Sunday, 19 September 2010

Whangerei, 19th September 210, 1pm

Before you begin to read this blog, be warned; you may contract a new disease in the process, so I suggest a drink of choice and perhaps a little chocolate set down on one side in preparation may be required to stave off infection!

Whangerei has the best YHA I have ever been to. It has 4 stars on the sign but the atmosphere and the people we have met here are far greater. I am writing this blog from the comfort of a dining room chair, positioned close to the wood burner in the main communal area of the hostel. Mel is carefully studying another novel, picked from the book-swap which invitingly stands opposite the main entrance to the room and immediately to my right. The room has large windows which frame the small garden beyond the glaze which is being swamped in early spring showers as I look at it. Behind me are 2 sofas, positioned around a coffee table, they are currently hugging the figures of Nick and Ryan, Swiss and Canadian travellers and all round good eggs. The 4 of us enjoyed an evening of music, Scottish whiskey and fine ale last night which kept us going until the wee, small hours. Nick is a 21 year old thrill seeker who has bought himself a van, surf board, snow board and skate board since arriving in New Zealnad. He can speak French, German and English and has the look of a Cuban Freedom fighter about him with his powerful eyes and substantial facial hair. Ryan, also 21, is of Ukrainian and Guyanese parents. He is taking some time out from his studies and life as a prospector to fill up on a little New Zealand soul, before heading back to the snowy winter of home in a few months.

We have been here for a few days now; long enough to have a good look round and I now feel ready to give you my honest opinion of the city outside of this hostel.

I had expected much from this place, we had heard that it had a strong arts culture and so we set off in expectant search of its delights yesterday and found one of the most disappointing and soul sapping townships we have ever had the misfortune to explore. Whangerei has such a melancholic expression about it; the people in town seemed to have given up on their lives. They all seemed to be going through the motions of life, stumbling through the day with an all pervasive apathy normally reserved for middle class teenagers at that point in their lives where they start to believe that the entire world is against them. As we made our way passed the church, it was clear that this place is suffering; the billboard outside had ‘Pray for jobs’ written on it in big letters.

We stopped to eat at an Indian buffet in the hope that good curry would rekindle our own spirits enough to go on with a positive bent. Not so; it was so full of butter, cream and burned naan bread that it had ceased to be an Indian curry long before the man serving us had dolled it out into polystyrene containers with the sort of effort normally reserved for the moment you have to sign a cheque for the tax man. We ate as much as we could, which wasn’t that much, we could feel our hearts slowing with every mouthful.

We helplessly wandered those city streets yesterday. Crossing the road from one group of angry teenagers only to be caught up in a feud between a shop keeper and a thief whom he had grabbed and shaken furiously calling on all around to see the thief’s face - “Look at him, little thief. THEIF! HE STOLE MY PAPER CUPS!! You think you’re tough in your group of mates eh. THEIF!”

Filled with a renewed sense of loathing, we went in search of the art museum and fern gardens, both of which were disappointing. The art museum had an exhibition of impressionist art, one painting of which was said to have been painted by an artist who was born in 1891 and who died in 1871. And that the painting was completed in 1991. The fern garden was nice enough to have wandered through, as sequence of shaded buildings with numerous different ferns inside of them. It has the potential to be good, but the signage underneath each variety had withered and discoloured to such an extent that it was not possible to tell them all apart. Walking round, I began to have a real sense that people have stopped caring about this city and themselves. It could be so nice. Underneath the appalling exterior there is still beauty here. I liken Whangerei to the student performer who began their training with energy and enthusiasm, but has lost their spark and simply goes through the motions now, waiting for somebody to hand them a career on a plate, rather than taking the advice of their tutors to “go and get it”. After all, as I always say: “Ambition is nothing, without the hunger to succeed.” Whangerei has no hunger and even less ambition.

We were desperate not to give up and to fair, the disused Quarry which had been converted into an artist retreat and craft sale room did provide some much needed sanctuary and we even stumbled upon a drama workshop taking place in the hall of the library.  Shortly after that we thought we had found solace in a tea house, the last thing left open at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon in the central area. 2 pots of tea and dry Lamington cakes later, we felt a little better and were prepared to re-emerge again.

We walked home via a nice second hand bookshop and bottle shop, bought some wine and something to concoct a pasta sauce with, before the steep climb back to the solace of the YHA.

Dinner was followed by at night at the Irish pub with our new friends; it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. If it weren’t for the people we have met here and the brilliant YHA – I include the staff in that by the way - we would leave this place with a newly contracted disease which could have been hard to shift. We shall simply call it; Whageritis, the symptoms of which I need not run though with you again for fear you may yourselves fall foul of a severe bout of it.

We may go for a walk to the nearby forest and waterfall today, it seems that the shower has passed. Things are looking up.

Friday, 17 September 2010


We have added a few links to places we have been throughout our trip - have a look at the links list at the top right of the home page.

We have also embedded some of the pics from our Flickr site at the top of the Blog home page, you can click on those to see our full Flickr site which has pictures and a few videos on it from our whole trip so far.


