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.

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