Fires, sun, sand, snow, sea, volcanos, driftwood, great scenery and new found love's….
I landed in Christchurch the South Islands capital city and was greeted with slightly colder climates and a good friend I met in Chamonix, Nova! She was out on a years working visa and we were planning to see the South Island in her beat up car the Galaxy!
Nova was not alone, she had a couple of dogs, Butch and Posh. These dogs were working dogs and belonged to a cowboy dude Scott who Nova was helping out by hand rearing some calfs! Scotts place would be my home for the next few days, in fact his front room floor would be my bed and I helped out feeding the calfs and around the house to earn my keep! The days were crisp and the nights cold….
Scotts main job was breaking in young horses, in particular troublesome horses. It was Scott and Nova that helped me to find what I think could be a life changing hobby! I didn't need much persuasion (in fact I was chomping at the bit, you could say) and it didn't take long before I was up on a horse. Whilst i have never been on a horse before I always thought I would one day ride a horse, first impressions I loved it! The feeling of being in control of something that could quite easily bolt at any minute and has the more strength in one hind leg than your average human (source: Jamie's book of facts…..), is quite terrifying and exhilarating at the same, I guess it appeals to my nature in that I like the thought that whilst you have lots of control over a well trained horse, you can never be in total control of such a magnificent beast.
I wasn't long before I was walking, trotting and even cantering on Nova's friends 14 year old horse, Buzz!! Buzz was a true gent, looked after me well and left me with a taste to experience more horsey based activities during my travels….
After a final feeding of the calfs we left Cust on our tour of the South Island. We would start by visiting various landmarks along the way and would do some 2500 KM's in a big circle. Some of the hi-lights of the trip were the fantastic views from the Otago Peninsula, swimming and seeing a New Zealand Sea Lion on Victory beach and finding my second new love of the trip, fishing…..
After a couple of days of camping in non authorised campsites on pretty cold evenings we decided to look into doing some WOOF'ing! WOOF'ing stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms and is a way for travellers to do 4 hours of work a day in return for food and lodgings, the idea is that you get involved in farming and the life style block way of living. Most of the WOOF hosts are trying to become as self sufficient as possible and usually operate a small farm with a range of animals, crops and vegetables. In general they all do it as a hobby and sustain their lifestyle by the primary means, hence the help of WOOFers is usually greatly appreciated. Our hosts Ian and Nat we great, we helped them build a new compost heap, chicken coop, mend fencing and they provided us with a much needed warm house and great food.
By this point I had now bought myself a fishing rod and a assortment of lures, hooks and various other paraphernalia and a day wouldn't pass where we wouldn't try and catch us some tea! Nova managed to catch some as yet unidentified squidgy sea fish on our first night, which might I add tasted shocking. After a bit of sea fishing we picked up a licence and then put our efforts into river fishing, after a couple of days and a couple of visits to various fishing shops en-route, I had success whilst staying with our WOOF hosts. Typical in the two days we didn't need to catch fish I caught a perch and two brown trout, though one of the trout I threw back in as it was too small. Both Nova, Ian and I ate the the fish that I caught and tasty they were too! Those of you who know Nova will know she is a vegetarian, though she will eat fish that I have caught, you work that one out because I couldn't :-)
After a few days at Ian and Nat's we set off for the Catlins and visited Nugget Bay, Cannibal Bay, McClean Falls, the most southerly point (Slope Point) and eventfully ended up in Te Anau!!
We then ended up having a night out in the town of Te Anau and gave some support to the local band that plays there. We actually pitched up our tent in the dark that night and didn't see the NO CAMPING $500 FINE sign right next to where we camped…. Whoops….
That afternoon we drove to Milford Sound, for the geography buffs out there Milford Sound is actually not a sound but a fiord, basically a sound is calved out by river erosion, where a fiord is calved out by glacial erosion. It brought all the memories of Mr Lovedays and Mr Pikes geography classes from the respective middle and high schools flooding back! After another evening of illegal camping in Milford the went out on sea kayaks and got up close to the massive 512 meters deep U shaped valleys and truncated spurs!!
We then headed to Queens Town, had another drunken night out before visiting the Fraz Josef Glacier and heading back to Cust!
As you can probably tell from the pictures, one of the main hi-lights of the South island was the ease in which you could find a place to camp, which was peaceful, beautiful and with ample firewood nearby! I think only one night we ended up on a grass verge in the middle of nowhere and it honestly wasn't that cold more most of the time…..We camped around 10 or so nights and had a raging fire going every night, for those people who have been following my Africa travel tales may recall I am at my happiest in front of a good fire and some of my happiest memories of the south island all have a fire associated with them!