Cycling Warkworth - Whangerei 13th - 17th September 2010

Imagine your body as a team. This team is made up of billions of members; from the outside to the inside. Each tiny team member is vital to the overall success of your body. At times in my life, I have pondered what the various team members would look like if the were little beings. There would be the team of scientists responsible for brain function, countless numbers of little folk dressed in lab coats clutching clip boards, processing every message that arrives and helping to filter the necessary from the unnecessary. The brain team have many vital roles and are constantly in dialogue with one another to help you think and feel the way they want you to feel. Say you stub a toe; in your toe, there are many complex and tough team members who first receive the impact of said stubbing. The skin and soft tissue are first to respond. “May-day, May-day, impact on the toe, holy crap!! Somebody send the message to the brain team, we’ve got an injury down here!” In my minds eye, the component members for the feet comprise of little men who are built like marines who are constantly working for an average of 18 hours a day on the front line of your movement, receiving orders from a hierarchy which leads from them directly to the brain. This message is immediately sent from the affected toe via exceptionally high-speed courier to the brain. The couriers in my own body would probably look a bit like the character of Baldric in Blackadder, just a lot faster. There would be many of them, strategically placed all over the body to pass on the information needed to the brain team. So, you have stubbed your toe, within a split second a great number of things occur, a bit like a dream – after all, a dream may only actually take a split second, but it can seem like hours while your in R.E.M. – In that split second Baldric has torn through every area of your body until he meets the pain reception area of your brain and explained what has happened, as he arrives, he might say “Sir, I’m afraid I have some rather unfortunate news” The pain receptor team will reply, in a not too dissimilar fashion to Rowan Atkinson “Oh, you again, and what pearl of wisdom is it that you have brought me this time eh? Has there been a breech of the anal cavity perhaps, or perhaps another mud guard has penetrated the left thigh area. Well, go on man what is it?”
“There has been an impact on the big toe of the left foot region sir, leaving a small abrasion to the area sir.”
“I see. I will need to send a message to the other members of the brain immediately. Everyone concerned must respond straight away.”
“Should I contact the liver sir?”
“The liver? Good God man, why on earth would we need to contact the liver?”
“I have a cunning plan sir…” And so it may go on.

If your body suffers damage, the team members responsible for that area let the overall team know that something is wrong. Yesterday, something was going wrong, and believe me, the messages sent to the brain team were loud and clear. But let’s start at the point where I left you.

It was Sunday evening, late at night; Mel and I were in the Smile Mart. I was explaining that we had hoped to leave, all being well, on a bus to Warkworth at 8:30am. This indeed was the case and we arrived in the township of Warkworth at 9:30am. After a few minutes setting up the bikes and making sure the 50kilo trailer was firmly in place on my bike, we set off towards Pakiri, aiming to stop in Leigh for lunch. All was well, there was a little sunshine and the roads were to a large extent clear and we were making good time. The mountains we had been warned about were no more than hills and before we knew it we were in Leigh. (By the way, you can Google map all these places to give you more of a perspective of distance and terrain travelled.)

We reached Leigh and sat down to eat our cheese rolls, a packet of crisps and some of the huge pack of mandarins Mel had insisted on buying from an honesty box by the side of the main road somewhere. People seemed amazed that we had even begun to embark on the journey, there were a few jaws dropped and even the truck drivers were tooting their horns in such a way that suggested folk were impressed. Impressed by what, this was proving to be far easier than expected. 10 minutes after leaving Leigh things began to change. The road ahead seemed to change, at first imperceptivity, a mild gradient inflection at best. We carried on, changing gear from 3rd to 2nd just to keep things comfortable. Then we turned a corner and; flanked by stunning New Zealand landscape, the gradient changed again. The road ahead was decidedly uphill and seemed to continue as such for over an hour. There was simply no way either of us could have cycled up it. We were forced to get off and push our bikes for the duration of the ascent. Messages were being sent from my several members of team Charlie to and from the brain, Mel was experiencing the same.

We reached the summit of the mountain after 4kms of near vertical climbing, pushing our bikes in near horizontal inversions to the road beneath us and stopped for some pictures, posing by our bikes and trailer with carefree grins on our faces, secretly praying that this was the exception, rather than the rule. We were mistaken. We could see Pakiri on the map, it looked like a decent sized dwelling, surely there would be a place to stay, after all, the place had been written in bold on the map. We set off down the mountain, an easier experience you may think, but no! The road suddenly became unsealed and we had to wear out brakes and fight to stay upright as the tarmac beneath us disappeared and was replaced by rock and gravel. Perhaps this was one of the ‘secrets around every corner’ that I had romantically waxed lyrical about to you before we left. The views from up there mind you, were painfully good!
Going up Parkiri Hill

Just outside of Leigh

Fast forward to Pakiri – no shop, no motel, no campsite, nowhere to stock up on provisions and therefore, no let up. The messages being sent from my arms and legs were becoming louder. We met a farmer and his mud covered Labrador at the foot of the descent and asked him which was the easiest way forward towards Mangawhai and to a place we knew had at least one B&B. He instructed us that the best way was by the unsealed road, “that’s the flattest way; I could walk into town from here in 4 or 5 hours.” 4-5 hours, well, that should be simple on bikes.

3 hours and 70kms from Warkworth later, I don’t mind telling you that the team members for each area of my body were screaming in pain. Not the kind of happy screaming which can be heard in the playgrounds at break times during the final day of the academic year at a primary school in an upper class area of the Cotswolds you understand. Oh no. The sort of screaming which can only be associated with shear, unadulterated agony. Just when I thought my soul was about to depart from my body, a sign appeared in front of us; out of the haze of agony – Fish & Chips – We had made it to Nirvana. We had arrived in Mangawhai. We were freezing cold with exhaustion, I had to pinch myself to see if I was awake, Baldric began sending the message and by the time I had walked through the door I knew it was real. Hoki in batter with chips has never tasted so good!

A couple of hours later we were in our Motel which was coincidentally next door to the Fish & Chip shop. We were shown round by the owner Billy, a fifty something guy with a laid back attitude and a keen sense that we were both exhausted. He took sympathy on us and gave us the room at a reduced rate of $80 for the night, that’s only £40. The accommodation was so much better than the YHA in Auckland had been. For a start it was very clean and dry, we even had a queen size bed with not 1 but 2 electric blankets! The bathroom was equipped with a lovely shower which had a bespoke cobbled floor and nice fluffy towels. The kitchen diner was also more than adequate, with fridge, microwave, ironing board, TV, table, chairs, a sofa and enough space for us to keep our trailer without it feeling at all crowded. We spent the evening in a state of flux between euphoria and desperate fatigue. We ate a great deal of chocolate and doughnuts! Later; having showered and eaten we went to bed. We gently slipped away into the deepest of slumbers on a griddle of luxurious warmth, I sensed team Charlie collectively taking a deep breath, leaning on its collective control panel and saying in deep disbelief: “Bloody hell; that was a bit mental.”

