 2okm up the Wanganui River. Unfortunately, when I get there the sign says its 6-8hrs long and I don’t have that time to spare. I look at the map and realise I have several hundred kms to still to travel before the need to drop off the van tomorrow. With a cloudy sky, I decide to do them all today and explore Auckland on Friday, so its back in the saddle and I press on for Auckland. I pass through big national parks and through the sprawl of Hamilton before reaching the Manuka suburb of South Auckland. I get one of the last pitches in the site which is full of campers of all nationalities who have arrived for the World Cup, which starts tomorrow.
Friday 9 September 2011
After deciding yesterday to visit Devonport, I’m off early as the radio is warning of long traffic queues. However, the roads are quiet as everyone seems to have the day off for the start of the World Cup and are all heading for the City Centre.
Devonport is a small naval suburb which has great views of Auckland City Centre and nice beaches nearby. After getting my bearings and breakfast (which gave me a chance to send postcards and various birthday cards) at the Stone Oven Cafe, I climb the North Head hill and Mount Victoria, a small dormant volcano.
As I climb up the smaller North Head, the hill is buzzed by a naval helicopter. Both hills are old forts with gun batteries and long-deserted look out stations. They’re now home to wildlife and schoolkids. The young guys and gals from the New Zealand navy are getting fit running up and down Mt Victoria with various weights and chains. Someone has painted the tops of the air vents for the buildings here below into toadstools and it looks like SuperMario Land. Like a proper old fart, I sit on a bench on the hillside and admire the views across to the City Centre. Here I’m buzzed by a brace of swallows and massive red butterflies as big as my hand.
Devonport’s cafes and pavements are busy with rugby supporters, a few of whom are drinking at lunch in preparation of the festivities later. They’ll have a great view of the planned firework display. There are a few flags from a couple of other countries but they’re mainly lost in the sea of black – the Kiwis are very much behind the All Blacks. I sit on the beach at Torpedo Bay, among the volcanic stone rockpools, seagulls and oystercatchers.
I get back to Christchurch via an easy Jetstar journey in time for some of the impressive opening ceremony – it was great how they incorporated various parts of the city and not just the main stadium, and how Christchurch had a mention – and the first rugby game, New Zealand versus Tonga and the much awaited Hakas of both nations.
As it seems is the norm for Kiwis, the home crowd sit in near silence throughout and most of the noise comes when the Tongans score a try. It’s odd to see the lack of atmosphere the rugby crowds bring to a game here, it’s almost as if they’re in deferential silence or are so apprehensive of losing that they can’t enjoy it. There’s no cheering, singing or chanting. There definitely isn’t any swearing at the ref!!