When we got back to Cust I would end up WOOFing for a week and half for lady that Nova had previously WOOFed for. I can honestly say that my time spent with Irene, Michael, their two dogs Golli and Raider, their three horses Buzz, Gypsy and Tippy, their 4 doves (which was actually 3 at the time of leaving, maybe Irene can let me know if the missing female has returned?) and their beautiful house was some of my happiest memories of New Zealand. Irene and Michael were great and made me feel at home, I had my own room, Irene cooked great food and in return I rode her horses, mowed lawns, did the odd bit of weeding and they also got the odd bit of IT support from me.
Back to their animals, the two dogs I used to take on lovely long walks around the local countryside. One evening I asked Irene why Golli was named Golli, baring in mind that Golli is a small little black dog, Irene just smiled and said why do you think? Just an example of how political correctness has not gone mad just yet in New Zealand, most people my age and above should remember the Robinson's Golliwog jam?
Their three horses, Buzz I have already spoken about, Gypsy a 4 year old and Tippy a 2 year old miniature. For most of my time I rode Gypsy, she is a beautiful horse and a lot younger and far more sensitive than Buzz, though I treated her like the new lady in my life that she was and we got on just fine. Only one fall in the round pen whilst I was getting her into a fast canter and that was more of a bail on my part. On a sunny Sunday afternoon I went out with three local ladies on their horses, successful managed to calm down a stressed Gypsy (once you see a horse flair its nostrils and not want to go where you want to lead her, you realise the power they have), lead her through water she didn't want to go through, jump logs and even get control when she bolted because two ducks flew out of the bushes. I was that afternoon I decided one day I will own my own horse, on my return back to England I will be looking for people to share the responsibilities and become a fellow cowboy or cowgirl...
I spent a bit of time helping to train young Tippy with the long reigns as Irene would like to get her pulling a cart, must admit it did make me think how much petrol I could save when just pottering around my local area…
One of the things you find about people in NZ is that many of them have skipper licences, along with a gun licence, fishing licence and various other licences that are either unavailable in England or reserved for the rich. Michael was no exception and had been sailing for many years, on a glorious Saturday we went sailing in his boat in Lyttelton not far from Christchurch. We had a great day and will put sailing down on my todo list for when I am a bit older maybe, I think I have my hands pretty full with snowboarding, diving and horse riding for the moment. Though I am sure Paul (midlife crisis) Wake would love a sailing partner and no doubt will invite me for a sail some time….
I then sadly left the South Island and headed towards Wellington where I would hire a car with an English girl from Leicestershire called Jo who was also wanting to see the north island and see pretty much the same things. We would have the car for nearly 2 weeks and would see some amazing places and meet some really nice people along the way. We did attempt to camp a few times, but only managed to find a suitable spot once and it was a very cold night on that particular camp, so it was back to hostel life...
Our journey would take us to do what is called as New Zealand's best one day hike (or tramp as they would call it) and in all honesty it was a really good hike, there was much more snow on the trail than I was expecting and I got to see my first ever active volcanic area! On certain areas of the hike streams were running warm water and if you sat on the floor it was noticeably warmer from the thermic activity.
We would next stop in Taupo where I would fish (unsuccessfully), throw ourselves out of a plane and have a good night out on the tiles! You did hear correctly, I did my 3rd skydive of my lifetime from 15,000 feet, thats a free fall of about a minute, I think this would have to be classed as my best to date, mainly due to us having a crystal clear day and me knowing what to expect! On the way down he put us into a massive spin and when the shoot had opened he also let me control the canopy I made us go horizontal and even collapsed the canopy! I am pretty sure that I was coming out with some pearls of wisdom on the way down, though the final DVD doesn't really reflect that, I will try and upload it for your amusement!
We then headed to Rotorua and travelled along the thermal highway, this road is literally surrounded by hot natural spas, mud pools, geezers and also has the stench of rotten eggs (sulphur) round every corner! All this thermal activity is due to the Taupo Volcanic Zone.
The next day we found ourselves doing a really nice walk to Cathedral Cove, it was a smashing day and I had actually been wearing shorts for most of my time in the North island! The weather was warming up nicely! Throughout NZ I did loads of little walks and trails, they were all beautiful and have cracking scenery, I honestly couldn't mention them all on here, it takes me long enough as it is!!! I often say that some of the best things in life are free, call me a tight Yorkshireman, but its true and you are never more than a stones throw away from a walking trail in NZ!