The morning after happened to be the 14th of September, my 31st birthday and I awoke feeling surprisingly relaxed in that there was no pain anywhere in my body, perhaps it was still asleep. Mel had somehow found the time in Auckland to buy me some gifts which she had wrapped in some cute paper. The paper had pictures of puppies looking at the camera all over it. She had bought me a pair of Superman boxer shorts, a fishing hand-reel with a hook and weight attached, a Kinder Egg with a toy octopus inside, some handy camping tin openers and a card. The card had a photo of a man with ‘moobs’ (man boobs) on the front, she said it reminded her of a comedy pose that I sometimes strike, hilarious!

It is fair to suggest that my birthday was far more relaxed than the previous day had been. I dropped in to pay for our room in the morning and bumped into Dianne, Billy’s wife, a property management guru and all round lovely lady who was so shocked by our insane idea to cycle round New Zealand that she offered us the use of her daughter’s car for a month as her daughter was in the UK with her boyfriend for the next 7 weeks. We thought about it, but decided against the idea. Dianne is a generous soul and she offered to bake me a cake for my birthday. How many Motel owners do that? The cake never materialised but it didn’t matter as we already felt like porkers after all the chips and chocolate we had consumed the previous evening.

We took the opportunity to cycle without any luggage to the nearby village, named Mangawhai Heads and I made a short video introduction to our trip to New Zealand on the sand of Picnic Bay (You can see the video on Flickr now). The sand was the colour of ash which was a throw back to a couple of family holidays spent at a cottage on the Isle of Skye. After a nice roast chicken lunch; Mel and I retired to our Motel to spend time on the internet and eat more chocolate. A company called Bennett’s Chocolate are strategically placed opposite the Motel. They make fantastic chocolate, so impressive is it that they have won awards all over the world. We naturally dropped in there and picked up a small amount to enjoy after dinner in the evening. Most of the evening was spent on the internet, uploading images to our Filckr page and catching up with Facebook. We even managed to Skype some of the family back home which was lovely. We saw Millhouse at Mel’s mum’s house, dressed in his indoor jacket and looking very chirpy, he was searching around for Mel when she whistled to him through the microphone! My mother had on a Christmas cracker hat, worn especially for my birthday; we enjoyed the novelty of being able to see each others face from such a great distance immensely.
Charlie at Mangawhai Heads

The beach at Mangawhai

Last year, for my 30th birthday, I was away on tour in Hereford, playing the part of Wild Bill in Calamity Jane. At the end of the show, Leah Bell, the company owner and lead performer would take the time to have a little chat to the audience. That night, after a short spell of stand-up comedy, Leah asked me to step forward and tell the audience how old I was. I was then treated to a huge rendition of ‘Happy birthday’, sung by full-house of 550 audience members and the entire cast, quite a moment I can tell you. I allowed myself to enjoy the occasion despite my fears over Mel’s health; she was at home in Newcastle with swine-flu. She was feeling much better this year!

Next morning I was up at 6am to listen to my beloved Norwich City play on the internet. We lost 3-1 to Doncaster which was a shame, but the novelty of being able to hear them play from the other side of the planet has never waned, better luck next time boys.

After leaving the Motel, we cycled to Waipu, 30kms north and visited the museum there. Waipu has an interesting history as it was settled by a group of former Scottish Highlanders, driven out during the clearances. They travelled via Canada and eventually colonised Waipu. They even have their own registered Tartan and their own Highland games which take place every year on New Years Day. The games have been running for 138 years now. Needless to say; Mel loved it there.

Uretiti Beach is just a further 5 kms from Waipu and we decided to set up camp there for the night. The D.O.C campsite which nestles in the sand dunes by the beach is just $8 per person, per night and despite only having cold water showers, it was a bargain. Nobody was camped within sight of our tent and we were able to walk on the 22 km beach, hand-in-hand, dipping our feet into the crystal clear waters, such a tonic after all the hard work of the cycling.

The picture perfect weather quickly disappeared over night and was replaced with very heavy wind and rain which threatened to sink the tent. We packed up as quickly as possible in the morning and Mel cooked double portions of porridge before we coupled up the trailer and Panniers for the next 35 km ride up to Whagarei City.

The journey was simple in theory, but as you may have already realised, cycling for us is not, in reality, quite as simple. The first 10 kms was fine and then Mel got a puncture. This was unwelcome, but not a disaster. I changed the inner-tube and we were on our way. 3 kms later, Mel got a puncture. Hmn. I had obviously not identified the catalyst of the previous puncture before changing the inner-tube, so I was forced to spend a minute every 2 kms frantically re-pumping up Mel’s tyre until we reached a cycle shop some 20 kms later. The challenge this posed was further compounded by the fact that we had to cycle through a long stretch of road which was effectively wet concrete. New Zealand has a habit of doing this (we learned later that day in the cycle shop). They make a lime mix and chuck it down on the road, allowing all who pass to drive straight through it and in our case, to inhale the toxic dust which blinds you if you get in your eye. But to their credit they do put up a sign suggesting that you wash your car that day, though not a word for the cyclists I noted!

Mel’s puncture was slowing us down dramatically as we entered the outskirts of the city, so; as it was already 4:30pm and New Zealand as a country is normally closed by 5pm, I sped on into central Whangarei to beg the cycle shop to stay open long enough to save our collective bacon. (I say sped on, more ambled really, but it sounds more heroic this way)

Mel arrived 20 minutes later carrying her bike plus all 5 of her panniers as the tyre and inner-tube had completely disengaged from the wheel, needless to say; she wasn’t looking her best. The shop took pity on us and I don’t think they even charged us for the repair, sighting a small staple as the cause of the double puncture.

