14 Mar 2012

New Zealand - Northland - part 1

Flying from Santiago to New Zealand across the Pacific one inevitably crosses the international dateline. We were newbies and perhaps more time than was good for us was spent trying to work out which day/hour/week it was at various points on the flight, especially as it was Pam's birthday briefly, all too briefly, about 3 hours in.

So then, New Zealand or Aotearoa (Maori),the north island or Northland as they say here - first impressions...

In their natural habitat Kiwis always wear short trousers and are rarely seen with any kind of footwear whether it be in the supermarket, restaurant, beach, house or bush. They are unbelievably friendly and helpful and keen to welcome you to their homeland and they will do anything and everything they can to ensure that you have a good time. Come to think of it, they are super friendly and helpful wherever they are, but it would appear especially so when they are the hosts.

Coffee - what can be said other than spectacular! It would be difficult, for obvious familial reasons, to claim that the Kiwi's serve a better coffee than the Italians, but the 'flat white', a Kiwi invention as far as we know, is something to behold and we would challenge anyone who likes the black stuff not to become a flat white addict within moments of touch down in this fair land.

Food - more expensive in super markets than expected but cheaper in restaurants. We have eaten three of the best meals of our lives here (more detail later), incredibly good quality produce everywhere, extremely creative chefs mixing it with the best internationally and outstanding service delivered by beachwear attired surfing dudes and dudettes who know everything about their country's food and wine (and the rest of the world's for that matter) with a grace and humour that is second to none!

For whatever reasons, over the years we had been led to believe that coming to NZ would be like stepping back in time, to a certain extent, when compared to Europe. Ha, absolute piffle and poppycock and codswallap. That may have been the case twenty years ago, maybe even a decade, but NZ as far as we can see today is highly sophisticated with a quality of life that makes western Europe look rather anachronistic, insular and tired.

Ok enough tourist board discipling, where have we been?

Highlights of the North Island:
We flew into Auckland, NZ's largest city (1.4 million) beautifully surrounded by water and harbours and bays and hills. The Sky Tower can be seen from everywhere and the views from the top are incredible. And if you want to jump off the tower of course you can, because now you are in the land of the crazy extreme experience where there are more ways to almost kill yourself than perhaps anywhere else.

Neither of us felt the urge to jump from the tower but we did imbibe a glass or two of the bubbly stuff in the bar at the top as the sun was setting (Ben trying to make up for Pamela's missed birthday). We then ate the first amazing NZ meal in The Grove, if you visit Auckland then make sure you eat here, spectacular - thank you Kathy and Luigi!

We then drove down to stay in a bach (rhymes with 'catch') - kiwi word for holiday home - on Lake Taupo (which is in the middle of the north island) for a week. A thousand thank you's to Val and Don, we of course promised not to mention the 70's wall paper in the bathroom so won't do that, actually we thought it was groovy, suffice it to say that we loved having our own little house in this amazing spot which enabled us to do so much in the area (bungy, tramping the Tongariro Crossing, jetboating, kayaking, more walking around the lake, chilling) - fabulous.

Ben does bungy - of course it had to be done, at least once, but I can absolutely assure you that I will never do it again. Put it this way, fortunately the microphones didn't pick up what was being said/emitted/articulated on the way down/up/down/up/down...

Tongariro crossing - as we were no more than 20 minutes drive from the start point of this tramp - rated as the best one day trek in NZ and by many to be in the top 10 on the planet - it was a definite not to be missed. The only issue is the weather. As we discovered speaking with locals and anyone who has done the walk, Tongariro's micro climate always throws up some interesting factors. For us it was walking in cloud for the first half of the walk and then enjoying the 100 km/hr winds on the very top ridge before dropping over the other side to clear skies, amazing views and the reason why this walk is so highly rated.

Jetboating - like bungy jet boats were invented in NZ. They are incredible pieces of kit. Originally built to cope with NZ's shallow and often rapid watered rivers there is no propeller, the water is drawn in and then blown out the back through jets at much higher speed, which means they can navigate waters of no more than 3 inches in depth. Moving the direction of the jets changes the direction of the boat, dramatically, the manoeuvrability of these machines is insane.

Add an 8 litre 500hp Chevy engine and you can see why 12 people will pay good money to be driven at up to 85km/hr down a shallow river doing doughnuts/handbrake turn style 180's/through the rapids for a drenching/general messing about...

we loved it and if you are in the area go with Rapidsjet, they rock!

We also tried to go up in gliders and skydive, but the weather wasn't great - a quick note about the NZ weather. Aotearoa, the Maori name for NZ, literally means 'The Land of the Long White Cloud' and they are not kidding. All the locals throughout our time here have complained about the rubbish summer, yup, you thought we were swanning it up with constant sunshine, noooooooo, it rains, but when in NZ do as the kiwis do (not necessarily barefoot and short-trousered) get out in whatever weather and just get on with it.

One thing we hadn't realised (or we had forgotten all that gcse geography) is how young NZ is geologically and just how active a land it still is today due to its position on the edge of the pacific plate which is subducting (being pushed under) under the Indo-Australian plate to the north and east. The crazy thing is that in the south island all that reverses, so the country is literally twisting and twitching as well as rattling and a rolling.

There are between 16 and 17 thousand earth quakes in NZ each year, most of them too small to feel but of course some definitely do get felt, as in Christchurch - more of which later.

And then there are the volcanoes, Lake Taupo being the biggest visible consequence of past volcanic activity as it lies in a caldera formed by a supervolcanic eruption 26,500 years ago. Since then it is estimated it has erupted 28 times, the last big one in 180 AD when the Chinese and even the Romans reported that the sky turned red - it covered the whole of the north island in a great deal of ash/rock/mess. Fortunately no one was hurt as the Maori didn't turn up for another 1000 years.

By the time we had visited the local volcanic centre and learnt all this, along with seeing smoke and steam coming out of the hills behind the house, along with boiling mud on the banks of the river where we were kayaking, well it seemed like time to move on...

1 comment:

  1. If anyone else wants to see the 70s wallpaper as well as the other unmissable sites... come visit!!!


    valerie x