Later that afternoon we dug our own hot water spa's at Hot Water Beach, this is basically a beach where at a certain point two hours before and after high tide you can dig a hole and it fills with warm water!! About 2 feet from our hole was a patch where the water must have been almost boiling! Here you can see Jo and I, though Jo had to abort hers and come and gatecrash mine… That evening we drove back through the Coromandel peninsula and had one of the best sunsets I have seen thus far in New Zealand!
The next day was a bit wet and dull, I was due to pick an old friend up from Auckland and we were going to explore the Northern Cape! We had a lazy afternoon in Auckland and picked Jess up from work in the centre. Some of you may remember Jess, she used to work at Ramsdens during the summer and moved over to NZ to further her studies. She is doing well and if you haven't heard from her then you will be pleased to know that she is coming back home next March!
After an evening in a very nice hostel that reminded me of a much bigger version of my Grandma's house we did a nice hike around Whangarei and even even had a swim in the falls! Throughout all my travels I always take every opportunity to swim, no matter how cold it is… I must admit the fact that NZ has virtually no deadly animals means I am much more willing to jump into the water, I am not so sure I would be as willing in Australia!
We spent the afternoon at the remote beach of Matauri Bay, fishing and enjoying the sunshine. The fishing was't going too well in the North Island, I thought I had struck lucky in Matauri Bay….. Until I realised it was a starfish….
That evening we headed further north, we ended up in a hostel again! The North was still proving hard work to get camping spots, maybe I had just been spoilt in the south or maybe it was just that people value their land much more? The next morning we set off to Cape Reinga which is about a far North as you can get by car. Cape Reinga is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet and what a cracking day we picked to go, was windy but not a cloud in the sky! The scenery around Cape Reinga is amazing!
On the way back down we stopped off to see the sand dunes and went to see 90 mile beach. You can drive all the way along 90 mile beach (named so because believe it or not is 90 miles long) if you have a 4 wheel drive car, not wanting to get stuck in the sand we settled on a quick drive onto the fairly solid bit of beach and I showed my male prowess and entertained the ladies with a couple of well executed handbrake turns! You can take the machine out of Crossgates, but you cannot take the Crossagates out of the Machine!
Whilst I have been travelling a few people have asked 'What's all this machine business about?', so maybe its best I explain. Well from memory it goes a little bit like this… On my second ever snowboarding trip to Chamonix some years ago I was the one who managed to trip the light fantastic every night and still managed to get out on the slopes, where as certain other members of the group ranged from poor to very poor.. That said a certain Mr Walker I believe came a very close second. The story then goes that I started calling myself 'The Machine', certain of my friends will claim its a self proclaimed nick name and yes I guess it is. But as the old saying goes 'theres no smoke without fire' the name has stuck and many people still use it to this day! Now I have cleared that up I will get on with the rest of my NZ tales! Oh in fact one last thing, just wanted to say congratulations to Matt 'I have got the morals of a junk yard dog' Walker and Rach on becoming pregnant and giving Bradley a brother or sister!
Being a Saturday night we thought we would go to the biggest town nearby, Paihia! Whilst it wasn't the most liveliest place in the world we did manage to catch some live music, went to a dodgy club and was blessed with the Rascal and Bonkers, one of my favourite travelling tunes. I don't know why the Rascal seems to be following me round the world, no in fact I do know why, cos it rocks the dance floor, the song is seriously loved by many nationalities and in many countries and I can personally vouch for it! In Paihia I managed to upgrade from a starfish to a massive octopus, though not knowing how to kill it humanly or cook it for that matter it got thrown back, I reckon it was about 70cm in diameter! On the Sunday morning we organised a horse trek, whilst the horse (Houdini) I was on was no Gypsy and was pretty much bomb proof. We did go through lots of mud and water so it was slightly different to the trek I had done before, though it did leave me adamant that anymore horse trekking that I undertook in future would be much more rough and ready!
After saying goodbye to Jess, Jo and I drove to a hostel not far from where we would be getting on a boat to dive on the world class Poor Knight Islands. Here I am using the hostels trampoline and banging out a forward summersault the night before…
After an early rise we found ourselves on a boat skippered by Dan heading to the Poor Knights. The islands' name is said to derive from their resemblance to Poor Knight's Pudding, a bread-based dish popular at the time of discovery by Europeans.. We did two dives, one went ever so slightly wrong, in which I thought my number was up and the other was a great cave dive.