The YHA here sits at the top of a hill and our room, at $45 (around £23) per night, enjoys a lovely view over the city and the harbour. We finally made it to the YHA here at around 6pm at which point Mel broke down completely and we were forced to go for an Indian meal and drink whiskey at the Irish pub for the remainder of the evening. Purely medicinal you understand!

Today is the 17th of September and it will be memorable for one reason above all, we saw a real, living and very lovable Kiwi! Unfortunately, the endangered Kiwi is a rare sight in the wild these days, but there is a museum and Kiwi House just outside the city and after a short uphill cycle, we found it and we were lucky enough to see the little fellow in his small man-made nocturnal dug-out, beetling around for grubs. We would have taken a photo but they don’t respond to camera flashes that well, so you’ll just have to take my word for it I’m afraid. We are spending the afternoon relaxing in the communal living space; a wise decision judging by the clouds outside. We have been and bought some vegetables for a Thai Curry tonight and I am eyeing up the wood burner in the corner, it could be a nice, cosy evening by the fire!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


OMG we've just had the best chocolates. If you get a chance, try these: especially the thyme truffle.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

12th Septemebr 2010, 1120pm

In a little under 10 hours, if all goes to plan, the cycling adventure will begin. Though a few obstacles are in the way, we hope to clock up between 40 and 70 kms on day one of the journey north. Thats around 45 miles! Those obstacles begin in the morning at approximately 8:15am when we will attempt to convince a bus driver, as yet unknown to us, to allow us to take our bikes and our trailer on the bus to Warkworth. Assuming that we are able to do that, we will travel 1 hour on the bus; then gather our belongings and continue under our own steam. The objective is to make it to Mangawhai Heads where there is a good looking B&B to stay in for my birthday. It may be a bit too ambitious to get all the way up there on our first day cycling, but we will give it a go.

New Zealand is built out of extinct volcanoes and as such it is full of peaks and troughs. These are easy enough to scale by bike without a full trailer and pannier bags, but with, we will have to see. I have been studying the terrain and there are a few 200 metre climbs on the way. I can feel you smirking from here – Oh ye of little faith!

I feel ready to move on, ready to explore the delights of the North Land. There is so much about discovering new horizons that inspires. It feels as if every turn in the road will reveal new secrets, that it each new town could be the place where we find new and lasting friendships. The pressure of self-reliance forces us to find new ways of coping with the challenge of being on our own. If we get a puncture or the chain on a bike snaps, then it is down to me to repair it. If the rain and wind seem to be joining forces against us then we must remain motivated. It is as if we are about to move forward into an unknown world and in that world we will discover more about ourselves and our relationship than we would have done if we had stayed at home and not taken the gamble of coming to the other side of the world.

Life traveling removes the security and comfort of home. That may sound like a bad thing, but it is not. Instead of sitting on the sofa watching Match of The Day, I spent the early part of this evening chatting to Marcus, and student from Brazil over the washing up in our communal kitchen. I read a book in the laundry room waiting for our clothes to dry and got chatting to a French Canadian about living in Auckland. I am currently sat at the rear of a shop called the 'Smile Mart' in China Town and I can here a guy on his mobile phone, he is talking in a concerned tone to his cousin who is in Christchurch – apparently as I write this, there is another after-shock from the earthquake there and he has just had to run outside his house.

It's 11:12pm here and our my time on the internet is about to run out. I will update the bog again as soon as I get a proper internet connection, when that will be is anyone's guess. But stick with me – by the way, my blog has just reached the 200 hits mark – so thanks for staying in touch with our progress!!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Auckland 10 September 2010, 22:24pm

Room 707 is about the size of an average box room, though the YHA we are staying in have shoe-horned in a double bed, the sheets of which match the curtains, the towels and the carpet; a near navy blue colour. The walls were surely cream at one time, but now, after many years of damp, they have become a smoky dull yellow. We have a mirror on one wall, above the bed, opposite a framed photograph of what looks like the inside of a shed. I am sat at a modest desk at the foot of our bed, next to the window, the view from which is City Road and a five star hotel with a swimming pool on the roof, at least, that is what the view would be if the curtains were open. Mel is cutting and sticking into our travel journal propped up at the head of the bed by our two pillows. Our Brazilian neighbours on this, the top floor of the building, are discussing something extremely amusing it would seem, just outside our door.

Mel and I have been married for 1 week and 2 days, so much has happened in that time. We are now the very proud owners of 2 bicycles, a cycle trailer, brand named ‘Cyclops’ and many cycle panniers. All together we have had to part with over $1.500 to acquire all the stuff needed to successfully embark on a round the islands adventure and we ended up getting most of it from a place name Adventure Cycles: ‘Not just a cycle shop, more a way of life’. So says the owner; a most interesting guy, Bruce. Bruce is in his 50s, and has been in New Zealand for almost 30 years, having left the U.S. in order to live in a country that ‘isn’t responsible for world politics’. He certainly has a charitable and accommodating character; most of his staff are young guys or individuals with learning difficulties whom he coaches very patiently through each working day.

Mel and I have enjoyed clocking up around 30kms on the bikes today, travelling up to One Tree Hill, one of the many extinct volcanoes which have added such an impressive structure to this great city and let me tell you, the road to the top is extremely steep, great for the descent! One Tree Hill is a famous Maori battlement (pa), used in the fight against the European settlers back in the late 1700’s. The Maori, it won’t surprise you to learn, were extremely adept at hand-to-hand combat. They would dig trenches and ambush the British army, destroying many platoons of men with expert ease. Some of the figures of those dead on both sides make impressive reading. Hundreds of British casualties juxtaposed to the handfuls of Maori. It was only when we introduced guns to the equation that we even stood a chance. Up on the hill, there used to be one tree, an English pine, but a few years ago, a Maori man with a chainsaw cut it down, because he felt, as many of the Maori’s did, that it stood as a symbol of British oppression. The feelings are still raw for many.

We have joined WWOOF again during this last day or so. Many of you will be wandering what this actually entails. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms and is an organisation which has been set up to enable organic farmers to enlist the help of travellers to help them on their farms. The farm owners get free labour and the travellers get to stay somewhere where they can meet real New Zealand people, learn about all aspects of organic farming and get free bed and board for a few days or even a few months. It is something that we have had experience of doing before, during the time we lived in Australia. We had such memorable experiences doing it. We met great people, learned new skills and felt that we had fully immersed ourselves in the country. We hope for more of the same here if we are lucky. It is something which some people offer in the UK as well and I think it should be more wide spread as it is such a mutually beneficial enterprise. I will always remember staying on a farm known as ‘Jumping Dog’, just outside Bellingen, in New South Wales during the spring of 2004. Steven Gray and his girlfriend Trish, along with their live-in farm worker Lionel, run a 7 acre plot on the side of a hill, surrounded by native bush land and a creek which supplied them with water. Steve turned out to be the nephew of Elizabeth David – the first celebrity chef that Britain ever produced. Steve had been given all her furniture and Mel and I slept in her Elizabethan four posture bed during our stay there.

The work that I was supposed to be doing over this weekend did not come to pass. I received a phone-call from the fool who runs the business during which he apologised for being such a pathetic idiot (not his words), but he had someone come back from being ill and he couldn’t let them down etc, etc. It’s not such a drama I suppose, as it has meant that Mel and I can enjoy a weekend together. We intend to visit the National Museum tomorrow and have a good look round, it is a massive place. We had a nice pot of Earl Grey tea there a couple of days ago – they have the biggest and best collection of Mouri artefacts in the world apparently. The building itself is similar to many stately properties one might see in the UK. Built of sand stone, it sits on the crest of another volcano and is surrounded by lovely gardens and University playing fields.

Until today, we have walked many miles each day, searching for places of interest. Our hostel sits on the corner of Liverpool Street and City Road, the 2 steepest roads in Auckland. We are slap bang in the middle of the Asian quarter of the city where bars, restaurants and a phenomenal number of Internet Cafes line the streets. We have enjoyed some great food. Tonight and a couple of days ago, we had some fantastic Korean food. Neither of us had tried it before, our dishes; spicy pork and spicy squid arrived on our table still sizzling on their hot plates and were accompanied by rice and side salady bits. Huge portions, big on flavour – give it a try, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Last night we were invited to a party here in the YHA, it was somebody’s birthday I think, so we made the effort to go and meet a few people and share a few stories. It was a great experience. Mel and I were chatting to Germans, French, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian and even another British guy and I discovered some decent Ale – something which has been lacking during the trip so far. The party had only just begun to get exciting when the night porter – a South African guy – came through to instruct everyone that they had to wrap it up because there were kids arriving soon. It was a shame because it was only 12:30am and we weren’t exactly dancing naked on the tables, although given time…

The news from Christchurch has been very upsetting. They endured a massive earthquake last Saturday, and they have been suffering constant after shocks ever since. The national press keep printing photos and stories of people who have lost everything. It is just so incredible that nobody has been killed, especially when you consider how many were killed in Haiti by a similar size quake earlier this year. The estimated cost of the clear up is now at $4 billion. I’m not so sure Mel and I should go there for the foreseeable future.

The rest of the newspapers are full of talk about next years rugby world cup which is to be held here. I am hoping that we can extend our working visa for a little longer so that we can catch England v’s Scotland. The last time I was in a country that hosted a world cup was the FIFA world cup in France in 1998. I was with my best man Tim and we were in Paris on the day the French beat Brazil 3-0 to clinch the trophy. I can remember being on a metro travelling towards the Champs-Elysees packed with supporters. They were celebrating so vociferously that the train was rocking and we were all told to get off as we were in danger of derailing it! Tim and I spent most of the evening on top of a statue drinking beer with an American family.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Day 2 in NZ Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island

This morning we spent a few hours walking up a volcano, as you do, on a Sunday morning. We crossed from Auckland CBD on the 7:30am ferry , 15 minutes later, we docked and began hiking, armed with good footwear, 3 bottles of water and a couple of energy bars for a snack at the summit.

As new worlds go, Rangitoto Island is about as new as it is possible to get. This dormant volcano is just 600 years old and is now owned by the D.O.C (Department of Culture). Nobody lives on the island these days, but we were able to visit it via a short ferry crossing for $15 each, around £7.50. The volcano itself is now mostly covered in unique hi-breeds of tree and shrub, as well as common Kiwi tree ferns, mosses and other plant life. The rest of the island is volcanic rock, black as coal in some places, rusty red in others. The mouth of the volcano is 90metres across and 60 metres deep and rises 260metres above Auckland’s harbour.

There are a few Volcanic caves to visit on the hike, not as impressive as one might imagine though, more like big, dark gaps in the rock which don’t appear to go in that far. Apparently they are formed when lava has solidified around other less stagnant lava flows. One of the really interesting aspects of walking around the volcano is that you can see how strong the tree roots have had to be, forcing their structural harness’ into the rock beneath them – now I see why my father (a structural engineer) rolls his eyes and tuts at the sight of ivy or trees growing close to houses back home in the UK!

The view of the harbour and the surrounding islands and peninsulas from the summit of Rangitoto has given us both a sense of perspective. The Auckland area is huge, there is much to see and do here. So much so, in fact, that I have decided to take on some promotional work later this coming week. We saw a cash-in-hand job advertised in our YHA. A decent wage and as it turns out a fairly easy job; working at the Ideal Home exhibition in Auckland demonstrating a product. It pays for our accommodation while we are here and it will give me a chance to get a feel for the area and the people. Unfortunately Mel, who had hoped to join me, has not been offered any work as the guy who runs the promotions only needed one person and it was me who rang up. We will go into town and contact the exhibition people directly tomorrow and see if there is something there for her as well.