So to the first dive, it was meant to be a guided dive as it was the first time any of us had dove in cold water, but when underwater Jo's mask was filling up with water so the dive master asked me to buddy up with the 4th person in our group. Anne had her PADI, I had my advanced PADI and we both were happy with the situation! Anne and I were exploring the kelp beds and seeing what we could find in the dive site know as Cove Bay. After about 10 minutes I checked my air thinking I should still have loads left, to my amazement I was getting low on air, on further analysis of my dive gage it showed me that we were at 36 meters, I was qualified to 40 and Anne was only really qualified to 18, that said I had only ever dived to a maximum of about 16 meters!! As it was meant to be a guided dive I didn't really take much notice of orientation as we descended and obviously we had gone the total wrong direction!! I found Anne, checked her gage and it was reading the same! We turned round and headed back, but I underestimated how long we had probably been at that max depth for and it wasn't getting any shallower, at this point I wasn't still particularly worried. I then checked my gage again and my air was going fast, to give all you non divers an idea at 30 meters I would actually use three times more air than on the surface, this is due to the air been more compressed from the pressure of the water above us!
I signalled to Anne that I was nearly out of air and that we need to go back up to the surface, as we rose I realised that I was desperately short of air and certainly wouldn't be able to do my safely stop, which is a stop at 5 meters for 3 minutes whenever you dive more than 18 meters. I kept my eye on Anne all the time then she seemed to stop, I was virtually out of air and was still at about 20 meters down, I couldn't go back down to see if she was OK! The only saving grace was that I knew she had been breathing less air than me and was certain to have more time, though I didn't know if she was in any other difficulties! After waiting for a few seconds I knew my air was very low, I started my accent again and could feel how hard it was getting to breath, luckily when I did my qualification we had simulated an out of air situation and I knew what it felt like, though certainly not nice situation to be in when you are under water! I as soon as I could see the surface I inflated my BCD (basically a life jacket), I am pretty sure that by that time my tank didn't have many more breaths of air left in it! I now found myself in a position of waiting for Anne to surface, after what seemed like an eternity she surfaced and luckily we both lived to tell the tale!
I don't think anyone will really ever realise what went through my mind during those few seconds where I thought my number could have been up. I would like to think that all the training I had done helped me to do the right things and not to panic or maybe is was a greater force somewhere watching me and it was decided there is still a few more years left in the old dog yet, I would like to think former was true! In all fairness appart from getting far too low on air and not doing the safety stop all was good and we suffered no long lasting effects other than a slight headache and that could have just been down to the cold water! My second idiom of the blog 'once bitten twice shy', Mum you will be pleased to know it was a lesson well learnt and it certainly won't happen again.
The second dive was a bit less extreme at a max depth of 20 meters inside Riko Riko Cave, the biggest sea cave known to man. On this dive we saw Carpet Sharks, Scorpion fish, Moray Eel and a Jason's Nudibranch to name a few!! Here is Jo after our second dive!
The next day we spent a very nice afternoon on black sand Piha Beach which is not far from Auckland and even got a couple of hours of surfing in!!
Later that evening we drove to Auckland where I would spend my remaining days camping in my tent in Jess's back garden inbetween a lemon tree and a grapefruit tree! Jess whilst I remember I made sure that the lemon tree got plenty of fertiliser during my stay, after all why traipse all the way into the house in the middle of the night when you have a perfect toilet in the garden :-) Should be in for a bumper crop of lemons next year!
I had about 4 days in Auckland and had a couple of very good nights out, played golf and generally got ready for the next part of my journey, South America!! I must thank an old work colleague Arron for showing me a good night out round Auckland, it was great to see you, Catherine and meet the kids! Also I would like to thank Jess & her chap Ash for putting me up and showing me round Auckland! Ash we must get a round of golf in when you next come over to England! Here are a couple of snaps from my last night out in Auckland, I can assure you that I will never drink shots again and we all had stinking hangovers the next day….
New Zealand once conjured up visions of hobbits, rolling hills and sheep! I now think of New Zealand as a country with great beaches, magnificent fishing, sailing, wild camping, volcanos, extremes in landscape, where they call corner shop dairies and last but not least my new found love of all thing horse related! NZ is a terrific place, with amazing people and opportunities to do different things everyday! Just a pity its so far away from what I class as home, England!! Whilst I may have said goodbye to New Zealand I am positive I will be back, whether just for a holiday or in a camper van in my old age when I have finally retired!
Next and last stop on the Jamie's groovy trip of the world, Chile, South America…..
I can only upload a certain amount of pictures to my blog and there are lots of New Zealand, if you are hungry for more have a look at the following;
South island - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=334917&id=650820432&l=2ef6669fea
My time WOOFing - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=342273&id=650820432&l=f7b579ad4e
North island - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=347263&id=650820432&l=05f6c8386b