Going to Rangitoto

Sitting at Rangitoto looking out to sea

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Auckland City 4th September 2010

My first impressions of Auckland are mixed, a lot like the weather!

As we descended into the Airport at 12:15am local time - precisely 11 hours ahead of the UK; the plane was bullied by the gale-force winds and we landed with quite a bump which woke Mel from her slumber with quite a shock. Speaking of shocks, as we landed; a 7.something earthquake hit Christchurch and from what I can gather, the damage is severe down there. We'll fill you in with first hand tales as and when we arrive there, or hook-up with fellow travelers who are there as I write this.

By 2am; we had managed to find our way to the inner-city YHA via a shuttle bus and after a good nights sleep, set about starting the next chapter of our lives 17,000 KM's away on the other side of the world. We have set up bank accounts, bought a new Sim for our phone, collected some new camping gear and even had a free lunch - courtesy of walking past Domino's Pizza at exactly the right time!

Auckland is a blend of architecture and culture, both European and Polynesian. The buildings flanking Queen Street which leads from our hostel down to the harbour area show the influence European settlers have had on the city. We have walked past Victorian, Art Deco and contemporary designs. There are plenty of sky scrapers - you can even bunji-jump off the tallest of them if you've got a loose screw or two!

There are massive Internet cafes which are open for 24 hours and from listening to those around me, an enormous number of foreign visitors frequent them, Facebooking the world, whilst the South-Eat Asians continue to play war games with every sinew of enthusiasm as those we have witnessed elsewhere in the world. If 'big brother' had designed computers to control the masses; to keep us all inside, to stop us from thinking too much, to fry our brains in order that we wouldn't start the revolution that 60's hippies foresaw back in the day, then 'big brother' is winning! There is a 50hr special membership card for this Internet cafe and it would be possible to stay here for the duration. You can buy snacks, use the lovely toilet and never see the light of day, as it is underground. Those reading may think that this is far fetched, but there are people in here who have been in here for an age - there hair has started to entwine with the fabric of the chair they are sitting on it seems!

We walked down to the harbour earlier today in the sun, rain and wind to investigate what to do tomorrow. We think that we will go over to one of the neighbouring active volcano's and have a little look at it's active centre, because we're sensible like that, what with all the earth quakes and stuff, you know? It is a short trip, we will take a ferry across, hike up to the top of the volcano and then hike back before taking the ferry back to the main harbour. Hopefully we will be able to see whales or dolphins on the way over. I hope it doesn't rain too much! I bought a new fleece today, it's much warmer than the clothes I have already, so it should suit the colder climate down here. It was 28c in Brisbane and it's 15c at best today.

The next few days will be fun, we have to find the bicycles, as that will be our main transport here in the early stage of our time in New Zealand and we will also have to figure out exactly where we are going to start cycling from. It is most likely that we will start by heading north, the temperature is pleasant up there in early spring. We will eventually work our way south to investigate the rest of the north island, before crossing to explore the delights of the south island. We can't wait!

Thursday, 2 September 2010


We have now started uploading lots of our travel pics (and a few from the wedding) onto Flickr. Go to and search for charlienmel you may have  to click 'people' to find us. Hope you like them!
Summit of Mount Cootha

Our Perfect Wedding Day 1/9/2010

The wedding day started at the Emporium Hotel when we awoke and stepped out onto the roof-top terrace where we enjoyed a swim for half an hour in the cold, but sun drenched pool. On returning to our room we both had a spa bath – I may have stayed in a bit too long as I started to resemble a lobster, but I was so comfortable in there. Mel and I relaxed further into the day with a light breakfast in our room. This was followed by a gentle walk through the Emporium complex to find somewhere to get our silk flowers wrapped in ribbon. Mel then popped into Tony & Guy to have her hair done and I waited in our room for Tim and Debs to arrive and to get changed. Both of them looked fantastic. They have planned to travel round Australia for ages, so when I asked Tim to be my best man, they finally organized themselves and were our only British guests to be here with us. We wanted it that way although we both toasted those friends and family who were not with us later in the day. Just us, Tim, Debs, Savannah and Rob; the latter couple were there representing Australia.

Soon after Tim and Debs arrived, our photographer for the afternoon, Ben Hurt knocked on the door. Mr Hurt, it has to be said, is an absolutely brilliant photographer and throughout the day, he was able to shoot us in all sorts of different locations before and after the ceremony. He stayed with us right up until we went for dinner in the evening and by the look of his Facebook site; the pictures will be magnificent!

Mel arrived back soon after and at 1:15pm, we asked concierge to collect our car for us. Mel looked even more stunning than at our reception back in the UK; possibly aided by a great tan and the clear blue sky of Queensland this time round. Tim and Debs joined Mel and myself and we drove up to the Botanic Gardens to meet our celebrant Ashley Berg, Sav’ and Rob. Half an hour later, we were all in position by the lake in the indigenous area of the gardens; ready to get married!

We had chosen a quiet spot, deep in the gardens, by some Totem Poles, next to a lake. It seemed like our being there had provoked quite a lot of interest among the local flora and fauna, as throughout the ceremony, the birds sang and the lake was alive with the heads of small turtles popping out to observe the proceedings. I managed to set up my video camera which captured the entire event, something to look back on in years to come.

Mel and I spoke our vows with tears in our eyes, although we both managed to hold it together long enough to get through without any great histrionics. Both Tim and Sav’ spoke their readings perfectly, Debs and Sav’ witnessed the signing of the certificate of marriage and it was official – we are now Mr & Mrs Hindley – although Mel has decided to keep her Maiden name, so she will be double barreled – Melanie Jane Schofield – Hindley!

It was time for some photo’s here, there and everywhere around Mount Cootha and the botanic gardens. Everywhere we went there was another perfect backdrop. By the time we sat down to dinner at the exquisite Summit Restaurant at 5:30pm, we had already enjoyed the most perfect wedding that anybody could have wished for. No worries!

Mel and I, along with Tim, Debs, Sav’ and Rob enjoyed a fine meal overlooking the city, but I wasn’t able to drink that much as I had to drive back to the hotel once we had eaten. I still managed a glass or two of champagne – thank you to the best man for providing us with that – and also to Maggie Garland for making all the boys button holes – we all wore them on the day! Tim said a few words during dinner which was nice. Believe me mate, it means just as much to us to have had you with us on our special day!

At around 7:30pm, we drove back down to the hotel, had the car parked for us and dropped in to the luxurious Belle Époque bar that adjoins the Emporium hotel for drinks. Debs had to call it a night early due to a severe bout of Jet-Lag, she had been such a joy to have with us all day – I think she is a keeper Tim, if you’re reading this! The rest of us had a few more drinks before Sav’ and Rob made a move and then there were three.

Tim, Mel and I ordered some cheese and biscuits, Mel and I enjoyed a wee dram, Tim ordered some authentic Absinth, it was a nice way to finish off proceedings.

Later, Mel and I returned to our hotel room, they had put rose petals on the bed, chilled a bottle of champagne for us, put candles around the room – they had even put on a romantic CD which played as we entered the room. The perfect end to our perfect day.

Our Wedding Ceremony...

2:00 PM 
Good afternoon; my name is Ashley Bergh and I am a Civil Celebrant.  On behalf of Mel and Charlie I welcome you here today, as friends who’ve shared many special memories with them to be fellow witnesses with me in their marriage.  Mel and Charlie you share today the joy of a deep commitment and a sacred trust; you have given each other the most precious gift of love. Treasure it, nurture it, and encourage it with all the honesty you used to create it.  You are sharing something rare and beautiful.  Always speak the truth and listen attentively, so that you may understand each other’s thoughts and intentions. Inspire each other by sharing your accomplishments.  Say, “I Love you” often to retain the warmth between you.  Laugh a lot, too, even when you are angry, remember you’re each other’s best friend.  Stand together and for each other always, be content in mind and spirit.  May each day be a blessing and a fulfilment of your dreams.  Mel and Charlie dream your own dreams and follow your own star.  There wouldn’t be a heaven full of stars, if we were all meant to wish on the same one.  There will always be dreams grander or humbler than your own, but there will never be a dream exactly the same as your own, for you are unique and more wondrous than you know.  Do your best, there are no shortcuts on the way to a dream, so give all that you have to all that you do.   And above all believe in yourselves, this is all your dream asks of you, but this is everything, Mel and Charlie love is a precious gain to both man and woman, it always has been and always will be but it started first as a dream, your dream. 

Friends the first reading that Mel and Charlie have chosen for their special day comes to us from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres.  And today Mel and Charlie have asked Savanah Keegan to read it for us. 

Love is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two 

Mel and Charlie happiness in marriage is not something that just happens. A good marriage must be created, in the art of marriage the little things become the big things. It is never being too old to hold hands; it is remembering to say, "I Love You" at least once each day.  It is not taking each other for granted, the courtship should not end with the honeymoon, it needs to continue through all the years, it is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives; It is standing together and facing the world.  It is forming a circle that gathers the whole family, it is doing things for each other, not in the attitude of duty or sacrifice, but in the spirit of joy, it is speaking words of appreciation and demonstrating Gratitude in thoughtful ways. It is not expecting the husband to wear a halo, or the wife to have wings of an angel; it is not looking for perfection in each other.  It is in cultivation flexibility, patience, Understanding and a sense of humour.  It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.  It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow, it is a common search for the good and beautiful, it is establishing a relationship in which the independence is equal. The dependence is mutual and the obligation is reciprocal.  It is not only marrying the right partner it is being the right partner.  Poem “The Art of Marriage” Wilfred A Peterson” ®© 

I Ashley Bergh a civil marriage celebrant am duly authorised by law to solemnise marriages according to law.  Before you Mel and Charlie are joined in marriage in my presence and in the presence of these witnesses, I am to remind you of the solemn and binding nature of the relationship into which you are about to enter.  Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. 

I now call upon all present to bare witness to vows that Mel and Charlie are about to make.  
[Page Break]VOWS 
Charlie please repeat after me: 
I Charles Hindley   |   take you Melanie Jane Schofield   |   to be my lawful wedded wife,   |   I promise I will love you  |   comfort you  |   honour and keep you  |   in sickness and in health   |   and forsake all others   |   to keep only unto you   |   for as long as we both shall live. 

Charlie please repeat after me: 
I Melanie Jane Schofield  |   take you Charles Hindley   |   to be my lawful wedded husband  |   I promise I will love you  |   comfort you  |   honour and keep you  |   in sickness and in health   |   and forsake all others   |   to keep only unto you   |   for as long as we both shall live. 

Friends the next reading comes from our Apache brothers and is normally spoken by the chief of the tribe or a trusted member of the family.  Consequently, Mel and Charlie have asked Tim Garland to read it for us 

Mel and Charlie now you will feel no rain for each will be shelter to the other.  Now you will feel no cold for each will be warmth to the other.  Now there will be no more loneliness for each will be companion to the other.  Now you are two persons but there is only one life before you, go now to your dwelling to enter into the days of your life together.  May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years.  May the happiness of your companion and the days of your life together be good and long upon the earth 
Poem “Apache Wedding Prayer” Author Unknown 

Mel and Charlie the circle of your rings are a token of the endlessness of love, their pure metal speaks of the purity of love.  They are a symbol of wholeness. Perfection and peace.  Their value reminds you that you should defend and protect that which you hold most valuable in life.  May they always remind you of the love you share this day. 

Charlie please repeat after me: 
Mel wear this ring   |   as a pledge   |   of my love   |   and as a symbol   |   of all we share. 

Mel please repeat after me: 
Charlie wear this ring   |   as a pledge   |   of my love   |   and as a symbol   |   of all we share. 

Mel and Charlie marriage is the joining of two people, the union of two hearts.  It lives on the love you give each other and never grows old, but thrives on the joy of each new day.  May you always be blessed in your hearts with the wonder of this special day.  May you always be able to talk things over, to confide in each other, to laugh with each other, to enjoy life together, and to share moments of quiet and peace when the day is done.  May you be blessed with a lifetime of happiness. 

Friends Mel and Charlie have grown in knowledge and love of one another.  They have agreed to go forward in life together and have made promises to each other before us all.  I now pronounce them husband and wife. 
Charlie this is when you first kiss your wife: 
The Register and Certificates are then signed 
Mel and Charlie please accept this certificate as a memento of this occasion.  Let us hope, that you will be united in love, throughout your married life.  That your love will be patient and gentle, ever ready to trust and endure whatever comes, may you grow together in joy and in sorrow and always be grateful, for the gift of each other.   In this life we have three lasting qualities, Faith, hope and Love.  But of these the greatest is love.  Love is not possessive, it is neither anxious to impress.  It can out last anything; it is the one thing that lasts when all else has fallen.  And at the end of your lives, may you be able to say these two things to each other.  Because you have loved me, you have given me faith in myself, and because I have seen the good in you.  I have received from you a faith in humanity.     Friends as you have heard the two parties of this marriage freely consent to live together in lawful marriage.  In the age old tradition you have witnessed them exchange both vows, and rings.  You have also heard them pronounced man and wife.  Mel and Charlie may your love last, for all eternity and support you through all the trials and triumphs that lie ahead of you.  May I now present Mr. and Mrs. Hindley.  Go now in love; and with our wish, for eternal happiness throughout your lives.

Phillippa's Amazing Speech

Our friend Phillippa did the best speech ever (or at least her and Craig's were equally the best speeches ever) at our wedding reception on 7th August, she sent me a copy so here it is:

Okay, here goes.... clear throat...

There are so many friends here that I feel truly honoured to be doing this- Thank you Craig for being funny so that I don't have to.
I'd just like to share some thoughts about Mel....

I think when we think of Mel, we think of her as outgoing and sparkling with a real thirst for life. Mel has always been like this. Ever since we were kids, she had a great imagination that has been lived out later in art and travel. We grew up building huts, climbing trees, swimming in the river and THEN she grew up to build a home, a garden, a beautiful relationship and instead of swimming across rivers, she's crossed and is crossing again oceans to see the world. Instead of riding on the back of her mother's bike, she's taking the handle bars and pedalling her way across New Zealand.
Always one for the actors.... Charlie, of course.... Mel herself has played and continues to play many starring roles- not just because of her Marilyn Munroe looks and glamour. She hasn't just played a role in my life but more importantly in that of her close family who she cares for deeply. She's also played a prize role in the lives of her friends, a lot of whom are here today as a testimony of how fabulous she is. And this isn't even mentioning the HUGE role she plays in the life of her gran who she loves and supports with a maturity and sense of responsibility that I can only admire and just adds to the overall respect we all feel for her and is one great example of how she touches and betters those around her- sometimes just with her beamer smile!
I just want to read from a touching email from one of Mel's close friends, Fran, who describes these many roles she juggles...

I picture Mel running in the park with Millhouse, while blue-toothing her gran's solicitor, meanwhile in the oven at home a pie made with
 homegrown gooseberries is baking in the oven for friends coming round for tea, folks all over the world are bidding on Ebay for Mel's furniture, and a dozen artists are following Mel's instructions
 about an exhibition she has organized. And this is just a 15 minute snapshot.

And this is all 'Action Mel'. When the cameras are off, she's incredibly thoughtful and deep. A thinker and reader at heart, she's quite private but to those who are privileged to be her friend, she's open, spontaneous and really caring. When I told my parents Mel had sent me an email to make sure I hadn't been caught in the landslides in Sicily, my dad said, "Oh really, we didn't know there were any!"... yet Mel was on the case!
And now she's FINALLY marrying Charlie- how long have you been trying to get her to say 'yes'?
And they're brilliant together- you know with some couples you phone YOUR friend and the boyfriend picks up and you have to live through some awful stammering small talk? Well, with Charlie, when he picks up you feel as loved and valued as if you'd got through to Mel herself..... Gives good hugs too. This couple are great, they've been tried and tested and they've come out stamped with the GFI mark on them and 5 stars. (Let me explain, GHI Good Housekeeping Institute GFI Good Friends Institute).

We are all thankful to them both for being so fantastic...and, for me, particularly, to Mel, who's been in my life for, at least twice a year, for the last 24 years and has made my life a better experience. I'LL MISS HER! As will her friends for, quote Fran, for being such a 'frigging unbelievable guru', a willing ear, a helpful hand and a beautiful and lively presence in our lives.
Just to bring this cheese to an end, I was reflecting on Mel and the more I said her name, the more I thought of the words that rhyme and I thought I would share a poem with you....

Every time a word rhymes with Mel, my assistant here will ring the bell.

Apologies, I've changed it because I now have 3 beautiful assistants, Mandy, Laura and Rowena and please feel free to join in when you get how it goes...

Every time a word rhymes with Mel, my assistantS here will ring the bell...s

I can't write speeches very well, (ping...first time was crap, they timing was well off!)
But what the hell, (ping etc.)
Let me tell you about Mel.

She's the pearl in the shell,
Her beautiful smile and winning chat cast the spell,
There's no doubt why Charlie fell,
for such a belle,
And they really gel.
No-one else runs parallel...
Or maybe Millhouse, if he didn't smell.
This marriage will go swell,
Across the oceans, they will tra-vel,
and in each other's love, they will re-vel,
As they ride life's carousel,
And I wish you both very well,
Let's all raise a glass,
Our wedding ceremnony was yesterday in Brisbane, photo's to follow soon but it was really a perfect day - Charlie will add his blog about it soon...